First published in April 2013, Mantiqti is a monthly newspaper serving downtown Cairo that aims to build stronger ties within the community as well as with the government
Co-founded by Ehab Abdelhamid, Sameh El Kashef, Tarek Atia and Ahmed Montaser, Mantiqti reports from the heart of Cairo, helping downtown residents learn more about their own community.
According to CEO co-founder Tarek Atia, “We all felt the need for a local newspaper that could relay the problems, concerns and daily struggles of the average person.” He stresses that, although Mantiqti is a local publication, its founders are keen to maintain high caliber journalism and tap into the needs of the community.
“I think a massive shift is happening now in the media, and that the way the old media operates – the way they address the people – will not last much longer. Right now, what we need is a solution-oriented approach, and we need all the support that we can get to improve the situation for citizens, businesses and the government,” he adds.
Community Times speaks to Tarek Atia to learn more about the team’s concept, the recent developments downtown and the role of the local media.
Why did you start the newspaper?
We started when we realized that there is a need for locally produced media in Egypt, especially for those who live downtown. Mantiqti was launched as a mainstream local Egyptian newspaper, and the idea was to close the gap between authorities and those who live and work in that area by creating a sense of community through Mantiqti.
People have a lot of questions about why certain problems have come up and what is being done to fix them. They approach us and ask us to cover different topics, and we do surveys regularly to find out what they want to read about.
Through Mantiqti, we try to create something that is useful, informative and entertaining that can cater to the whole community, from the street sweeper all the way to the CEOs of the big banks that are headquartered downtown.
We chose to begin with downtown as a neighborhood because it is the heart of the city and because a lot of stuff happens here.
What type of articles do you publish?
We try to publish everything; from local stories on interesting people to informative pieces about how to get from one place to another or how to navigate the Mogamma Tahrir Building.
We also do in-depth stories where we tackle different angles of the story. We have a cultural calendar of what’s going on where and when. Then we have special issues that we dedicate to certain topics. For example, we had a feature on garages titled “Where Do I Park?” The whole issue was about parking downtown, where we covered the different problems that people have with parking on the street and in garages.
But we also have regular sections, so we have an opinion section, where we ask people for their points of view on different topics; we have a section called ‘Our Street,’ where we pick one street and write about its history and everything interesting about it. We have a recipe section that is based on contributions of chefs from local restaurants. We also include local success stories and monthly op-eds.
More than anything else, we try to take into consideration what people need and to include their thoughts and opinions on certain issues in the community. For example, we made a user guide for the Mogamma’ in one issue, which, according to what I have seen, was the first of its kind. We were very proud when the administration at the Mogamma’’ took our map and posted it in the building as a guide for visitors.
How have people reacted to Mantiqti?
At first, people were really surprised and some were shocked to see their friends featured in the newspaper – this is especially true for our local success stories. Sometimes, we profile someone that everyone sees everyday at a coffee shop, turning ordinary people into micro celebrities.
At the beginning, people would say: “What’s so special about him, we see him everyday,” because, for them, you have to be a celebrity to be in the papers. Amazingly enough, those same people now approach us and ask us to write about them, so it has shifted 360 degrees. Now they understand that this is something that gives them a voice.
How do you fund Mantiqti?
Right now, Mantiqti is free, and it is distributed to local businesses, homes, offices, cultural centers, restaurants, and coffee shops. Since it is a monthly, we are very active on social media – especially Facebook – where we break daily news and do follow-up and in-depth stories. Starting next year, we hope to make Mantiqti a weekly.
Our funding comes from ads and sponsorships by local businesses. It took some time for businesses to understand the added value of advertising with us; even though we still have a long way to go, we are happy that the quality of our ads has improved. Right now, we print and distribute 10,000 copies and we have our own distribution system and network; we try to distribute in a way that ensures that 70,000 – 80,000 people read our newspaper.
What are your main challenges?
The main challenge is that Egyptian media in general is imbalanced; huge amounts of money are poured into poor quality media. We have all of these TV stations that have no purpose. Meanwhile, there are those that try to provide high quality media that is relevant and not politically motivated, but most of the money goes towards unprofessional media.
We need a shift in the industry, and I think that people realize that the country needs responsible media, because they are not happy with things as they are; we do not get useful information and most of the information that we get is rumors, not facts based on research. The main challenge for us is that we are little guys competing against larger entities that are not doing their role.
What is the plan for the coming years?
We spent two and half years trying to perfect the formula of a local newspaper and now we want to spread across four new neighborhoods over the next two years and then add more later on. We hope to see Mantiqti all over the country and maybe in the Middle East, because this is definitely something that people want and need.
There have been huge renovations downtown recently. What is happening and what is your role as a newspaper in it?
Overall, I think the renovations have been very positive, and I’m happy that there is an effort to do something in an area that has been neglected for decades.
I think it is fantastic that there is a will to revive downtown, and that the initiative is not just coming from the government, but that banks, companies, private investors, urban planners and cultural institutions are engaged as well.
How this is being done could be improved, and I think that there is a need to involve the community more in the process. We need more transparency about the downtown plan, because people struggle to get details on what’s actually happening.
The more you get stakeholders to buy into the plan, the more likely it will flourish. At the end of the day, people want to play a role and be part of the change, whether they are residents, media or owners.
I think officials need to acknowledge this and use it so that everyone can work together, because the government cannot do it alone. Any city that wants to maintain its glory has to encourage owners to participate and to give them incentive to do so. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel; we can use the experience of other cities.
Besides the renovations, what else is happening downtown and what is your role in it?
Our role is letting the government know what people want, what’s wrong, and how things can be improved.
For example, there was a huge problem downtown with thousands of street vendors that operated illegally; we covered this extensively and tried to push the government to do something about it. Before, the security and police would remove the vendors, but they kept coming back, so we proposed alternative solutions that would be long lasting and inclusive.
I don’t think that what happened was perfect, but it was better than previous solutions and I think we may have played a role in that.
We also did a study on the broken and uneven sidewalks. Eventually, the governor ordered to repave them, and this was partially a result of our coverage; we are still not happy with the solution because they didn’t take into account the needs of handicapped or older people, but it’s a good step.
How is working in a local media outlet different than larger outlets?
When you work for a large media outlet, like I did for 15 years, you rarely see your audience. You never know who is reading what you write or what they think of it. But if you are a local media outlet and your office is in the same neighborhood, you get to meet your readers and sources everyday, so you know what is happening, what people’s concerns are, and you get very personal feedback.