Cross-post. Originally published online for JustHere.
In our last interview Jassim Almass a 24-year-old Qatari graphic designer, recommended we interview Rashid Al Kuwari co-founder of Qartoon.
I started drawing on my maths and schools books. I didn’t pay much attention to the teacher. But by luck or not, I ended up as a cartoonist for a newspaper.
The best cartoons come without words so that people in any language understand the idea.
My grandparents tell me that the old souk used to have art and cartoons on the walls. But at the moment, in Qatar our culture puts cartoons at the end of the newspaper, and sees animation as the thing for children.
In Qartoon we are trying to build awareness of this culture and develop an art form which connects the worlds of adults and children. We use Qatari slang to express ourselves and many of the ideas we draw, getting inspiration from our own language. The Ministry of Culture recently encouraged us to hold a workshop at Katara. Thirty people came, most of them were women.
We produced a graphic novel which is a mixture of our culture and history, full of myths about demons. We have several demonic characters that eat children in our culture. So we built a story from this. The novel took a year to produce.
Sometimes we get resistance to the ideas we express. Once I drew a cartoon of women driving, which was in the style of a horror movie poster. A lot of ladies hated it. But I was just expressing a point of view.
We use cartoons with humour and irony to get our message across because a lot of people ignore traditional messages. We need to modernise our thinking and we want to challenge old world views – like the idea of women staying at home, or not having their own job – through our work.
The hardest thing I do is for the newspaper (Al Raya). Every day you have to come up with a new idea. Each page takes 4-5 hours to create. If you don’t have the concept in mind, it takes even longer. Routine prevents ideas from coming, so change is good.
I love the work of Hayao Miyazaki. He directed Spirited Away. And I’ve seen each one of his movies. Each one is a masterpiece. I went to Japan in 2009 just to learn about this culture and was amazed by what I saw, especially seeing an old man reading Manga on the subway.
I have the shadow of childhood following me. I watch cartoons and buys comics. I still like old cartoons like Sesame Street and I am really interested in Manga and Japanese comics and culture. I think, maybe, I am still a child.
For the next interview in this series Rashid recommends we talk to Fatmas Alnesf from the Al Jazeera Children’s Channel.
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‘Hyperlocal media is coming in from the cold’
Posted: 1 May 2013 By: Damian Radcliffe
It is a year since NESTA launched ’Destination Local‘, a £1 million investment fund aimed at stimulating next-generation hyperlocal media services in the UK.Since then the UK’s nascent hyperlocal scene has witnessed a step change in activity and recognition from policy makers and funders alike. And while it may be too early to tell, the increasing penetration of smartphones may also mean that 2012 to 2013 was also the year in which UK hyperlocal media consumption began to become more mainstream.
This busy year began with the publication (by NESTA) of my landscape report ‘Here and Now‘; the first analysis of hyperlocal media in the UK. Research reports, it would seem, are like buses; you wait ages for one and then several arrive at once. Consistently during the course of the last 12 months each one has deepened our knowledge of the sector, both in terms of its size and its relationship with audiences.
After ‘Here and Now’, the next project out of the blocks was the latest set of annual Communications Market Reports published by Ofcom. These statistical doorstops have long been the bible for anyone working in the TV, radio, internet and telecoms industries.
For those interested in hyperlocal media, the 2012 reports offered the first attempt to analyse the size of this industry in the UK – both in terms of the number of sites (432 as of May 2012 but having grown to 633 by February 2013), their geographic distribution and the size of their audience.Ofcom’s analysis concluded that ”use of hyperlocal websites is growing”, and reported that “around 1 in 7 (14 per cent) of people state that they use a local community website on at least a monthly basis”.
More recent research by NESTA into the demand for hyperlocal media services in the UK developed this understanding further still, revealing the often highly functional nature of hyperlocal media consumption. Amongst survey respondents, weather, news and entertainment were the most popular types of content being accessed.
NESTA’s latest research also highlighted the plurality of tools and services users harness to access this local news and information – ranging from search engines to social networks to find content, through to utilising a mixture of desktops, mobile and tablets to consume it.
SEO it would seem – as well as the need to have your content on a wide range of platforms – is clearly just as important for hyperlocal publishers as any other type of news outlet.Alongside these reports, a longer 30-month research project, led by Cardiff University, into ”understanding the value of the creative citizen” has provided us with our first evidence of the volume of hyperlocal publishing, as well as the types of content, these sites are producing.
