I came to know this very interesting webnews project in Jordan called Ammonnews (the ancient name of Jordan’s beautiful capital Amman). One of the two guys who’s behind it is named Sameer Al Hayari, a very cool Jordanian in his forties who had this brilliant idea two years ago with his colleague Bassel Okoor. They both had a journalistic background, but they felt they would have need something more. A media which would have enjoyed less constraints, both in terms of freedom of expression and also in terms of distributing the news. And to publish “live” news, of course. It was 2006, in Jordan there was no such thing as a news webportal grassroots based.
I just met Sameer, he was sitting in Donner Cafe, the place in Amman where they usually meet up to write down stuff for the website. It’s like an office, an open office, where everybody gathers every evening to write down articles, smoke narghila and drink tea together. It’s like an open space, wireless of course, people keep coming and going, some of them sit at the table and write down pieces of news, some others drink tea and discuss about politics. Other people just come to bring fresh news, about what’s happening in town. Or they come to speak with Sameer. His phone is ringing like crazy while the websites is updated live. A modern, cool, networked newsroom!
Contributions come from the web and mobiles, from citizens that want to debate local issues, and from professional journalists that enjoy giving Ammonnews their articles for free. Why? Because the website has become the “place to be”.
“When we started we were just the two of us”, says Sameer while smoking narghila the oriental way. “We wanted to create something new, something fresh, and we just did it, without any funding, just with our pocket money and our passion. Our model was Detnews.com, so we asked the webmaster to design a website on the similar scheme. Then we asked our network of journalists’ friends to send us contributions, and little by little the site started to be well known. After one year of life, the former goverment shut down the website because of its free spirit in talking about politics. This provocked a huge phenomena, never seen before: people were just protesting cause the website has become so popular that the people wanted it to stay. So the government was pushed to re-open it”.
“After this, the website boomed and the number of contributors and readers increased very quickly. So we started to take advertising, mostly coming from local companies, and this has become our business model. Now we have ten people working for us, and we are doing very well. We will open an english service soon, inshallah!”.
Well, if you google them in Arabic, you will see that they has become a source for other news organisation, like Radio Sawa (the American radio station in Arabic) among the others. And all the people in Jordan take it as a reference for being informed about what’s happening in the country, also the government people are calling them to react to articles and debate about what they have published. It’s a virtuous circle between readers and news makers, professionals and amateurs, government and citizens.
I think Ammonnews is a great example of how a grassroot experiment can be born, become well known and find also a sustanaibility and a business model. And, again, it’s another good example of how Jordan is quickly moving forward to innovation and creativity. A place to watch out for future trends in the Arab region.
Ammonnews “office” in Donner Cafe, Amman