Taking it to the streets

Melbourne Law School student Mohamed Khairat is not content with his online news source, Egyptian Streets, clocking up 800,000 unique views last month.

Mohamed Khairat

Although the second year Juris Doctor student is satisfied with his website's record view count, his aim is to reach one million people per month in the near future.

"I'm proud of what I have achieved but I always strive for more," he said.

"It really becomes slightly addictive with numbers and trying to get that higher reach and trying to get that higher engagement but, in the end, I also try to remember that it isn't about that and, I stress, I'm driving social change."

Khairat points to an article on the plight of a young girl in need of assistance as an example.

"It isn't really about how many people like a post or how many people have read an article, it's about how many people have read that post and were inspired to take action."

Egyptian Streets had humble beginnings.

It was in 2012 when, as a university class requirement, the now 22-year-old started a blog.

His worldly upbringing, born in the Netherlands to Egyptian parents, both diplomats, and raised in Egypt, Jordan and Israel before coming to Australia, where he has completed high school and undergraduate studies, provided him with his inspiration.

"Instead of interviewing your local fashion store or reviewing your local food place, I wanted to actually take something that meant something to me; Egypt," Khairat said.

"It started off as a simple blog where I'd update it once a week for the subject but within the first few weeks, I found out there was actually a bit of interest in this blog-type content for Egyptian affairs that is in English, mainly because there are a lot of people in Egypt who are interested in Egyptian affairs who don't necessarily read Arabic or prefer to read in English."

Khairat said his initial blog was based on basic research and personal opinion, with its associated Facebook page his main outlet.

With a growing following, he felt it was unfair to simply impose his view on his audience, and soon adopted an objective approach to allow readers an opportunity to form their own opinions.

"I found myself wanting to cover social issues, from homelessness to poverty, lack of education, sexual harassment and women's rights," he said.

When Egyptian Streets began covering the June 2013 anti-Mohamed Morsi protests, ignited in a bid to have him removed from Egypt's presidential office, readers turned to Khairat for coverage.

Updating his page became a full-time commitment.

"During that period, the Facebook page grew from around 3000 'likes' to 30,000 in just one week. Within three weeks, it was up to 60,000," he said.

Nine months later, Egyptian Streets launched its website.

Now, there have been more than three dozen contributors to what is a burgeoning news organisation, with plans to crowdfund permanent staff and eventual expansion into other North African countries.

Khairat attributes its success to providing an alternative news source to the few independent and one State-run English-language Egyptian news organisations.

"Egyptian Streets has become the most read of those, despite the fact it is largely one person writing and editing the content, and we don't have a team of 30 staff researching and writing, or an office, and I think that speaks for our ability to not only uphold traditional journalistic ethics but also adapt to new media's emergence in recent years, and particularly our focus on engagement," he said.

"We want to create a platform for people to discuss and debate and form their own views and learn about new issues, whilst at the same time attempting to drive social change. We are essentially breaking down the barrier between traditional journalism and advocacy by advocating for change on issues such as sexual harassment and child abuse."

Whilst Egyptian Streets has clear direction, Khairat's own future remains at a crossroads; he is dedicated to completing his JD before making a decision on whether to pursue his journalistic interests full-time or a career in the law.

Whichever he chooses, the legacy of his university blog will live on.


By Andy Walsh