Several small and independent media have emerged in the MENA over the last few years. But sustaining a media organisation when money is scarce and censorship is on the rise is a great challenge. MCJN interviewed Lina Ejeilat, the co-founder of 7iber, and asked her for advice to our members wish to follow in her footsteps.
7iber was founded in 2007 by three people; myself, Ramsey George and Naseem Tarawanah. The three of us were working in media and at the same time writing our own personal blogs. Blogging was still very exciting at the time and there wasn’t a lot of online media back then, so we decided to start 7iber as a citizen media platform.
It was hard to explain to people at that time exactly what we wanted to accomplish. We all worked on the projects as volunteers and not all contributors were professional journalists. Anyone who had a good story or a good article or opinion piece was welcome to share. We all had other jobs and we were just doing this on the side.
I wish someone had given us more business and management advice at the beginning because we learned a lot of things by trial and error
By 2009, there was growing interest in blogging and web publishing and we were getting requests to do trainings and workshops. So we decided to register as a company, but the lawyer advised us to register as a company for training and technology because online media was not a well-understood concept in Jordan at the time. He said that to register as a publication could complicate licensing issues. The training we did back then, and continue to do now, is helping us fund the platform.
We continued to grow steadily and by 2011 we were in the right place in the right time. We were flooded with a lot of excellent contributions from young people who wanted to talk about what the Arab spring meant to them. We received testimonials from people who took part in protests. There was a huge debate about political reform and we were there at the heart of it.
We expanded our readership and content, and we hosted a lot of events and debates. But by the end of 2011 that momentum stopped because of the way things happened in the region, and we felt that we need to evolve and take the lead in pushing the conversation about political change forward, even when people were frustrated and disillusioned. So in 2012 we managed to secure funding to establish a proper team to produce multimedia journalistic content.
Our very first grant was from Open Society Foundations, then we got some core funding from The European Endowment for Democracy for two years. One of our main supporters is International Media Support which is based in Denmark, and we have had funding from other European organisations.
We are still working to develop a business model not based on funding, and we do generate a small revenue from training and production services and consultancy. We are of course part of the bigger global debate on supporting quality journalism and creating a new business model for journalism and we haven’t quite figured it out yet..
When we first started we were so passionate and of course we still are, but with time as you grow and hire new talented people, you realise that institution-building and management are a bigger challenge than you imagined. What I care about is producing journalism that is credible and professional but you find yourself having to deal with completely different challenges that have nothing to do with the journalism itself like setting up the organisational structure and internal accountability and how do you keep good people and how to operate within the existing laws. So I wish someone had given us more business and management advice at the beginning because we learned a lot of things by trial and error.
we refuse to do any self-censorship. If we start to do that then we might as well pack up and go home
One of our biggest challenges of course was the political context and how the political climate changed after 2011. Although we made some gains in terms of press freedom, unfortunately they proved to be temporary. In 2012 the government in Jordan imposed new restrictions on online media and it became mandatory to get a license. In 2013-2014 we were blocked by the government because we refused to apply for a license, and the government filed a case against us for running an unlicensed media operation. We have overcome this, but it’s still an ongoing challenge because we refuse to do any self-censorship. If we start to do that then we might as well pack up and go home. The other challenge is having to deal with people's frustration with the political climate. But despite all the challenges, our love for journalism helps us find the energy to go on.
Lina’s advice for journalists starting their own media organisations
- Just do it! Don’t hesitate.
- Think carefully about how to make your organisation sustainable and keep it afloat financially.
- If I were starting 7iber now, I would have a better checklist of what I need to set up a company. I would think about the most boring bureaucratic details, including obtaining all the correct licensing. Have a good auditor from the very start.
- Think of who you need to get on board. When we started, a wise friend told us we need 3 people to start any media organisation; a journalist, a business manager for everyday operations, and an entrepreneur who will always come up with creative ideas on how to fund the organisation.
- Have a clear idea of what will make you stand out from the crowd .
- Starting your own publication will require more skills than just a good experience in journalism. If all you want to do is just write stories, then starting a publication may prove frustrating.
Photo by Ari Silverman/NPR