Afghanistan: not all bad news

  1. Organization: Afghan Zariza

    Industry: Online and print magazine

    Name of contact: Zafar Mehdi, Editor (https://twitter.com/mehdizafarhttps://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=62068012https://www.facebook.com/zafar.mehdi.007)

    Web references: https://www.facebook.com/AfghanZarizahttps://www.youtube.com/user/AfghanZarizahttps://www.linkedin.com/company/afghan-zarizahttps://plus.google.com/+Afghanzariza/https://twitter.com/AfghanZariza

    Background

    In November 2013, Afghan Zariza (Millennium), a first-of-its-kind news and current affairs magazine was born in Afghanistan, seeking to provide cutting-edge reporting while redefining journalism in the war-ravaged country.

    Afghan Zariza was launched a year after thorough research and market analysis, which found that it must fill the vacuum in a lacking print media market while maintaining a strong presence online.

    Zafar Mehdi, Afghan Zariza's editor

    Afghanistan is a country where a transparent, free press, while guaranteed in the Constitution and by politicians, remains a dream. Zafar says that even in such an environment, he, as an editor, always emphasizes the importance of reporting the truth, ‘even at the risk of our lives.

    Maintaining transparency, fairness and openness are sacrosanct ideals for the magazine, and readers are engaged through social media to get their views on particular topics/stories. If responses are negative, the Afghan Zariza team sits down and works out where it may have gone wrong, and how to better itself. This, Zafar describes as ‘important for our reputation because we have toiled hard to carve a niche for ourselves and earn respect of our loyal readers.

    Another challenge facing any online magazine is that of knowing if feedback received is genuinely from its target audience. In an online world where fake profiles have grown alarmingly, Zafar admits one of the more important tasks of Afghan Zariza’s social media team is separating fake from genuine profiles.

    Social media as a vital medium for engagement

    As mentioned, Afghan Zariza realizes social media is a vital medium through which to get feedback. A dedicated web team at the magazine responds to comments in an effort to engage readers and appreciate suggestions and ideas.

    Afghan Zariza's Facebook page

    Zafar says that readers, especially through social media, often have incredible ideas or constructive criticism to offer, and that the magazine is always open to receiving them.

    In a lesson that many companies have learned, Zafar says, ‘When you respond to readers on social media and push the conversation forward, they develop an intimate association with your magazine/newspaper/news channel.

    Afghan Zariza does not just simply talk of appreciating reader feedback, but acts on it. A reader once commented on the magazine’s Twitter page suggesting that the mobile version of the website be made more user-friendly. The team swung into action and made the necessary changes. Zafar personally thanked the reader for the suggestion, who went on to recommend the magazine to his circle of friends, ‘and that is how word-of-mouth promotion helped us get more followers on Twitter.

    Afghan Zariza's Twitter page

    Lessons for others

    Zafar says that Afghan Zariza, since its inception in 2013, has improved considerably, especially through engaging ever more readers inside and outside the country, mainly through social media.

    While this engagement is about getting to know the audience, it is also about readers’ participation which helps the magazine’s staff understand what kind of impact their journalism is having.

    The Afghan Zariza team

    The intimate relationship the magazine has developed with readers/followers on social media has resulted in the introduction of new sections like a reader’s blog, a section on young Afghans, travelogues, and interviews with Afghans living abroad among others. Proof that engagement done right pays off, even in the toughest of conditions.

    Submitted By: S. Waqar H. Rizvi

    Contact the author of this entrywrizvi@gmail.comhttps://www.facebook.com/s.waqar.rizvihttps://twitter.com/s_wrizvihttp://ir.linkedin.com/in/swrizvi

 

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Background on why Afghan Zariza was formed:

It is a labour of love and birth of a dream. The first-of-its-kind news and current affairs magazine from Afghanistan that seeks to provide cutting-edge reportage and redefine journalism in this war-ravaged country.

Most of the news flowing out of Afghanistan is based on half-truths and propaganda. Our aim is to give insider’s perspective on Afghan issues with more clarity to both Afghan and international readers. We wish to become the voice of ordinary Afghans and tell their untold stories to the world.

We announced our arrival in November 2013 after a year of meticulous research and market analysis, borrowing from all the leading magazines and news institutions of the world.

While electronic media in Afghanistan has taken rapid strides in recent years, the print media remains far from robust. Afghan Zariza was born to fill that vacuum, to explore uncharted territories and create a brand.

It has been a terrific journey so far, doing free and fearless journalism in one of the most dangerous places on the earth. More importantly, it has been a wonderful learning curve for all of us.

We strongly believe that the free and independent media is the watchdog of society, custodian of public interest and a stimulus of political and social change. Our guiding principle is to inform, educate and engage.

  • How important is readers’ and contributors’ feedback in how the magazine operates, especially on social media?

    The explosion of social media has been incredible. Of course the traditional methods continue to exist, but with the advent of powerful social media tools, media companies are increasingly adopting innovative social media strategies to survive the competition.

    When it comes to feedback from readers and contributors, social media serves as an ideal platform. You get both bouquets and brickbats and that basically depends on what you serve readers. Sometimes, roses make good stories but dung is what sells.

