Cairo Media Conference

Future media and changing media paradigms in the digital age were the central topics at the Cairo Media Conference organized on 8 and 9 May, with participants from Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon and – Norway. Characteristic of the conference was also the blend of editors, journalists and media academics, which opted for fruitful exchanges. Tarek Atia, founder of the Egypt Media Development Program(EMDP) was the main host for the conference, which was a co-operation between EMDP and Egyptian Editors forum (EEF), the American University in Cairo (AUC) and JMIC/OsloMet.

The conference communicated a need to think creatively facing the digital challenges. Print newspapers are small in circulation in Egypt, while most people have mobile phones. Methods of storytelling on new platforms were presented and discussed. There seemed to be a broad consensus on the need for new innovations; as well as for academics to adapt to new realities, albeit not uncritically.  As one panellist said: journalism training needs to adapt to these new realities, but also to shape, not letting technology take over: editors rather than algorithms.

Several participants emphasized the need for media freedom to enable a positive media development. Several barriers faced by media around the world were mentioned: weak economy and tough legislation, the latter leaving much to interpretation by the powers that be. Besides, media are being politicized. Viable business models represent a huge challenge for many, but also ethical concerns. As one participant iterated: How to be human in a digital world?

Media literacy, as well as digital literacy needs to be cultivated in educational institutions from primary school all through university, one panel concluded.

Espen Egil Hansen, editor-in-chief of Aftenposten (Norway’s largest subscription newspaper) took the participants through modern Norwegian press history and presented the newspaper’s current business model, with a prominent focus on news production for the mobile phone format.

Arne Jensen from the Association of Norwegian Editors said that we cannot do much about the technological development, the gadgets are all out there, but we can do something about the storytelling techniques, which was also a topic addressed by a panel on literary journalism, where Professor Steen Steensen from OsloMet participated and presented important examples of digital storytelling.

In a panel on what academic institutions could do, a main focus remained not only on media literacy, but also digital literacy, not least underlined by Dr. Firas Al-Atarqchi, chair of Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at AUC. But this literacy has to be taught from primary school to University level, as children’s digital adaption starts early. Elisabeth Eide (JMIC) underlined the need for interdisciplinary co-operation in education, as well as the need for transnational literacy, as journalists increasingly face global problems.


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