I have repeatedly written on the plight of print journalism under COVID-19, in Egypt and the world over, as global lockdown and cautionary measures drove readers away from print papers, lethally hurting the printing and publishing industry. I wrote of how print journalism learned to exist throughout the unprecedented situation, and how papers and magazines took necessary measures to adapt to the situation. These included reducing the number of pages and number of issues printed; and many papers opted for digitising the work process, with large editorial teams working from home and communicating online. Today, it has become the norm to conduct meetings over electronic media platforms.
The change was imperative and has become a reality on the ground in journalistic practice. So much so that one wonders why we had for years tied ourselves to traditional practices before coronavirus forced us to evolve. The features and signs of evolution loomed obvious on the horizon before the virus outbreak, yet we did not pay attention nor foresaw the change; we held on to what we were familiar with. Now that we are resorting to ‘new’ mechanisms which are in fact not new, we discover that we actually scoop from technologies of our modern era, and employ them to accomplish the work needed, finding them efficient and sufficient.
It is remarkable how the new situation has given birth to a new reality. For years on end our main concern was to provide the office space needed for our current and future activity and size of editorial team, and to provide enough space to accommodate editorial meetings for the paper in general and for the various departments, also to host forums, seminars, training sessions and the like. All this used to come at hefty bills. Now what? We woke up to a new reality: office spaces are empty and silent, meeting rooms are deserted. This does not mean that journalistic activity has been frozen; quite the contrary, it is running full speed through alternative channels and communication platforms reporters have at their fingertips at the click of a button. And why not? These channels were not new, unknown or far-fetched; they just came to the forefront in tandem with COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant lockdown.
If these changes were on the horizon for a long time but had to wait for coronavirus to give them life in the journalistic field in Egypt, would they retract and withdraw as coronavirus departs the scene? Or are they here to stay? Undeniably, these changes are here to stay; in fact, a resilient outlook drives us to explore more bounteous horizons that we might have in the past intentionally avoided or frowned upon.
At least one current generation—if not more—has grown up cherishing and devouring the goods produced by the printing and publishing industry. This generation has resisted adaptation to the technology of the future; it held on to longstanding norms that would soon enough become relics of a time past, and make way for other, more modern devices and means.
As we grasp and accommodate the changes in print journalism, we must realise that these changes will also involve the industry of publishing books. Printed books are bound to retract and give way to all forms of electronic books; the industry of online book publishing is advancing in Egypt with firm steps. In this context, the upcoming issue of Watani will include extensive coverage on the issue of e-books. Even though the coverage comes under the title “Coronavirus rips apart the industry of book printing”, it actually offers an objective in-depth assessment including a future outlook. It does not merely lament the retraction of printed books, the empty bookstands or the bookshops void of buyers, nor the book fairs cancelled in Egypt and abroad. Watani’s coverage looks at the horizon of a new future of technology born a long time ago but only recently brought to the forefront in Egypt, thanks to coronavirus. It predicts a bright future for the industry of electronic book publishing; and a flourishing of electronic culture, arts and tourism.
True, coronavirus has prompted notable changes in printing and publishing in Egypt. COVID-19 will subside, but it will leave behind change that will go down in history not merely as ‘electronic evolution’ but as ‘human evolution’.
6 August 2020