During a 10-day sample period the analysis revealed that the UK hyperlocal sector produced 380 stories a day at a rate of 15 stories an hour. It also showed that the sector has a long tail. A third of the sites studied during this time frame were responsible for 75 per cent of all hyperlocal content being produced.Perhaps not surprisingly much of this content focusses on community news, local politics and sport – broadly in line with the consumption patterns revealed by NESTA. Politicians, businesses and members of the public are the most commonly heard voices on hyperlocal sites. Community groups perhaps need to up their ante and engage with these media outlets more.
And while NESTA’s recent research shows that “the take-up of connected devices such as tablets and smartphones has been a driver behind the increased use of hyperlocal media”, the past year has also shown that traditional methods of consumption remain popular with audiences.
For every innovation like Talk About Local’s augmented reality project, HypARlocal, there are also examples of sites demonstrating the resilience of older online community models.This is particularly true for forums. One of the UK’s largest, the Sheffield Forum, is now 10 years old with more than 6.4 million posts in its archive; a number which is increasing at a rate of around 2,000 posts per day.
Print too has shown its longevity. In fact, in some areas, it seems to be having a resurgence. Online ventures such as the Brixton Blog and HU17.net, have embraced reverse publishing as a means to grow their audience – and their revenue.More recently the Port Talbot Magnet and the Caerphilly Observer announced that they too are to join the ranks of hyperlocal publishers launching print editions. This may well become a more common trend in the coming year.
Other trends we can expect to see in the next 12 months include expansion efforts by successful publishers and increased efforts to capitalise on social networks beyond Twitter.
For the former, this may include partnership with commercial partners – such as Archant’s collaboration with EverythingEppingForest.co.uk, or efforts like the Kentishtowner’s expansion South of the River and the decision by the team behind the Sheffield Forum to develop a ‘sister’ site – Leeds Forum – for their northern neighbour.
Expect too more efforts like those “to get Blog Preston’s Facebook page into shape”. Facebook has 1 billion members worldwide and is simply too big to ignore.This all paints an optimistic picture. And one which evidence increasingly suggests is justified. But, against this many of the time-honoured challenges faced by the sector remain.Funding and commercial viability is still a challenge for many operators, and sustainability is often bound up in the fortunes – and the time – of a few. Stoke’s PitsnPots is a good example of this. The site has (rightly) widely been held up as a beacon for the sector. However, it has sadly been mothballed since August last year, when a post was put up to say those behind it are “taking a break”.
Meanwhile, just as it was last year, the elephant in the room remains Leveson. Although the DCMS has recently announced efforts to ensure that ‘micro-business’ blogs are outside of the proposed new press regulation system, the picture is more complex.
Online-only operations may well choose to voluntarily opt into the system, thus ensuring they can benefit from incentives such as protection from exemplary damages and use of the regulator’s arbitral arm. But, as the Newspaper Society has noted, “if bloggers started to print and distribute their blogs, they would cease to be exempt from the scheme and be exposed to the heavy financial penalties for publishers outside of it”.
Such a move may act as a disincentive to the sorts of hyperlocal publishing efforts we’ve seen emerging in the past 12 months; efforts which in many cases are integral to the financial sustainability of online operations. How these proposals – and further discussions about ‘relevant publishers’ – plays out may well determine whether the UK’s hyperlocal sector continues on a upward curve or not.
One thing is for sure, in the hyperlocal world, the next year is going to be interesting.
Damian Radcliffe is the author of ‘Here and Now – UK hyperlocal media today’, the UK’s first review of this emerging sector. He is an honorary research fellow at the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies and has spent much of the past 20 years working in local media, in a mix of content and policy roles. A former BBC staffer, he has also worked for Ofcom and led a Sony Award-winning partnership between BBC English Regions and the charity CSV. His research and writing on hyperlocal media can be found on his personal website.
Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera, Al Riyadh, Al Rroya, Al Youm Al-Sab'ea, Arab youth, Arab Youth Survey, ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, egypt, forbes, Ipsos, middle east, Pew Research center, Rusiya Al-Yaum, Russia Today, Saudi Arabia, Tablets, The National, TNS
Understanding traditional media online in the Middle East
Friday 12 April 2013, 12:23
In terms of websites relating to newspapers, by far the largest is Al Youm Al-Sab’ea in Egypt. Between August 2011 and August 2012, its website attracted 842.84 million visits and 145.11 million unique visitors. These figures dwarf the region’s next largest newspaper site, Al Riyadh, from Saudi Arabia, which enjoyed 123.94 million visits and 35.52 million uniques.
