Home Reflection Forever younger, forever on a quest

Forever younger, forever on a quest

Not what we are but what we aim to be

by Thomas Schellen

“…it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.” First published 230 years ago in 1788, this sentence from the lead paragraph in a very early American op-ed still holds water today. Even, or especially, when looking at Lebanon in 2018.

A little over 20 years ago, a number of young enterprising Lebanese minds returned to their home country.  They came back with three mental assets: their advanced education from universities in Europe, the US, and Canada, the determination to work for the improvement of Lebanon toward a country that can deliver on its economic and societal potentials, and the awareness that Lebanon needed a top-flight serious economic and business publication in the English language, a publication that would aspire to reach first-world quality in its coverage of local businesses and offer a well-reasoned, authentic, and locally generated perspective on regional and global economic affairs. A publication that would not fall into the traps of prostituting its content for advertising money under regionally entrenched practices, like providing advertisers with mindless propaganda stories and kowtowing to powerful decision makers with hollow and sycophantic praises. A magazine that would not copy and paste content to sell cheap narratives as genuine journalism and call prefabricated content “exclusive.” A publication that would not be in the pocket of a political patron and bow to every wish of its funders. A publication that would not shut up in the presence of any big shot and stakeholder in the Lebanese economy and in economic policy making, but seek to criticize when needed, and praise when warranted.

This was the first step in the journey of Executive. From its “Zero” issue in November 1998 all the way to the publication of an economic plan in this year-end Facts and Forecasts issue of 2018, the road for us has been many things, but not routine. There have been moments of exasperation, searching, questioning ourselves, and longing for an easier, better governed economic environment, and a more rewarding journalistic life—in the senses of profitability as a media enterprise with all the positive implications that has for editorial budgets and remuneration packages of staff, but even more in the sense of finally seeing this magazine’s advocacy for a better economy and its diligent reporting bear fruit in Lebanon’s society.

But there have also been many moments of satisfaction over a job done at the best of our collective abilities in the editorial, production, photo-editing, layout, design, administrative, advertising, public relations, circulation, and, of late, social media departments. These have been the moments of putting the final period at the bottom of an analysis piece or interview write-up, of sending another issue to the printer, and of seeing another great cover and content being delivered from the print-shop to our office, and hearing from our readers, who trusted us with their constructive voices and comments.

It is therefore, in this issue’s current edition, which not only reviews 2018 but also seeks a positive way forward for this country at the beginning of 2019, that Executive presents you with its longest read ever: a 50-page elaboration of 16 economic priorities and about 150 suggested measures, which we think are in no way exhaustive or authoritative in themselves as much as they are our plea to invigorate the market of ideas in responsible Lebanese society. We request collaboration, from the consultative contributions to the plan made over the last two months, to the participatory involvement and submission of comments and suggestions over the coming weeks. We are inviting active and passionate, but well-reasoned participations, and calling for such comments to be communicated to Executive via any or all digital and conventional readership interaction channels in the hope of stimulating a Lebanese movement for a better future.

One note to be added in conjunction with developments of media over the past 20 years, not only in Lebanon, but around the world, concerns the increasing diversification of content access channels. When we started, print magazines were only that, print magazines. In the intervening years, when we witnessed the unfolding of two waves of online economic transformation rudely interrupted by the shock of a global recession and its aftermath with the regional addition of the eruption of the greatest hunger for freedom and dignity by Arab populations and then the largest refugee crisis in context of a globalizing economy right on Lebanon’s doorsteps, new concepts of media and consumption have abounded. These new concepts are not yet really mature, but they are progressing, and in this regard, we are also working on the development of our own future as Executive, and the expansion and technology adaptations that we should—urgently—achieve over the next few years. But whatever the changes and advances, Executive is dedicated to do its best, distinguishing this magazine by quality. Whether one calls it value-added or slow journalism or, as one US president did admiringly describe it in another era, muckraking, we will adhere to this tradition and not go for the cheap copy-and-paste, propagandizing, or sensationalist race for short-term returns.

Reporting on media and journalism by media organizations is always tricky, due to built-in conflict of interest issues, narrow personal expertise, and biases of writing about one’s own profession—in the sense of positive distortions, but even more so because of the prevalence for making fear-driven gloom forecasts that obfuscate existing opportunities. The challenge takes on an entire additional dimension when the aim is to report on content media startups and entrepreneurship for journalistic—data, unbiased reporting, customer centric—ventures in the Middle East and North Africa. Existing news media organizations—in online and mobile or print and audiovisual realms—have a hard time with reinventing themselves for the digital era, on/off being faced with regulatory and legal uncertainty, persisting bad business models of the attention merchant playbook, humongous journalistic quality assurance problems, and perception problems as partisan propaganda (political and commercial) apps.

The sentence cited at the top of this article is an example of the power of positive content. It stems from the lead of the first of 85 opinion pieces in the discussion of the proposed constitution of the US. Known today as The Federalist Papers, the op-eds in the collection measure from just under 1,000 to 5,000 words (or approximately between two and upward of 10 pages per article in terms of a magazine like Executive). While sensationalist pieces in the New York penny papers of the mid 1900s allowed papers to double street sales, their impact on society over time is not even worth a footnote in history. The impact of the long reads that Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison wrote—well before they respectively became the first treasurer, first chief justice, and fourth president of the United States—is measured in national and global terms over centuries. Hurrah for value-added journalism!   

Sadly, the experience of this journalist’s exposure to Arab media is a harrowing trip into a past of encounters with incompetent, lazy, gullible, or uncaring journalism, superficial research, marketing-poisoned stories and frustrating reads from 20 years across English-language versions of online and offline publications in the Gulf region, Levant, and Anglophone North Africa. The rest is exposure to fluff or, at best, content that is not convincing, as it neither signals authenticity nor investigative rigor.

This is not to say that the journalism of other cultures is intrinsically better than Arab journalism, or that all of the journalists in this region are less competent than their international colleagues. Time Magazine’s recognition of “guardians” of the truth—journalists and media staff who became victims of violence and oppression—most prominently Arab journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but also colleagues in the US, Myanmar, and the Philippines, very well serves to highlight that journalists of all cultures and nations are crucial for the preservation of truth in and across societies. While the recognition of these journalists is a late breaking development for 2018 in context of the vital role that quality media content plays, the fact that journalists around the world take great and often unrewarded risks in their endeavors is highlighted every year by organizations such as the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), or Journalists without Borders (RSF), which publish annual casualty counts of journalists (by early December 2018, IFJ records 77 victims for the year while RSF specifies its count as 63 journalists, 13 citizen journalists and four media assistants).

Although it should be noted that being a victim is not automatically proof of personal greatness and professionalism in any field of enterprise, the enduring risks involved in seeking the truth and unmasking corruption or crime make it clear beyond any question that the role of journalism in 21st century societies is as vital as it was in any century since the Age of Enlightenment when media started their slow rise to independence and toward actually earning the status of the “fourth estate” in modern societies. Their crucial role is important, not only in the fight for social justice and human rights, the protection of the weak and checking of the powerful, but also for the entire spectrum of building cultural and economic wealth. In this sense, Executive is today as committed as it was when it took the first step on the journey of a publication with the aspiration to offer its readers independent and as good as possible economic and business journalism in the Lebanese context.

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Thomas Schellen

Thomas Schellen is Executive's editor-at-large. He has been reporting on Middle Eastern business and economy for over 20 years. Send mail

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