Dina Aboughazala (Interactive Journalism, 2019) recently won the Business and Innovation award at the British Council Study UK Alumni Awards in Egypt. Dina is the founder of Egab, which focuses on Solutions journalism and empowers reporters in the Middle East to create nuanced, high-quality journalism that provides the world with a different perspective.
“I think deep down it was my love for my dad and being impressed with his work that drove me into the world of journalism. He was a very skilled writer with a very sharp sense of humour. I can’t claim to be as good as him, but it was my fascination with his work that triggered my love for journalism,” Dina Aboughazala says.
High-quality journalism is still very much on the agenda and Dina’s new venture Egab, was partially born out of frustration.
“As a Middle East-focused journalist from Egypt, I’ve always been frustrated with the media coverage of our side of the world. Our countries and peoples are almost always in the news for all the bad reasons: War, terrorism, human rights violations, etc. I am not saying that we do not have any of these issues but when they become almost the only stories you see, they reinforce stereotypes and they ignore other stories and realities in these countries that are worth covering, and that’s why, the moment I came across solutions journalism in 2016, I fell for it.”
Solutions journalism is a journalism genre that primarily focuses on how people are responding to problems in their community.
“We still need the breaking news stories and investigative reporting that exposes wrongdoings, but in addition to these, we need stories that shed light on those coming up with solutions, stories that tell us if these solutions are working, and inspire us to replicate and build upon the working models.”
Dina also felt frustrated by the lack of local reporters in international media, covering important stories.
“… whenever there is a big story happening, we get swamped with parachute reporters who stay in the country for a few days or a few weeks to report on what’s going on as if they are experts without knowing the language or culture,” Dina says.
“We want to be the platform that any local journalist across the Global South joins to kickstart their international journalism career.”
The media platform for Egab is currently being built with funding from the Google News Initiative’s second Innovation Challenge for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa.
According to Dina, the biggest challenges facing journalists in many areas are “poor education, poor local media outlets and poor pay”.
“In general, the quality of education at public schools and universities is quite low – with a few exceptions of course. So, journalists graduate without key knowledge and skills that enable them to produce high-quality journalism. And, while in Western countries, local media outlets act like a training ground for aspiring journalists, in our part of the world, the majority of local outlets do not produce high-quality journalism, which in turn results in either journalists picking up wrong habits or quitting journalism altogether, a phenomenon that has been on the rise in a country like Egypt for example.”
Media industries across the world are struggling financially, but according to Dina, the economy isn’t the only reason journalists in the Middle East and Africa are poorly paid, international media companies also play a part.
“We see many outlets pay someone in Yemen for example a tenth – or even less – of what they would pay a journalist from Berlin producing the same thing. This is a real story; when a local journalist in Yemen was offered 150 Euros to produce a 2-minute video, another journalist based in Berlin was offered 1,800 Euros to produce a 2-minute video report. Such practices need to stop.”
Some may try to justify this disparity on the basis that Yemen has lower living costs than Berlin, for example.
“The problem with that argument is that when international media outlets send Western journalists to work from these countries, where the cost of living is much lower, the Western reporter still gets paid according to European or American standards, i.e. much higher than his local peers where he is based.”
Certain tasks are also more time consuming for local reporters due to issues like poor internet.
“So, a task that may take a reporter in a European city a few hours to finish, may take days for his/her counterpart in Syria, Yemen or Libya.”
Before attending City, Dina completed a BSc in Political Sciences at Cairo University and worked at the BBC in Egypt for 14 years.
“So, my journalism knowledge came from practice rather than education and when I reached a point in my career where I started questioning my work and its impact, I thought the best approach was to take some time off while still doing something useful and that’s why I opted for an MA,” she says.
“The reason I picked Interactive Journalism in particular, is that I was mainly a writer. Until then, I had never produced a video or been involved in any of the audience engagement strategies or these new journalism roles that emerged with social media. So, I thought if I were to spend a year studying, I better learn something new.”
Although apprehensive at first, Dina soon realised she had made the right choice.
“I loved my time at City mainly because I met some of the best tutors there, many of whom I am still in touch with. Also, I loved the international composition of my cohort. To be honest, I was a bit concerned over the fact that I was old – I did my MA in my thirties – and not British. I thought this would make it harder for me to mingle. But the nice surprise was that our cohort was quite diverse.”
Dina sees her own journalism career as a journey of constant learning, growth, and evolution. The challenges and successes she’s experienced are intertwined.
“The biggest challenge for me has been how to balance between my career and the fact that I am a wife and a mother of two children. I also frequently moved countries because of my husband’s work, which added an additional layer of how to keep my job while relocating every few years,” she says. “And I believe that my biggest success is that I’ve managed to do all of that, and on top of it start a media venture too.”
Winning the Business and Innovation category in the 2022 British Council Study UK Alumni Awards in Egypt was also a welcome success.
“It’s important for me to reach such recognition because entrepreneurship is quite a lonely journey, and disappointments and failures are integral parts of the journey of any entrepreneur. Hence, any nod of approval that indicates you are on the right path or that what you are doing is important and is recognizable, is of immense importance to any entrepreneur, especially those in the early stages like me.”
What is Dina’s advice to someone who would like to become a journalist?
“Learning anything nowadays couldn’t be easier. There are great free resources online. So, dedicate some time every week for learning.
Be part of journalism networks. There are plenty of groups for journalists online. Join them and learn from them.
Find your niche but have a general understanding of everything. For example, my niche is solutions journalism, but I know how to produce short videos and documentaries, I know how to produce data journalism. I’ve never been a TV or radio presenter, but I know what it takes to write a script. I know the terms, etc.”
How does Dina see journalism developing in the future?
“I think a new definition of the role of journalism is urgently needed, because we are no longer the gatekeepers. Yet, many journalists on our side of the world still think we are! If we continue with that mindset, it’s a matter of time before we become obsolete; already most people I know in Egypt no longer watch or read news, which is a disaster. They rely on social media for their information, and they will only read and watch something if it pops up on their feed and is attractive enough. Therefore, we need to rethink our role in the age of social media. Also, we need to rethink the way we operate. At the moment, international news organisations employ hundreds of staff in one location and have zero reporters in many others; a pattern that creates a disparity in media coverage of world affairs and is economically unsustainable. I believe that for the news industry to survive it will need to rely more on freelancers and have smaller newsrooms.”
Big thank you to Dina Aboughazala for sharing her story and congratulations on winning a British Council Study UK Alumni Award!