To what degree has the shift to online journalism changed the media landscape in Algeria? Abderrahmane Semmar (Abdu), a 28 year-old Algerian journalist, claims “the web is saving journalism” in his country, as he witnessed first-hand the change from print to digital – and crowdsourced – news. After working in the print editions of several Algerian newspapers including El Watan, La Tribune, Le Temps, and Le Midi Libre, he started writing for the web edition of El Watan, the most recognized paper in Algeria. Later, he co-founded Nessnews.com[FR], the first citizen journalism platform in Algeria. He currently is Editor-in-Chief of Algerie-Focus.com[FR], one of the most important news sites in the country.
We met up with Abdu at a one-day online and web skills bootcamp (hosted by Tunisia, Google, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, and the World Bank Institute) where he detailed the situation of digital media in Algeria.
GEN: Can you tell me about Nessnews.com, the website which you cofounded? Why is it innovative?
Nessnews.com is a citizen journalism portal, and it is the first of its kind in Algeria. I would even say the first in all of Maghreb, because Nawaat.org (based in Tunisia) is a little different. The newsroom is composed of two people: myself who writes in French, and my colleague who writes in Arabic. We sometimes publish exclusive news articles, as we have sources who will contact us first because we are considered neutral. We are not affiliated with any political party, and we have barely any advertising. Yet most of the content on Nessnews.com comes from citizens, who have the possibility to create a profile on the site and publish their content. We do validate the content and verify that it does not contain defamation, hate speech, etc. However we publish everyone’s point of view, which includes the Islamics, pro-military, atheists, and former terrorists. We created a space for free speech so Algerians can reclaim the important debates in their own country. The site is six months old, and receives between 400,000 and 500,000 unique visitors per month. We are financially independent, as we used our own money and had help from our friends. We have a few adsense advertisements, but no real economic model.
What is Aglérie-focus.com, the site which you are the Editor-in-Chief?
It’s one of the first information website created in Algeria, and it has been in existence for more than five years. It offers an interactive way for consuming national information and news on the twenty-four hour media cycle. It contains columns, featured articles, analysis, and reports. We emphasize in-depth information and interactivity. We are a team of six or seven people, and the site receives 10,000 to 15,000 unique visitors per day. Our business model is primarily online advertising, and eventually we’ll do syndication of our content, such as selling articles to regional newspapers. On the innovation aspect, we have fewer structural costs than the traditional press, so we can invest more in our content.
What is the situation of the media in Algeria?
New media and the web are currently saving journalism in Algeria. It is saving us from a number of obstacles that exist, as the traditional press has entered an unbearable cycle due to pressures from the authorities. Readership is therefore becoming dissatisfied with the traditional media, and have even ridiculed its output. The web has arrived, and with it a certain democratization of the media. The people have taken a stand, and they are debating the current affairs in their country. We have taken advantage of this change, and used tools from the web to break taboos and move the boundaries imposed by the current authorities and lobbies.
What is the importance of online media in Algeria?
Many news sites are well known and appreciated, such as l’algérie.com and algérie-focus.com, who have become the leaders in the industry. They are quoted in the traditional press; my editorials are reprinted by Courrier International, and the investigation that we did on Christians in Algeria was picked-up by the French weekly publication La Vie. We are taken seriously because we dare to say certain things and offer analysis, and this freedom of tone is not present in the traditional press.
What is your analysis of the situation in the media throughout the region, considering the recent political changes?
The context is both good and bad. It’s good because the Arab Spring liberated speech, and the youth want to take control of their information which creates many news sites. Yet there are also negative consequences. Sometimes revolutions go south, and this reenforces repression in certain regimes….
What is one piece of advice you can give to GEN’s editorial community given your experience in Algeria?
My advice to international journalists and editors is to come to Maghreb and share with us your experiences, and change the way you view our country. We need more exchanges with the outside world to sustain the momentum that was born from the recent political changes.