Saturday, November 19, 2011

Interview with Mashallah News

"We wanted to just collect blogs, it was nothing ambitions and we wanted to write something we saw and couldn’t write in anywhere else" . This was how Isabelle Mayonnaise and Micheline Tobia, two out of three founders of Mashallah News, described the early days of their web journalist platform. Now this platform covers all major cities in Middle-East from Istanbul to Morocco. The birth of Mashallah News took place in Beirut Lebanon where three active citizen were fed up about typical news coverage of Arabic world. Wars, royalties and politics were only thing discuss in different medias and point of views were usually very polarized. "You couldn't have middle view or something describing what was happening". News lack the topics about underground cultural and citizen activism.

Mashallah News brings daily life of local people and street culture in to the wider audience. This kind of news coverage has been quite rare and in marginal for long time. Because of this, there is a tendency of thinking these cultures are all one homogeneous mass. "If people would read more they would get a wider image and would change but if you’re not exposed to this kind of news its completely normal to stay ignorant. That's why there is Mashallah News. You can just imagine how crazy daily life in the underground scenes of Iran for example is, but you never had the tools to inform your self about it". Isabelle and Micheline underline that the articles they pick for publishing have to contain fresh and alternative point of view. "You cant just write something because its poverty, not just about the emotion. And we don’t wanna do just good news, but the news that are uncovered. We don’t choose the topic because it's popular, we choose the topic if its interesting for us". For example issue of over population and expansion of City of Istanbul is dealt by writing about artists that uncover this in their work. When discussing about challenges, Michelle and Isabelle say that the biggest problem is writers self-censorship. Some times writers are afraid to write with their own name or they are afraid to be too provocative. Some issues like women rights and gay issues are still taboos in these countries. But there is always a way to avoid this. "They rather describe something that happened rather than write something that angers someone, but you can get the message through anyways". According to Micheline and Isabelle, spring 2011 (Arabian spring) didn't change the situation that much. "We started before Arabic spring and we found interesting people, the blogs were already there. Now people are maybe more open to talk about those subjects, about taboos people are maybe more open. Before this spring there were this energy ecisting for sure! These things, they were present, they were definitely present"

When launching Mashallah News, three of the founders had already quite wide network through out big cities in Middle-East. For recruiting more writers, they search through existing blogs and sent over 700 traditional emails with hardly any replies. "We wanted to have professional content in the sense that we ready every piece two or tree times by different people with different background and different language skills". They also contacted lot of University departures but with lack of luck. After a while, when Mashallah News had existed for some time, they started to get contacts from interested people. "More and more people are writing our inbox that we wanna participate. Like someone who’s from Italy and knows about Libya, lot of people from different backgrounds and it is inspiring. When we went to see them, they had reach out for they network and finally we ended up meeting 20 people that wanted to participate by donating money, spreading the news or even writing articles". Now they cover 20 major cities all around Arabic world and have over 50 journalist, artists or bloggers creating content for the site and publish 4 to 5 articles or stories in a week. They co-operate with different activist organizations such as feminist movements, citizen journalist and they have gained lot of new contacts in Middle-East and Europe. Co-operation is essential part of their work since Mashallah News itself is coalition of bloggers and journalist from different backgrounds. "Its good to co-operate and to be open for any kind of help and experiences, its only helpful". In the future, Mashallah News will focus on developing itself to be more like multimedia platform. They also think, that dealing with one major subject for a period of time will make the content more whole. "Idea was to start work on a projects or a scenes, because we started to do theme weeks and there were lot of interest for them that more than for isolated pieces, for both writers and readers". Articles, videos, sound reports and visual contents will all cover one subject all around the major cities Middle-East.

Taking part in WSYA, Micheline and Isabelle gained lot of new contacts from the area they are working at. They were also able to share and reflect their ideas with other people working for similar projects. By being a winner in the category “Create Your Culture” gives recognition for their work and credibility.

1 comment:

  1. I remember a comment from the winner presentations at Graz Uni, talking about what kind of political view Mashallah News presents, as every media always has some core view they stand behind. I think this platform goes far beyond that in freedom of speech. I haven't read their articles (yet), but I believe they publish all kinds of views. Sure they mostly represent the underground and citizen activism, but the view is always that of the writer, not of Mashallah News, which was founded to give voice to all the different views. It's important to have writers who all have different backgrounds.

    The project is effectively utilising technology to spread knowledge. It is exactly what I'd expect from the information revolution, to let the whole world become aware of its smaller parts.