INTERVIEWER: MAHMOUD MANSI
Interview with Amira El Noshokaty ~ The Entrepreneurial Journalist
1- Why did you choose your career as a journalist and a writer?
I have always had a passion for writing, and so I listened to my heart and did not follow any of the classic advice of studying business or commerce to secure a stable well paid job. I believe I did the right thing, for journalism is a very interesting profession that increased my knowledge with every new topic I research and write.
2- Did you have any other corporate work experience?
After attaining my diploma in human rights and civil society, I started working as a development program officer in a non-governmental organization in Egypt, but could not last more than 3 month. It turned out I am a writer after all. Civil society is my social work but not my job.
3- What difficulties did you face when started your career as a journalist? And did someone train you, or did you have do train yourself? How did this process go?
When I first started it was not easy. My first topic of training was about agrarian law in Egypt. Imagine? But Dina Ezzat is one of the best journalists in Ahram Weekly taught me my biggest lesson: How to transform a very harsh topic that I barely know, let alone like, into something with human aspect, history and quite interesting. So I read all the books, and managed to find an interesting angle for me to write about it. I always had a passion for human and features stories. I was very lucky to be trained by one of the best features writers in Egypt. Fatemah Farag, opened up a whole new vivid horizon of an Egypt I never knew before. She would assign me stories that took me to the most under developed villages in upper Egypt, or to the heart of delta, where I would find gems of human survival stories and endless efforts of civil society that never fails to make positive impact. Through ten years of experience in features, I can say I became a more rounded person, who saw beyond the face value of things and appreciated this country much much more, through this features window she opened. Thanks to my passionate and very professional tutor who really believed in me.
4- Have your college education helped or inspired you in any direct or indirect way in your journalism field?
My college education was quite inspiring, I studied English literature which opened me to all those enchanting stories. It sharpened my expression skills, and made me always keen on bringing out the humans behind the news stories I write for they are the most interesting.
5- You founded Folk Section in Ahram Online that discusses folk arts, street stories, inspiring minds and the photographic memory of Egypt. There is a stereotype in Egypt that governmental organizations do not encourage creativity. What do you think about this saying after you broke the stereotype?
In Ahram Online, I was very lucky indeed to be working under the guidance of the Hani Shukralla, who when I suggested a small subsection to document our folk heritage in a journalistic way, he said I will give u a whole section and was my biggest fan and supporter. And we did it and became the first section in Egypt if not the middle-east to reveal the gems of folk arts in a journalistic and updated manner six years ago. I guess I was lucky to find a man with a vision who broke the mold on daily basis, my advice is stick to those, and keep looking, you will find them even in classic establishments such as Ahram.
6- Since Ahram has a paper edition and an online one, do you think the readers differ? How? And if they do, does the method of writing the article differ too?
Ahram has many publications, but I guess now, everybody go online to know the latest news. Readers are the same, people of all ages now are on line. As for stories, well online stories are shorter, but updated and have hyperlinks with all the related topics, unlike the limitation of the print.
7- What are the common difficulties a journalist faces in the Middle East? And what about the difficulties of a female journalist?
Journalists in Egypt in general suffer from the fear of people and the lack of authentic data. Facts and figures are quite scarce in Egypt and it makes journalists work twice as hard to find them. A lot of people fear that journalists might twist their words, or fabricate stories so you have to do the effort and be your best and show them integrity to be able to gain their trust. As a woman, well I never thought of myself as a woman, when I work I am a journalist, no gender required. I do my job with professionalism and respect is a two way street.
8- What are the qualities of a professional journalist?
A professional journalist is an honest person who does her/his homework before addressing his/her subject. Who is as objective as possible, would put all the facts in the article with great passion and interest.
9- Being a reader, how can you judge if the article is written by a professional or an amateur journalist?
You can tell an amateur from a pro, by the manner they write. If there is misusage of facts, or one angle of the story, no research, poorly written, that’s an amateur.
10- Do you believe that anyone can be a Journalist?
I believe journalism is half talent of writing, half hard work. And to be able to balance such two aspects, is the key to a successful journalist.
11- Recently you have published your second book: Khatwa Aziza. Congratulations. What is your opinion about book publishers in Egypt? If you were book publisher how would you offer better services to your writers?
I think book publishing in Egypt is quite booming, actually. We have too many writers nowadays . If I were a publishing house, I would roam the governorates of Egypt and publish books for the young talents of the south.
12- If you were working in another profession other than writing, would you still include the books and stories you published in your CV? What would this reflect on one’s personality?
Yes I would, whatever I do, I do with great belief and love. Whoever wants to read my CV should know all about me, not only one aspect.
13- If you are the Chief Editor of a newspaper and you have to recruit journalists, what would be the questions you ask in the interview?
Mmm. I would ask them what’s the best thing they like about journalism, and their favorite and least favorite topics.
14- What do writers in Egypt lack mostly?
I cannot generalize. Some lack authenticity, some would lack real talent, and some lack a chance to be read. It’s very different, you have so many young writers.
15- Can you share with us a personal situation that you have been trough as a journalist, a difficult situation that you faced with one of your interviewees, and how did you deal with it?
I once was interviewing the head of UN body and after interviewing him, I realized at home that my tape recorder was ruined and that I didn’t tape much of the interview. I was so embarrassed but I stuck to being honest. I asked for another interview and went on the points that were not taped. I also learnt I needed to take notes and be attentive all the time, I can never count on machines.
16- Amira, you are also teaching advanced and creative newspaper writing in Cairo University. You must be an excellent role model to your students. Please share with us how do you evaluate the students and how do you motivate them?
I am very lucky with my students. It’s an elective course so they are 16- they are mostly talented inspiring students whom you give a hint, then you find them building on the knowledge you teach them and taking it to another level. They needed very little guidance. You stand among people who can dream, attain such dream and always have Egypt in their concern and social responsibility is their background. I am literary working in the hope factory my friend, I am the one who is daily inspired here
17- What can HR in universities offer to their Lecturers in order to support them more?
HR can do magic in universities. Students need to know how special and powerful they are. HR can help them work on their soft skills to help them become more focused and motivated.
18- You founded Thaqafa & Torath section in weladelbalad.com, many people now started to be interesting into reading literature and culture, how do you think these genres affect the mentality of employees?
Folk heritage is quite inspiring. It’s basically the foundation that glues this society together. It’s the roots to which we are attached. In this day and age, you can find those who would steal also your heritage and twist your history with lies and violence. All you need to do is to know your history, to know how folk arts preserved such history and to keep remembering. He who preserves his memories, has got everything and will always be a winner. Folk arts taught me my biggest lesson: I carry my roots in me and add new flowers to a deeply rooted ancient tree. I am but another brick on the wall, that would never be that high had it been not founded by my ancestors.
19- What is your advice to people who want to establish a professional career in journalism?
I advise people who want to be professional journalists, to be exactly that: professional and journalists. You are no body’s voice but the truth. You have no political agenda, and highlight the good news and young inspiring minds of this amazing country.
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