Book Review: Reporting in the MENA Region/Cyber Engagement and Pan-Arab Social Media

jmqc_94_3.cover

Citation: Du, Y. R. (2017, September 1). [Review of the book Reporting in the MENA Region: Cyber Engagement and Pan-Arab Social Media, by M. Ayish & N. Mellor]. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 94(3), 923-924.

The Arab Uprisings, or so called “Arab Spring,” which swept across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in the past several years, is regarded as one of the most significant events of the new millennium. Social media is said to have played an unprecedented role in the revolutionary waves within the Arab world and has gained considerable academic attention worldwide. However, there has been little discussion from a professional journalistic perspective. To date, very few contributions were published regarding the role of social media in pan-Arab newsrooms. Situated in the years surrounding the Arab Uprisings, Mohammad Ayish and Noha Mellor’s Reporting in the MENA Region: Cyber Engagement and Pan-Arab Social Media has filled this gap.

The book explores what empowered and empowering social media has meant for professional journalists and legacy media outlets in the context of reporting in a region long known for its inhibitive communication systems and low audience engagement. It draws on both quantitative and qualitative data sourced from interviews of journalists and social media traffic surveys to examine how social media has become an integrated part of newsroom operations. As it points out, social media is no longer a luxury but a central driver of mass communications’ survival. The book represents an empirical approach to analyzing how social media are harnessed by a range of pan-Arab media outlets and journalists in order to enhance engagement with an empowered audience. Covering a reasonable sample size of 10 pan-Arab media organizations and 26 journalists, the chapters make strong arguments on specific topics, substantiated by solid data and analytical results. Overall, this book paints a comprehensive and contemporary picture of how today’s Arab journalists perceive and use social media.

The study finds that a good number of pan-Arab newsrooms have embraced social media in their daily operations for different purposes, chief among which are news gathering, branding and promotion of programs, and audience engagement. At the individual journalist’s level, the book reveals that media practitioners also have engaged with social media in one way or another, at personal and professional levels. As the study unveils, pan-Arab journalists use social media in distinctive ways: crowdsourcing ideas from audiences to enrich their programs; driving traffic to their own or their organizations’ central websites/portals; sharing links with audiences on issues not directly addressed by employer organizations; and commenting on developments in the region and around the world. Journalists also use social media for news-gathering purposes, as the study discovers. These include gaining access to news sources, checking rumors, networking, and dissemination.

A great strength of this book is its recency. Most of the data analyzed in the study are from 2014, as presented in the tables. The book also mentions some recent events from 2015 as examples to illustrate the role of social media in the current newsroom. Considering the long turn-around cycle for publishing a book, this recency is quite impressive. It is also noteworthy that the authors are clearly experts in the subject matter, as demonstrated in the very knowledgeable and authoritative observations, comments and arguments.

A central theme of the book, as the authors point out, is that social media will be transforming the traditional model of journalism as practiced not only in North America and Europe but also in the MENA region as well. I share this view and further believe that this will go beyond MENA. While journalists elsewhere, particularly those struggling in severe state-controlled and ideologically-censored communication environments, continue to manage to survive in this social media era, this research has great global relevance.

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