Amazing citizen journalism project comes from Cairo, Egypt. It is CitJo – citizen journalism portal in service of quality news content. To begin with CitJo were focused on news from the Middle East, but they are also open for the entire world and all the information that are turning worldwide daily.
Q: What is CitJo?
A: CitJo is a platform that aims to connect citizen journalists with media agencies worldwide and get paid for their content. Citizen Journalists, or CitJos, can upload their content through the web platform, a mobile app or uniquely through Twitter and other social media sites. These are then sold to media agencies and the best posts are placed on our homepage, making us a source of localized news for normal users.
Q: CitJo – name easy to remember. Tell us more about it.
A: We spent a long time searching for a name that is easy to say for an international audience, and also ignites recognition for what we do at the same time. At first we thought of using an Arabic name, to connect better with our Middle East citjos. However, our platform is one that can be used all over the world, and we didn’t want to alienate anyone. After many brainstorming sessions, mind maps and suggestions from friends and family, CitJo was the name that stood out the most. It was easy to say, even in Arabic, and it explained what we were trying to do.
Q: What encouraged you to launch CitJo?
A: Mahamad and Sarah realized the potential of citizen journalism during the Arab uprising last year. Sarah was in New York at the time working as a journalist with ABC News where she frequently utilized YouTube, Facebook and Twitter for news coverage. Mahamad was in Tahrir Square during the revolution and saw firsthand how important Twitter and other social media networks were during Egypt’s historic 18 days.
So, when Sarah and Mahamad met they discussed the idea of creating a platform that monetizes citizen journalism, and added the unique integration to Twitter. The goal is to give CitJos a way to sustain their efforts, without obstructing their normal process of posting and sharing.
Q: What are your expectations from the CitJo project?
A: CitJo’s platform aims to break barriers in journalism and in online commerce. Our goal is to spread the principles of media literacy and give people the opportunity to share their lives with the people responsible for the news cycle.
We expect that it will take some time to polish the talent of citjos, train them in journalistic practice and help them create content that media buyers will want to purchase. However, we are ambitious in our goals, and feel that this is a project that has come at the right time in the right place.
Q: Considering the Arab Spring and all the following events, how would you describe media in Egypt before and after?
A: Egypt has the highest number of publications in the region, the largest number of television channels and the biggest cinema industry. But, we have yet to realize the true potential of all these tools. Media censorship by the government has always held back the news industry in Egypt, with grave impacts. We saw this in the ’67 war when state media refused to report Egypt’s loss, and BBC radio instead became the country’s source of reliable news media. Over the 20th century there are thousands of examples like this one. The biggest impact has been on journalists and media people themselves, where a culture of self-censorship has become rampant.
The events of January and February last year changed little in the government’s role in suppressing the media. However, Egyptians found their voice in early 2011. With the help of social media, and bolder journalists our media landscape is changing to a more open and honest media. However, there remain remnants of the old media that will take years, if not decades to overhaul.
Q: Some say that the Arab Spring has grown with the help of the citizen journalists and social media. What would you say?
A: Social media tools greatly assisted the Arab Spring by forcing the world to take notice not only of the current happenings in areas like Tahrir Square in Egypt, Freedom Square in Syria or Pearl Square in Bahrain. They were instrumental in explaining why the revolution began and how the protestors were rallying together to make their voices heard.
The Arab Spring would not have spread like wildfire in 2005, when Twitter had yet to make its appearance and Facebook was still a social media tool for students. Media tools at the time were still limited in reach, and few people in the Middle East were utilizing the internet for more than chatting and forum participation.
But, by 2011 everyone with a social media account had the potential to reach millions of readers. Protestors in Tunisia could connect with those in Egypt to give them tips on dealing with tear gas, state security and to offer words of encouragement. It was obvious to all that the internet was becoming the main source of communication and news in Egypt, and by the second day (January 26) all internet and mobile services were cut off.
It isn’t the tools, it’s the ability to share what is going on as it happens, and keep people connected with the cause protestors are fighting for. It’s a way for citizens to take the news conversation into their own hands, and spread information quickly and efficiently.
Q: What is the position of social media and citizen journalism is Egypt today?
A: Internet penetration in Egypt is growing exponentially. However, according to the World Bank, only a little over a quarter of the country’s population has access to internet. While activists, the elite and many of the younger generation are utilizing social media tools in their day to day lives, there remains a huge portion of the population that isn’t aware of all the status updates and tweets showing up on the internet.
Q: Do you see citizen journalism as an opponent or a collaborator of traditional journalism in your country?
A: Citizen journalism is definitely a collaboration of traditional journalism in Egypt. There is a strong sense of disappointment in the media and many distrust the major news networks. This is a an excellent way for them to set the record straight.
It’s also great for news organizations in the country that are looking for a broader range of stories. They no longer have to rely on hired staff to find sources and stories. They can rely on people who are not only on the ground, but have an intricate understanding of their local area. The journalist today has to be able to not only pick out the story, but to be able to connect it with the larger picture, giving a clear understanding of the way the world works today.
The citizen journalist is definitely helping Egyptian media do just that.
Q: How do you see citizen journalism in Egypt in the future?
A: We believe it is only the beginning of citizen journalism in Egypt. We see the insatiable need for people to share and discuss what is happening on the streets of their country. While not much has changed, the little shift in attitudes about sharing and voicing our concerns will most definitely fuel efforts of citizen journalists everywhere. Just as Oh My News! changed reporting on South Korea with their citizen journalism site, we feel that the industry as a whole will take off in Egypt.
Q: What are your plans for the future ?
A: CitJo hopes to become the citizen journalism newswire for the MENA region within five years. During that time we are focusing our efforts on building a community of citizen journalists that can share their experiences and work with each other. We will also continue building our site to be able to present such media in the most professional manner possible.
In the end, the goal is to give the power of the media back to the people, allow them to have their voices heard and give them the opportunity to represent their home town.
NewsMeBack wants to thank again to the CitJo team and Sarah Wali for sharing their time, opinion and work with all of us.