    For a magazine, engaging readers on social media is important because it creates an impact. If your story elicits the interest of readers and becomes a topic of discussion on social media, your job is done. That is why every media group is jumping the bandwagon and trying to make it work for them.

    The number of people using different social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram has grown tremendously over the years. It is important to engage them and seek their feedback. It directly impacts your popularity and sales as potential advertisers today primarily focus on social media presence of media publications. Responding to readers is more important they provide you negative feedback.

    3) How do you overcome the challenge of having a target audience which isn’t as internet/social media savvy? How do you know which feedback is genuinely from those you are targeting, versus those just reading your content from abroad?

    Not everything is hunky dory in running a media publication. The most difficult job is to ensure that we are engaging the right people and those we engage are our target audience. While it is true that the majority of people today, especially in urban centers, use social media for news and communication, there are also people who are not social media savvy. In that case, we have to be more innovative and use different social media tools to target them. Conducting a survey/study to better understand their choices and preferences is also a good option.

    For instance, in Afghanistan, many people are still not acquainted with social media and it is a Herculean task for us to reach out to them and strike a conversation. In that case, we use traditional methods like leaflets, pamphlets, brochures etc. And our executives teach them how to access the magazine content on social media in a simple language.

    Further, I strongly believe that social media communities are a great place to search for like-minded people who want to hear what you have to say. Also, to drive the conversation forward, it is important to ask the right questions, and open-ended questions.

    It is honestly difficult to know where the feedback is coming from, since fake profiles have proliferated alarmingly. But our social media team does good job in segregating fake from genuine profiles. Also, our target audience is both within the country and abroad. Afghans live in almost all the countries and it is important for us to engage them. Social media has helped us tremendously in that.

    4) In a country where free press is still a fairly new concept, how do you remain transparent regarding your intentions and finances through social media? How important is that for your reputation?

    There are umpteen challenges in terms of freedom and independence of media in this strife-torn country. The concept of free press, although guaranteed by the Constitution and political leadership, remains a far-fetched dream. There are multiple forces at work to prevent you from writing or broadcasting what you ideally want to.

    According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, the failure to protect journalistic freedom in Afghanistan has emboldened the elements who want to “suppress the criticism of the government, security forces and other powerful entities in Afghan society”.

    So, in such a volatile environment, it is even more challenging to uphold your integrity and principles. As an editor, I have always emphasized the importance of reporting truth, even at the risk of our lives. For us, truth is sacred and readers come first. So, transparency, fairness and openness are our sacrosanct ideals.

    To maintain transparency and retain the trust of our readers, we engage them in conversation on social media to know their views on a particular topic/story. If the responses are negative, we sit down and figure it out. It is important for our reputation because we have toiled hard to carve a niche for ourselves and earn respect of our loyal readers. If we are not objective and fair in our reporting, we will end up betraying them.

    5) Do you have a dedicated team that responds to and filters comments, feedback received through social media – how is such feedback worked through into actual policy-changes, if any? Can you think of any examples of when something a reader or contributor advised, that resulted in a change?

    Yes, we have a dedicated web team who promptly respond to comments. The idea basically is to engage readers and positively respond to their suggestions and ideas, if any. Sometimes, our readers on social media have incredible ideas to share or constructive criticism to offer, and we are open to new ideas and criticism. When you respond to readers on social media and push the conversation forward, they develop an intimate association with your magazine/newspaper/news channel.

    Sometimes it is also important to filter comments, particularly if they are sensitive in nature, targeting a particular ethnic group or race or religion. But the criticism that is constructive in nature is always welcome and preferred.

    Once a reader commented on our Twitter page, appreciating our work and suggesting that we improve mobile version of our website to make it more user-friendly. We quickly swung into action and made necessary changes and I personally thanked the reader for his invaluable suggestion. He recommended our website to his friends and that is how word-of-mouth promotion helped us get more followers on Twitter.

    6) If there’s anything else you want to add about reader/contributor engagement, then I can add that too. It may be nice to add a section on where you can lay out what a utopian future growth would look like for Afghan Zariza, and what part engagement will play in this.

    Afghan Zariza is still in its nascent stage and there is certainly a long way to go for us. Since November 2013, when we launched the first issue of our magazine and formally launched our website as well, we have improved considerably and engaged more readers in and outside the country, chiefly through social media.

    Reader engagement is about getting to know our audience. It is about readers participating in what we are doing. More than anything else, engagement helps us understand what kind of impact our journalism is having.

    Over the past 19 months, we have developed an intimate relationship with our readers/followers on social media, and they have been generous with their comments, ideas and suggestions. It has helped us improve and grow as the first news and current affairs magazine from Afghanistan. Based on their feedback, we have introduced many new sections in our magazine, like reader’s blog, section on young Afghans, travelogues, interviews with Afghans living abroad and much more.

    We are constantly trying to innovate and improve to meet the growing expectations of our readers, especially young readers. We will hopefully continue the engagement process and take this relationship to the next level. We will continue to inform, educate and engage our readers, because we believe in the lofty ideals of free and independent media.

    (https://smbp.uwaterloo.ca/2015/06/afghanistan-not-all-bad-news/)

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    About Zafar Mehdi
    Maverick journalist, irreverent rebel, travel freak, cricket junkie, reluctant fundamentalist, student of life, dreamer, believer.

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