Meet your newspaper

Jaridtak (Your newspaper) is the first Arabic-language experiment with citizen e-journalism; it is entirely written by its readers. MENASSAT spoke with its founder, Maya Rahhal.

BEIRUT, April 4, 2008 (MENASSAT) – We've all heard about citizen journalism, we've also heard about how bloggers have become a major source of information for many mainstream media.

So what about a newspaper that publishes everything you write, articles written by your local baker, carpenter or a student of journalism eager to start publishing his work?

This is certainly not another kind of blogging.

Jaridtak is the first major initiative in the Arab world working towards the establishment of an alternative press based on citizen journalism on the one hand and e-journalism on the other. It was launched from Lebanon on March 28, with zest, dreams, hope and professionalism.   

When you visit the site, you will see that its creator knew what he was doing. The site is easy and fun, entertaining and informative.

The main objective of the project is to make the readers, who witness the events around them that affect their lives, the newsmakers. They are then transformed from receivers to creators of information.

The website is a platform for anyone wishing to publish information or opinion. It also allows the uploading of photos and videos.

It is also a criticism of the mainstream media because the citizen, depending on where he lives, is bored of either news packaged as entertainment or  political propaganda camouflaging as news.

In the past few years, many have tried to succeed in e-journalism but the Arab world has so far steered clear of anything other than blogs. So Jaridtak is truly a pioneer in its field.

Its creators drew inspiration from existing sites such as in South Korea and in France. 

Agoravox is a French e-newspaper attracting about one million visitors a month, with 8,000 reporters from around the world, 600 of them active around the clock. It receives more than fifty news items, reports and interviews and publishes around thirty of them daily. Soon Agoravox will launch a print edition as well.

Ohmynews was launched four years ago. Today it has forty editors who publish up to two-hundred news items per day. Its members exceed 26,000 and the website attracts 2 millions visitors per month.

Jaridtak's creators describe their newspaper as an Arab citizens' newspaper adopting the objectives of the alternative press. It is published in Lebanon but is directed at Arabic-speakers throughout the world and to the world at large through its English- and French-language websites.

Maya Rahhal.

Maya Rahhal: 'No newspaper today reflects the opinion of the impartial citizen'

MENASSAT: How did you get this idea?

When I traveled to France to specialize in e-journalism, I followed a training session at Agoravox. Then This gave me the idea of creating a similar project in Lebanon. When I returned to Lebanon, I presented my idea to my husband [Mohammad Zbib, head of the business section in al-Akhbar newspaper, Ed.]. Together, we made a study in six months with our own funding.

MENASSAT: How did you choose this name?

Sometimes, things are clear but you don't see them directly. We put a lot of thought a lot in the name. First, we chose Witnesses, then suddenly the name Jaridtak just seemed to sum up all the meanings and the objectives of the project.

MENASSAT: How many reporters do you have now?

We currently have 30 reporters. But this is without doing any advertising or marketing. I used my list of friends and spread the word through emails. Some accepted the invitation and collaborated with us. However, we are planning an advertising campaign in the near future.

MENASSAT: Who is you target audience?

We aim for the e-community, the youth. However, we also want to target the housewife, the laborer and all those who are having a hard time getting their voice heard.

MENASSAT: What is your position on citizen journalism? Aren't you afraid that it will be the death of traditional journalism?

Of course I support citizen journalism. I think traditional journalism is withering away. Newspapers no longer satisfy the readers, that is the reason why we are seeing this kind of journalism emerge. The readers don't find what they're looking for in today's newspapers, and they all have something to say. Take Lebanon, for example, can you find one newspaper that is not politicized and follows a certain path? People are bored with this; they want the truth, not just one part of it. There is no such thing as an impartial or neutral press, and no newspaper resembles the neutral citizen who has no interest in politics.

MENASSAT: The people who send you their articles are not professional journalists. How do you deal with the quality control?

Most of the texts are left as they are in their original context. However, if we feel that somethings need to be edited, we will rephrase. You can't expect every citizen to have an impeccable language control or a knowledge of the professional bases for journalistic writing. So we have lowered the ceiling, allowing everyone to write. This is their newspaper.

MENASSAT: Do you pay for contributions?

Of course not. No salaries, no remunerations. We are simply opening up a space for the citizen to breathe. We don't want the project to be commercialized. What matters to us is the material.

MENASSAT: What kind of subjects will Jaridtak tackle?

We want to stay away from politics. The subjects are social, concerning every person, away from politics. However, this doesn't mean that we won't publish political articles. We study the real interest of the citizen. For instance, the most popular article today is about the first lady of France, Carla Bruni.

MENASSAT: How do you see your chances of success?

Al-Akhbar newspaper wrote about our website one week after it was launched and we didn't even know about it. Today, here you are. I think we have a bright future. I hope one day it will be the newspaper for all.