Given the size of Egypt’s population (see graphic, although this excludes large parts of rural Egypt) and it’s relatively small but growing internet population, it is not unreasonable to expect that many of the visitors to the Al Youm Al-Sab’ea website are from outside of the country. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see whether much of the site’s growth comes from more Egyptians coming online or if its fastest growing audience will be a mixture of the Egyptian diaspora and other Arabic-language speakers across the region, if not the globe.
Forbes’ data also shows that some of the region’s smallest newspapers are enjoying the highest growth in terms of attracting new audiences. Oman’s Al Rroya, which ranked last on the overall list of top newspapers online, nonetheless enjoyed the highest percentage of new visits, at 67.11%. Similarly, The National, from the United Arab Emirates, which ranks 15th overall, came second where new visits are concerned, with newcomers accounting for 60.76% of total traffic.
In terms of TV news channels, given the international profile of Al Jazeera, it may come as a surprise to learn that the Qatar-based operator’s website isn’t the most visited in the region. That honour falls to UAE’s Al Arabiya (pictured top), which had 306.63m online visitors and 69.05m uniques between August 2011 and August 2012 (the latest dates for which fully published data is available).
However, Al Jazeera - with 277.89m visits and 55.71m uniques during this period – can draw comfort from the fact that users of its website spent longer online than they did on rival sites, at 10 minutes and four seconds. This is quite long for a news website, even if the average number of pages, 3.49, is not. This suggests a high level of immersion with content once viewers visit the site. It’s a level of engagement many rivals would without doubt love to see replicated.
But perhaps the real surprise is the rapid growth of Rusiya Al-Yaum (a Moscow-based Arabic version of Russia Today). According to Google analytics data, over half of the visitors to its website during the study period were new to the site. This was the highest ratio amongst the three online TV channels.
It will be interesting to see how usage of these sites evolves. Usage of smartphones, social networks and tablets continues to grow in the region.
Certainly based on current evidence, the impact of some of these changes is affecting news consumption differently to in the West. In terms of tablets, for example, instant messaging, video calls or taking photographs dominate tablet usage in the Middle East. As the research agency TNS recently noted: “While tablets are extra leisure devices in North America, in Latin America they have a more business-oriented role, whereas in the Middle East and North Africa people like their social features.”
In contrast, a 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center of news use on mobile devices in the US – in collaboration with the Economist Group – found that “for many people, mobile devices are adding to how much news they consume. More than four in 10 mobile news consumers say they are getting more news now and nearly a third say they are adding new sources.”
Yet, as Forbes’ data shows, online news consumption is growing in the Middle East. It may simply be that audiences in the region prefer to consume it differently. Tablets lend themselves more to long-form, immersive news experiences. People in the Middle East and North Africa, a region where TV news still dominates, often consume online content via their mobile – a format much more suited to short-form news.
A recent presentation by Ipsos showed that ‘News and feeds’ is the top downloaded smartphone application in four of the six countries it surveyed, and that it was also the top online mobile content in most of these countries.
Finally, there’s also the question of social media, especially among young Arabs. The fifth annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, which was published this week, reported how this group is increasingly getting its news from social media, with trust in websites and social media as reliable news sources having risen sharply in the past year. As with news outlets in the West, these are platforms which media players in the Middle East have no option but to engage with unless they want to leave a generation of news consumers behind.
— Damian Radcliffe (@damianradcliffe) April 16, 2013
After nearly 6,000 tweets figure I should use a more grown up Twitter handle. Discovered I’ve owned the unused @damianradcliffe since 2008!
— Damian Radcliffe (@damianradcliffe) April 16, 2013
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Towards the end of last year I was fortunate enough to participate in the LIFEBOOK4Life programme run by Fujitsu. I joined 39 other bloggers from around the globe to test – and report on – the new Fujitsu Ultrabooks.
This was the first time I’d been involved in such a project, and it was interesting not just to test the new kit (which was lightweight in kg terms only) but also to see first hand the guerrilla marketing methods used by the team to promote their new products.
In terms of my own involvement, after a slightly delayed start (due to my LIFEBOOK being held up in customs) I then got the opportunity to undertake – and write up – about a series of solo and team tasks. I’m grateful to my fellow Insiders for embracing me into their community (several of whom also kindly reached out via LinkedIn) and to those who shared tasks with me such as Bilal and Kapil.
If there’s a next time I hope to get more involved from the off – all the participants have such rich and exciting lives. I need to check out Chryssa‘s radio show for starters – although I may have to brush up on my Finnish first!
