Amid the recent economic situation in Egypt, a state of uncertainty is expected for the situation of press. Journalists are quitting their profession as soon as they get better opportunities in different fields, ignoring their passion and prioritising money.
Newspapers in Egypt are already facing unstable economic conditions, perpetuated with recent economic changes, putting journalists under pressure, torn between following their passions or being realistic and quitting for extra income.
There are increasing challenges threatening the future of journalism in Egypt, with the financial situation coming at the top. It is expected that more prominent newspapers might need to downsize or suspend their print operations, just to avoid increasing losses.
Salaries of journalists on average range between EGP 900 and 3,000, though in some cases, salaries could be higher based on importance of position and experience. However, journalism remains one of the reputable professions that cannot provide a decent salary. Some newspapers are giving salaries per article and according to the magnitude of a journalist’s work. The rate of pay per word ranges from 50 piastres to 100 piastres, and per piece from EGP 100 to EGP 700 in local newspapers. Due to unstable conditions, some journalists receive monthly salaries in portions.
Speaking with a number of journalists working for Arabic- and English-language publications, the majority confirm that they are ready to leave the profession, no matter how passionate they are, so long as they can improve their living conditions.
“I have been working as a business reporter for over 12 years and all I have gained from the job is getting all of my work published. I can’t deny that I fulfilled my passion; I wrote stories that I’m proud of, but in terms of money, I gained nothing. Working in journalism did not help me buy a car or an apartment, nor to start a project; it barely helps me get through the day,” a 33-year-old, working for Arabic-language publication who asked to be identified only as SS, told Daily News Egypt.
SS continued that he works night shifts for other outlets, particularly foreign ones, as they provide better salaries, adding that he will quit the profession if he gets a better position anywhere else.
Another journalist, who asked to use the pseudonym Ahmed Hassan, working for an English-language publication, said, “what distinguishes me over other news reporters is that I have another language that allows me to freelance with international outlets to improve my income. Still, I can [improve my situation further] if I work in TV or for international agencies, if I got the opportunity.”
Throughout the past three years, economic conditions of journalists severely worsened due to the industry suffering increasing cases of newspaper closures, website blocking, and dismissals. This resulted in encouraging journalists to leave the profession, feeling that they are no longer safe, as they are not well compensated and there is a lack of opportunity to work freely and be creative, Mohamed Saad Abdel Hafeez, member of the Press Syndicate, told to Daily News Egypt in a phone interview.
He also said that the situation of journalists working for independent newspapers is more risky, as they are not getting paid on a regular basis, if at all, due to financial issues. He added that, comparatively, those working for governmental newspapers definitely get paid at the end of each month, even if few amounts.
“Advertisers don’t work with newspapers that print few issues, they prefer online platforms, where they are confident that their content will be more seen,” Abdel Hafiz said, adding that unfortunately, the reason behind printing few issues is reducing expenses.
He also cautioned that the content of newspapers is part of the issue, as the bulk of them is only dependent on traditional news pieces, not analysis or in-depth features.
Amr Badr, also a member of the board of the Press Syndicate, agreed with Abdel Hafez, saying that there are two main points to limit the problem: first, improving content and second, narrowing the themes of the newspapers.
Moreover, media analyst Yasser Abdel Aziz said, “I cannot doubt that the economic situation led journalists to leave the profession. Their newspapers’ income is declining due to reduction in advertisement and distribution. The models that newspapers are currently following are not sustainable. I think this would only improve in an unprecedented economic boom, and the possibility of such a thing is very weak.”
He also agreed with other syndicate members saying that advertisers have more confidence in publishing their products on social media or on the web. He also opined that after one decade, newspapers will cease to exist, saying that this has actually already begun as newspapers are reducing issues, making them weekly, or suspending print.
“Statistics and official statements indicate that printed newspapers are declining and electronic journalism will flourish. I believe that the success of the online experiment is in the interest of journalists, as developing online websites will attract [more] readers and advertisers and will offer good salaries,” Abdel Aziz concluded.
Newspapers’ financial issues are a result of several factors, ranging from self-funding methods, debt, and reduction in advertisements and subscriptions. In general, printing is one of the major issues threatening newspapers and impacting salaries, as newspapers face economic pressures, sometimes having to resort to decreasing the number of printed issues or suspending printing.
Similar to this, renowned journalist Ibrahim Eissa of privately-owned newspaper Al-Maqal said the publication shifted from a daily issue to a weekly one. Also, privately-owned newspaper Al Shorouk, which has long been suffering financial difficulties, decreased its printed issues.
Moreover, Al-Tahrir newspaper, established after the 25 January revolution, has witnessed different phases of uncertainty due to changing owners, resulting in the current suspension of printing, and also the sacking of journalists to avoid losses and save money for other expenses.
There are many media organisations that prefer to shy away from printing for fear of wasting funds and to maintain providing decent salaries. Online websites are accessed more and are viewed at higher volumes than printed newspapers.
The marketing manager of an independent newspaper, who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity, told Daily News Egypt that printed newspapers are not in demand, so online news websites and applications have become alternatives to print due to their easy access and flexibility. He also said that even subscription plans cannot continue if newspapers are not demanded or readable.
Some newspapers are relying on their subscriptions to remain operational. Hotels, embassies, and popular cafés are some of the biggest subscribers.
“We suffer to close advertisement deals, as advertisers understand well that audiences will not go to buy newspapers and are more active on social media. Still, in cases of big events, particularly economic conferences, some companies publish their ads in the newspapers distributed at the conference,” the marketing manager also said.
Recently, a number of Egyptian websites have been blocked in Egypt, which resulted in employees being terminated and salaries being reduced. Adel Sabri, editor-in-chief of Masr Al-Arabia website, said that he decided to dismiss half of his employees because of their work, by default, being halted for the past few months.
Sabri added the website had been shut down for a long while, and this negatively affected the economic conditions, thus reducing employment and reducing salaries were the solutions. He pointed out that he put the site up for sale, but there is fear of approaching and buying because of the deteriorated conditions of journalism. It was reported in local media that many of Masr Al-Arabia’s field and video journalists have also been terminated.
Moreover, Gamal Sultan, editor of Al Masryoon newspaper, said previously that the paper’s management was considering cutting costs due to the fact that the Press Syndicate did not stand behind the publication and did not respond to it in the complaint it filed, except that it referred the matter to the Superme Media Council.
Egyptian journalists have long struggled with insecure employment conditions and low salaries. The absence of permanent contracts, which provide significant legal protection against spontaneous dismissal, has been a persistent.
In a previous interview with national newspaper Akhbar Al-Youm, head of the Press Syndicate Abdel Mohsen Salama said that he agrees that journalists are receiving low salaries and that there should be a minimum wage for national newspaper employees to improve their living conditions in light of the high prices. He added that the syndicate will soon improve the income of journalists working in private newspapers because it is a big, complex problem.
According to the new contracts, the minimum wage for each journalist should be EGP 1,200 per month, which a large number of journalists do not receive at present.
The syndicate currently provides allowances to journalists to help them cope with difficult life conditions. It is the only syndicate in Egypt that issues a monthly stipend to its members. Journalists who are registered with the syndicate receive allowances of EGP 1,680, which is allocated from Ministry of Finance, and they are also provided medical insurance. There are about 11,000 journalists registered with the syndicate, which implies that the government provides about EGP 13m in allowances for journalists.