If it’s the fall, it means the IJNet Arabic Mentoring Center has a new cohort of media entrepreneurs from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) ready to develop their promising news initiatives.
This year’s mentees — based in Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen — aren’t just up against the usual challenges media entrepreneurs face. They will also be navigating a global pandemic that has strained an already fragile news industry.
"I’m happy to be working with a diverse and capable group of journalists from around the region. To see the ideas and abilities of individual journalists and websites helps me see that there is still hope,” said mentor Ramsey Tesdell, founder of the independent Jordan-based news outlet, 7iber, and executive director of the podcasting platform, Sowt. “Despite working in difficult conditions, these groups are holding strong. Fighting their cause in their own way in their own countries is important so that each solution is a perfect fit for their needs.”
This year’s program will feature the usual virtual mentoring from regional media entrepreneurship experts. Tesdell joins Ali Ghamloush, the head of SHAHID YA originals at Middle East Broadcasting Center. Through the program, the participating media entrepreneurs will learn how to grow and monetize their projects, introduce and develop strategic content that meets their audience’s needs and solidify efficient communication and marketing plans.
In early December, mentees and mentors will participate in a virtual two-day bootcamp held alongside the 13th annual Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism Conference, which is also held online this year.
Here are this year’s eight mentees and their respective media projects:
Amal Al Maki
Amal Al Maki runs an award-winning independent nonprofit storytelling platform in Tunisia called Innsane, which aims to tell Tunisians’ stories and produce hard-hitting investigations. During the program, Al Maki plans to develop a sustainability plan and pursue additional financing that will allow her to grow the Innsane team and increase its ability to carry out cross-border investigations.
Based in Egypt, Dina Aboughazala’s startup Egab, seeks to enable young journalists from the MENA region to publish “solutions journalism” stories in regional and international news outlets. During the program, Aboughazala hopes to establish a more effective social media presence for Egab, grow the outlet’s reach, particularly among young journalists, and increase its exposure in the regional and international media landscape. At the crux of the work ahead will be developing a sound financial plan to sustain the site’s growth plans.
Syrian journalist Hadil Arja runs a media project called Tiny Hand that uses visual storytelling to tell the stories of children living in conflict and crisis zones. Arja plans to use her time in the Mentoring Center to develop stronger tools and techniques for her site to be able to better carry out its in-depth reporting, in addition to formulating a strategic business plan for the site and expanding Tiny Hands, which is currently available in Arabic and English, into a third language.
Kamar Ghosson is the founder of Manateq, a small, independent news site in Lebanon that examines a wide range of issues across the MENA region. During the Mentoring Center, Ghosson hopes to develop both an actionable business plan and a strategic editorial approach to be able to efficiently and sustainably meet the needs of her readers in Lebanon.
Mohammed El Hajjam
Based in Morocco, Mohammed El Hajjam runs the site, LibraBuzz, which he plans to grow into a full-blown digital outlet that publishes content on a diverse array of subjects, from technology and health, to COVID-19. During the Mentoring Center, El Hajjam hopes to develop a sustainable business model for the site, while continuing to diversify the content he provides LibraBuzz readers.
Mustafa Nasr founded a platform called Al Moushahed, which strives for its reporting to promote a culture of peace and coexistence within Yemeni society. Specifically, the site’s content works toward reducing violence, advocating for minorities, shining a light on women's and children's issues and reducing discrimination. Nasr plans to use his time in the Mentoring Center to attract more resources and funding to sustain the site, develop a new marketing strategy and increase multimedia video content.
Egyptian journalist Ola Al-Ghazawy founded Planet X to train young and mid-career journalists interested in science reporting, writing and communications across the MENA region. The outlet fills a regional void for science-focused stories, especially as interest has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Al-Ghazawy plans to build up a strong network to increase Planet X’s exposure, as well as develop a strong business plan to guide the site forward.
Yaaqoub Hadj Djilani
Yaaqoub Hadj Djilani manages the Algerian news platform, Seven DZ, which reports on local and international news. Djilani faces a difficult, restrictive media environment in Algeria today — a situation exacerbated by the global health crisis and the proliferation of misinformation. Through the Mentoring Center, Djilani aims to create financial sustainability for Seven DZ, to help the site develop into a beacon for freedom of expression and trustworthy news content.
Main image of participants from the 2019-20 Mentoring Center program.