We didn’t spend a long time savoring what it means to be unemployed.
After our dramatic layoffs prompted by the sudden scaling down of Egypt Independent, a paper we worked for and developed to become a leading source of news on Egypt, we went to the beach. There, besides eating, swimming, playing cards, and staring at the sea aimlessly, we spoke about our type of journalism’s successes, failures and dreams. We spoke about how we balanced institutional and street politics in our coverage. But how we didn’t do enough economy coverage. We spoke about how we encouraged reporters to have a voice. But how we sometimes verged on elitist. We decided we want to publish in Arabic as well as English, that we want to see more data-based reports, more investigative journalism. We want to experiment with different ways of storytelling. And very importantly, develop a business model and deploy a visionary commercial team that helps make our work sustainable.
And then there was the project.
We started building a structure. It needed a name. An Arabic name that was easy to say in English, but one that also reflected our practice of independent, progressive journalism. We also wanted one that represented our artistic and not just our journalistic side. We tried to do it collectively, which led to some interesting conversations and strange word associations. We could define our collective identity, but from the inside we couldn’t put a label on it. Then we resorted to outside help. After a long process, we came to Mada. It is the Arabic word for range, scope or span, but it’s also the spot where a stone is placed on a ring, a symbol of taking a position.
Then there was a moment of establishing and claiming our physical and virtual space. We found an office and furnished it collectively. Not one desk looks like the other. But there is just about space for everyone. The virtual space was trickier. Building the website became a process of questioning some of our editorial practices. How do we think of clustering our content? Should we call news politics? What about the social news? Should our website reveal all of our content straightforwardly? Or should we make space for readers to discover? Why does it matter to produce news in the form of videos?
When the time finally came to write, photograph, film, edit, tweet, it was a release. It was that exciting moment we had missed while acting as fundraisers, business planners, techies, furniture movers and carpenters, among other things. We wanted to go live on June 30, the day Egypt is bracing for nationwide protests aimed at overthrowing the president as his first year in power ends. We wanted to re-appropriate our journalism on this heated day because it is through the prism of this craft that we engage with politics and activism.
In the goodbye/see you later note we published in Egypt Independent in April, we promised to be back. Our editor wrote, “We leave you with the hope of coming back soon, stronger and unbeaten, ready to incessantly travel to uncharted territories of storytelling.”
So for us to come back, and to avow our practice while also addressing its failures, we needed to build a structure, become the institution and invest in its own alterity. We needed to carve a space for progressive voices amid a rising concentration in media ownership and a growing polarization in the general political sphere.
Today Mada Masr is born amid many challenges and uncertainties. But it’s also born out of inevitability. It is the inevitability of rebuilding a home for our team and our practice, the inevitability of a different form of journalism, the inevitability of experimentation and adventure as the only gateway for our imagination to strive.
The team of Mada Masr