Impressions from Beirut



 
Yemen Times Editor-in-Chief Nadia Al-Saqqaf describes a surprising and inspiring afternoon at the Lebanese daily An-Nahar.
 
By Nadia Al-Saqqaf
 
View from An-Nahar building Beirut, Lebanon  © S.M. / arabimages.com
The view from the An-Nahar building in Beirut. © S.M. / arabimages.com

BEIRUT - It was around four thirty in the afternoon... All three of us - Fatima, Amel and myself - stood around Marie-Claire Feghali, a senior editor at the An-Nahar newspaper in Beirut, observing her while she was editing a story on the latest explosion in the Lebanese capital.

Suddenly she rose from her seat and looked at us with wild eyes, saying:

"Did you hear that?!"

The newsroom buzzed with excitement cum panic as the various editors and journalists were immediately hooked on their phones or the Internet to find an explanation for what they have heard.

"Hear what?" we asked her.

 "The explosion! They - the terrorists, probably Fatah Al-Islam - usually do it after 11 PM. This time it seems they started early."

I looked at my colleagues who shook their head negatively.

"It is probably a flat tire or something being dropped from a height," I tried to pacify her while she kept shifting between various local TV channels on her computer anticipating the news to be broadcasted.

"No, I am sure of it, the explosion was suppressed and air tight. I know that sound." She insisted.

The following ten minutes, we shared with the journalists of An-Nahar the pressure and fear they continuously go through because of the instability in the country.

We as visiting journalists from Yemen, had no idea what it is like to be a journalist in Beirut, at least until that moment.

Our visit was organized by the World Association of Newspapers as a part of the training I was granted for winning the first Gebran Tueni Award.

Eventually the explosion actually turned out to be a flat tire. But the experience was indispensable.

To start with, there was both fear and excitement in the eyes of the newspaper staff. They called their loved ones to check on them as well as their field correspondents and what they call "security correspondents" to get the news. The emotion and the buzz in the newsroom were fantastic.

The second thing, which I learnt and envied, was how the journalists were so sure the news would be reported. Only minutes after the incident, Marie-Claire was browsing the various local TV channels and news agencies in search for details about it.

In Yemen, we hear about what is happening in our country through Al-Jazeera or CNN before it gets reported on the local TV. Sometimes it never does.

I realized that the Lebanese culture thrives on politics. And if nothing is happening, politicians make news so as to be in the limelight.

During our five days at An-Nahar we saw press releases flooding the newsroom and it was so easy for a reporter to pick up the phone and call someone for a statement.

For us in Yemen, it is very difficult to find information, whether it is because the people who have the information don't want to share it, or because there is no credible information to start with.

Our visit to An-Nahar included discussions with the top management who told us about their experiences and happily answered our questions. Which was very rich for, An-Nahar is one of the oldest newspapers in the Arab world.

Three generations have influenced the newspaper and the fourth one, being Nayla Gebran Tueni, is being prepared to carry the legacy of this grand establishment even further.

It was a good experience, which I encourage others to try. Along with coming to know new people and learning from their experiences, visiting other media establishments gives a more holistic and global insight into the Arab media world.

I came back home with lots of photographs, many business cards and a blue rooster as a souvenir from An-Nahar editor-in-chief François Akl. I hung it in my living room in front of the window, and every morning as the sunrays reflect on the rooster I remember the slogan made by the late Gebran Tueni "Every time the rooster calls, An-Nahar (The Morning) rises".


This article was first published on the Arab Press Network (APN), a web portal by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), on June 22, 2007. Visit APN at http://www.arabpressnetwork.org.