Second Arab Women‘s Media Conference, October 24-27, 2002, Jordan

Online Journalism and Development of the Arab Media

— by Magda Abu-Fadil

Your Highness, your excellencies, media colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank the Arab Women’s Media Center, and particularly Mahasen Al Emam, for inviting me to this fascinating event and offering me the opportunity to discuss a very important topic, which has not been given adequate attention in the Arab World: online journalism.

There are a number of different interpretations of this term — online journalism — and I’d like to touch on all of them in the allotted time today.

One angle of OJ is creating news for Web sites, which most print and broadcast media seem to be doing, with varying degrees of success and credibility. You see and browse these sites of leading newspapers, magazines, TV stations, and radio stations with their Webcasts of programs and online publications available only on the Internet. It has also become part of the focus on convergence and pressures placed on journalists to produce for various media.

Another angle is the actual teaching of computer-assisted research and reporting with the Internet, which most schools of communication and colleges of journalism today do, primarily in the United States.

A third angle is the creation of blogs, or web logs, which means journalists and other writers posting their own news online on their own sites. This helps journalists who can’t get published in mainstream media. But critics claim blogs lack credibility.

Finally, we’re seeing self-generated news on sites like Google, where the latest trend is to let a computer using algorithms select from top stories of the day from 4,000 sources on the web and provide links to the content, hence bypassing human editors in that end-user process. We’re also seeing computers that write the news.

But I’d like to reverse the order by discussing the last option first, because I find it intriguing and because it relies on an Arabic system of mathematics. We seem to forget that much of the knowledge we use today comes from our rich Arab roots. But we also dwell on the past and still haven't learned to make the best use of tools fashioned to help us master this knowledge to our best advantage.

All the weapons in the world cannot defeat what we have in our heads because, in the final analysis, knowledge is power. So let's rise to the occasion.

Download the full text of the speech (PDF): English, Arabic

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