In May, IJNet Arabic launched a virtual mentoring center, choosing eight entrepreneurial journalists in the MENA region in need of financial and digital advice to get their startups off the ground. Throughout the process, the mentees will be sharing lessons learned and tips with IJNet readers. Here, mentee Mostafa Fathi shares his experiences building his own media project, the Independent Journalism Institute in Egypt.
There is no greater pleasure than building a personal media project through which you express yourself, your ideas and your creativity. But there are many challenges that you will face, and some of them can be really frustrating.
Here I reflect on my experiences creating the Independent Journalism Institute (IJI), and the challenges I overcame throughout the process. [Fathi also summarized these challenges in an Arabic infographic that you can see here.]
Will you devote yourself to your project?
The decision to quit your job takes much consideration, since your work is usually a main source of income. If you are going to leave your day job, you must be sure that your project will generate alternative income. If you are not certain of that or if your project is built on a nonprofit model, then it is often better to keep your job and focus on time management - plan your time well and divide it between your job and your project. This never means that you handle your project with indifference or insignificance, or give it a small portion of your time. Projects need attention to succeed and shine.
Many young men and women attempt to dedicate themselves to their projects full time, and many are able to succeed. Hanan Solayman is a good example. Solayman decided to resign from her governmental position as a journalist in an Egyptian national institution and dedicated herself to her project Mandara, which was a huge success.
Personally, I chose to divide my time between my project and my work as a journalist and project manager. Thanks to some articles that I read about time management, I succeeded in executing my project and my job at the same time.
Finding a location for my project
It's not easy to house your project in a permanent location. The rent fees are usually very high in many countries including Egypt, where I live. Inevitably, I had to come up with creative ideas. The Egyptian Public Library welcomed the idea of hosting IJI and several different workshops. Also, when I spoke with some owners of civic organizations in Cairo, I found many were willing to host IJI activities free of charge. There are also many places that would give you space in their headquarters for a minimal price.
I can't find partners
I don't recommend you start a project all on your own. Teamwork is one of the main reasons for any project's success. When you combine different people with their own unique expertise for one project, you're guaranteed likely success. But choosing a team can be a real challenge, which is why it's important to enroll in training programs. One of the advantages of attending training classes, in addition to developing your skills, is meeting people who have the same enthusiasm and interest in development as yourself.
In a training that I attended at the International Center for Journalists, I met my colleague Dalia Jibali who became my partner at IJI. Also, social media is a good way to meet some amazing people. I met the person who created the logo for IJI through Facebook after I posted about needing someone to create a professional logo.
Stay away from frustrations
"You are wasting your time helping people. Focus on your main job. It's more important."
This is the advice that one of my friends gave me. He previously mocked me when I posted on Facebook that I was launching a project aiming to develop the skills of young journalists.
Along the road you will meet many people that don't follow your same vision. Some of them will make fun of you and your idea. I recommend to instead focus on being among positive friends who inspire you. Personally, I searched through Facebook for the owners of youth initiatives and added them to my friends list to benefit from their experience. I noticed that their posts on social media are full of hope and challenge. They themselves are inspiring success stories, and if you ask for their help, you will hear very helpful comments.
Follow Facebook pages or accounts of people or organizations over Twitter that provide advice for successful projects or that post training opportunities targeting owners of youth initiatives and projects.
Media outlets are not interested in writing about your project
Don't wait for media to find you; you search for them. I built a mailing list which includes email addresses for a large number of journalists and producers to whom I send any new activity related to IJI. For example, I sent them a post about the first workshop we did about citizen journalism at the Egyptian Public Library. The next day I found an article in many Egyptian newspapers and websites. Some journalists attended to cover the workshop.
When writing an email to a list, be sure to include the correct details, contact information, your logo and your project's webpage. People who have interest in your project will click on the links, and it's an easy way to market your organization.
You might wonder why I didn't add the challenge of funding to this post. I know it is one of the biggest challenges you will face, and I recommend you read my article, "Creative ideas to funding your media project."
Mentee Mostafa Fathi is the founder of the Independent Journalism Institute. He is a Cairo-based reporter for the Lebanese newspaper Al Safir and a project manager at United Journalists Center. His trainings focus on modern media.
This story was originally published in Arabic. It was translated by Shereen Karadsheh and edited by Margaret Looney.
Main image CC-licensed via Flickr via Víctor Nuño