In the face of increasing varieties of alternative media channels, printed newspapers are likely to remain a primary source of news for Egyptians, according to both consumers and media experts.
At Cairo’s busy Tahrir Square, Hani Ramadan stood behind his newsstand featuring more than twenty five Egyptian newspapers and tabloids. “We sell almost the same number of copies every year,” Ramadan said. “But nowadays, this number is divided among more rival publications.”
“On Friday, Al-Ahram sells more of its weekly edition than any other paper,” he added, unaware of which newspaper was interviewing him. “Recently, though, Al-Masry Al-Youm has sold the most copies every day.”
Ramadan believes that in five to seven years from now, there will be no need for newspaper sellers, since “people will get all their news from the internet.”
But in spite of increasing internet access in Egypt, news vendors needn’t worry about the future of print media, say both online and offline media insiders.
“Online news sources are more for short, immediate news, but we put all the details in the print edition,” said Ibrahim Mansour, executive editor of independent daily Al-Dostour. “Egyptians tend to prefer print media. When website users increase, sales rates for print copies also increase.”
There are other variables that factor in to newspaper sales in Egypt.
“In the last two months, we saw a ten to 15 percent rise in the number of copies sold,” said Mansour, suggesting that recent calls for reform by Mohamed ElBaradei–former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and would-be presidential candidate–could be the reason behind the growth.
“Some newspapers won’t be able to compete, but print media will never disappear,” said Emad Sayyed, content manager for Egyptian news website Masrawy.com. “Online media is much faster than offline media, in addition to having the benefit of hyperlinks, but printed media is a better tool for analytical news and in-depth features.”
Masrawy is the most-visited Egyptian virtual-news provider, according to Internet traffic information company Alexa.
In addition to the differing approaches to providing news, the work patterns of print journalists have also changed in recent years.
“Some 80 percent of our journalists use computers to send us stories,” said Mansour. “There is no place for writing on dasht (rough yellow paper traditionally used by journalists) anymore.”
Younger Egyptians, meanwhile, perceive media differently. Khaled Mohamed and Mohamed Abdel Meguid, both Cairo University students, rely entirely on the internet as a source of sports news, which, along with documentary films, represents their main interest.
“We surf the net for sites like YallaKora.com, Egynews.net, National Geographic and Al-Jazeera for documentaries,” they said. “We never buy newspapers.”
But they don’t speak for everyone their age.
“On Fridays, we buy papers such as Al-Shorouq and Al-Masry Al-Youm,” said Maggie Mohamed, a student at the German University in Cairo. Her colleague, Haggar Mohsen, who buys one newspaper every day, pointed out that newspaper-purchasing habits had changed drastically over the past five years.
“Al-Ahram is no longer the preeminent daily,” Mohsen said. “Plus, we can now see a variety of newspapers online.”
Maggie and Haggar were aware of Egyptian newspapers’ differing orientations, be they of the independent, state-owned or opposition variety. Notably, however, the word “blog” failed to ring a bell with them, or with a handful of other random university students interviewed by Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Even though blogging might not be as popular as other media channels in Egypt, the country currently boasts the highest number of bloggers in the Arab world.
There were approximately 250,000 bloggers in Egypt as of 2009, representing a 56-percent increase on the year before, according to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI). The figure suggests there are probably hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who visit these blogs, despite frequent moves by the government to target bloggers deemed overly critical of the state.
Recently, ANHRI founded Wasla, a tabloid devoted to re-publishing material found on blogs from around the world.
“The purpose of Wasla is to directly introduce journalists and activists to the bloggers,” said ANHRI director Gamal Eid.
Eid, who was waiting for Wasla‘s second issue to arrive from the printing press, hopes the budding publication will eventually become “a tool to help the emerging generation learn how to take a position and discuss differing opinions.”