13 March 2014
This week, GEN spoke with Tarek Atia. In 2013, he published the first issue of a new hyperlocal newspaper Mantiqti, meaning ‘My Neighborhood’. Now this monthly publication is celebrating its first anniversary. Based in the Cairo neighbourhood of Al Borsa and founded on the revolutionary ideals of January 2011, Atia explains why the Middle East’s largest city needs hyperlocal news, and how Mantiqti is trying to serve this need.
GEN : Tell me about Mantiqti's mission. How has that mission developed from the paper's conception to where you are today?
Tarek : Mantiqti is a free local media newspaper developed and produced by the Egypt Media Development Program (EMDP). It was born out of the idea that there is a deep need for local news coverage in Egypt, and that building a successful community depends on change at the grassroots levels.
GEN : Is there a paradox in producing hyperlocal news in one of the world's largest cities? Why is it important to be hyperlocal in a city like Cairo? What issues are specific to Al Borsa?
Tarek : Our office a part of a lively thriving community in the Al Borsa neighborhood in the heart of downtown Cairo, comprising of just three main streets. For some downtown Cairo conjures the heart of the nations’ financial district; for others, it's the coffee shops. But like any neighbourhood there are always issues. Al Borsa is a microcosm of Egypt. It is full of stories, issues, personalities, events, business and politics.
Our company, EMDP, focuses on innovation. Having worked over the years promoting the idea of local media, it was only natural that we would decide to produce Egypt’s first hyperlocal printed publication.
Mantiqti is an attempt to help create a platform by which all the members our community can have a say in its present and it's future. Our area is at the centre of Egypt’s social and political transitions. That's why we have tried to be true to what I believe is the evolving role of local media — a source of information, a guide to what's going on, a platform for discussion of issues, a marketplace for local businesses.
'Editorial is proving yourself over and again.'
GEN : What are some typical topics covered by Mantiqti?
Tarek : Our readers enjoy profiles of local residents, useful maps and calendars and great photography. We report on events and provide a 'who's who' for the neighbourhood, a profile of the local fish vendor or book binder, for example. We have tried to provide something for everyone. We are also trying to actively be a part of our neighbourhood’s future and adapt to a change of mindset regarding importance of local issues. Our goal is to be a mirror to the city, highlight its people accomplishing things, focus on issues that affect daily life, and take local government officials to task. We want to provide readers with a pleasant experience above all, one that is informative and has impact on their lives. Editorial is proving yourself over and again.
GEN : What is your circulation and has it grown?
Tarek : Ten-thousand copies are distributed for free across Al Borsa, a vibrant business district in the morning and a hangout for people from different demographics during the evening. We calculate that the newspaper reaches around 72,000 readers. It is also available all month for leisure readers in local restaurants.
Our readership base is extremely varied. Employees at local businesses — from national banks to corner markets — neighbourhood families, the city's arts and culture crowd and local students are amongst our core fans.
All nine Mantiqti covers.
GEN : As a free newspaper, what is your financial model? How do you handle advertising?
Tarek : Having a broad spectrum of readers helps advertisers and sponsors reach a wide variety of readers who need to be informed. Mantiqti has become an integral part of the downtown community. It offers the perfect platform to showcase products, events and venues. It provides space for local advertisers who haven't yet had a chance to be part of the media scene.
Egypt's current economic situation has forced businesses to cut advertising expenditures, but our biggest value is a very large and specific audience at a close proximity. We tailor our campaigns for clients and offer branding, logos and photography, because a lot of these businesses don't have this experience.
Advertising could be a key component of the paper's potential to inspire a downtown renaissance, to breathe new life into the classic stores, restaurants and coffeeshops that are on every corner. We want to meld old and new aspects of Al Borsa.
GEN : As a publication born out of unrest, does the paper take a political stance? How do you balance political opinions at the epicenter of Egyptian public life? Is that balance difficult to find?
Tarek : We have two presidents on trial and a complicated political situation that doesn't look anywhere near being resolved, but I want to talk about the future of downtown. It's easy to be pessimistic if you base your opinion on the details of each days events. We are in the midst of an upheaval there's no doubt about that, but it's easy to lose sight of the fact that each and every one of us can play a role in how things will turn out in the end.
Mantiqti serves as an example of the willingness of people to participate in their own change, and is proof that people can make a positive change given the proper tools and information.
From the side of the government, there is positive talk about wanting to allow citizens to play a part in discussing and implementing plans. But have we seen a change in the actual implementation? I would say not yet. But change is on the way and Mantiqti is determined to be a catalyst in that paradigm shift.