Several months on, I’m still using the LIFEBOOK and still impressed by how light and small the machine is. It’s about half the weight of the other laptops we have. Here’s a few pics from my Pure Elegance task which shows just how thin it really is. Either that, or I need to get a smaller chopping board (and phone)!
Exhibit A: As thin as a chopping board
Exhibit B: a fraction thicker than my smartphone
Cross-post. Originally published online for JustHere.
I’m on Twitter. I’m on Facebook. How else do I know what’s going on?
Well, if you’re a tech lover, then this is where TFour.me comes in. They talk about tech matters in the Middle East.
Hence the .me?
Yes, hence the .me. They talk about entertainment, social networks, digital trends, that kind of thing. Oh, and they advertise tech jobs too.
Excellent. I will keep that in mind.
You should. They also write about start-ups, any one of which could be the ‘next big thing’, and they were the media sponsor for an Internet Society event in Qatar. This involved live blogging, interviews, that kind of thing.
Cool. Actually, I’ve got an idea for a start-up.
OK. Who inspired them? Anyone I know?
Kevin Rose, founder of Digg, and Mike Arrington of TechCrunch.
Hey, I actually have heard of them. Well, their sites anyway!
That’s a start.
Thanks! But hold on a minute, isn’t there loads of tech content already in the media?
Well, there is. But much of it is syndicated, and not necessarily relevant to the region. Or they write about a topic, but do one-off posts with no follow-up. These guys plan to follow people – and track developments, – over time.
Do they get a lot of traffic?
They have page views of 7k+ per month, but you can expect that to go up since they’ve just signed up with MSN Arabia to syndicate their content.
That’s pretty cool.
They think so. And I’m inclined to agree.
How else are they growing the business? I am taking notes here…
The jobs section is growing, so that’s one source. Then after that a lot is just networking; actively showing their presence at various digital tech events happening in the region and signing relationships with technology providers.
Any big funders?
Not yet, but they’re keen to explore an investment from an organisation/person who understands the online space.
The final frontier?
Not exactly. But investors in the MiddleEast are often new to this arena. Some of the biggest investments done in the region are by external investments funds/companies who probably understand the online business better.
Thobe or not Thobe, that is the question.
I’m not quite sure that works Mr Shakespeare, but you have nailed one of the reasons why BYLENS was set up.
You have. The difference between a Qatari thobe and Emirati thobe is huge. Most companies in Qatar use similar photos in their ads and you can tell that the model is not Qatari.
Does this matter?
Well, if you’re a Qatari business you probably want to give the correct image of Qatar and Qatari people. Most online photo libraries use Emirati models.
I did not know that.
Well, you do now.
There must be loads of other people doing this kind of thing.
Apparently not. Whilst other sites like iStockphoto, Shutterstock, Arabian Eye and Corbis Images exist, their focus is different. In our field there aren’t that many competitors, we currently have a huge stock of photos that are ready for sale, and we can also customise a photo shoot if the client requests it.
So there is a real gap in the market?
Yes, but that wasn’t the only reason we set up our own business. People choose to become entrepreneurs for many reasons. We were unsatisfied working for someone else. We had a desire to be our own bosses and lead our own company.
I bet it’s tough at the top though?
It can be. The greatest fear we had when starting our business was the instability of it all. The lack of revenue and not knowing whether we could make ends meet.
No doubt. Hard work aside, our solution was a simple one. We surrounded ourselves with people who would support us whether our business succeeded or failed. This gave us the room to build a business without worrying about what our peers were thinking.
Friends, they’ll be there for you. Even when the rain starts to fall.
Well, that doesn’t happen that often in Qatar, but I get your drift.
What other challenges did you face?
Finding people who would model, getting approvals from different locations, getting property release forms signed, and then spreading the word so that people would buy their photos.
Sounds exhausting! So how is BYLENS doing?
We have 25 returning customers and 11,193 followers on Twitter.
Not bad. What next?
We’re not short of ambition, that’s for sure. We are looking at expanding into international markets and franchising. If we have a successful business and can develop a system that ensures that others can duplicate our success, franchising may be the fast track for growing our business.
Watch out Donald Trump!
Inspired by an interview with Razan Suleiman, Founder and CEO of BYLENS.
Last December I wrote a chapter for a book; Digital World – Connectivity, Creativity and Rights, which will be published later this year by the academic publisher Routledge.
The book is edited by Gillian Youngs, from the University of Brighton, and to whom I’m in debt for the great support she gave me during my first foray into academic writing.
My involvement was very last minute, and involved much midnight oil being burned, but I am very happy with the result.
The book is part of the series: Routledge Research in Political Communication.