How has the media landscape in the Middle East changed in recent years?
DENNIS: The biggest change in the media landscape in recent years has been the evolution of satellite television. Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya have had an enormous impact on this region. There’s also a lively magazine industry in the region which is very successful. Some newspapers in the region are quite robust. Radio continues to be a great star in reaching ordinary people and social networking is increasingly important.
What is the role of new media in the region?
DENNIS: New media in the Middle East are usually internet based. New media played a significant role as a platform in the Arab Spring of 2011. Beyond that, new media will be used more commercially for in the business arena. New media are very efficient and they transcend a lot of the old media. We leapfrog from one technology to another, so new media of all kinds, from music downloads to video production and mobile apps are on the rise. On the other hand, we still have traditional media. To some extent, they are a backdrop for new media and new media are consuming some of the resources and sources of revenue that traditional media would have gotten before.
How well have the traditional media kept up with the technology for getting their presence into new media?
DENNIS: Traditional media in the Middle East have lagged a bit behind Europe and North America in integrating with and developing their own new media. That is changing pretty fast. Now almost every newspaper and magazine has a website. When they do, they often look exactly like the publication itself whereas the more advanced new media will look different. There will be a different product orientation, different content. There is a great awareness of new media and a desire for venues in the Middle East to get up to speed. In visits with newspapers and news services, I find that the newspapers have enormous enthusiasm for the transfer to new media. They really use that to advance message production and to disseminate news, entertainment and opinion messages.
How much demand is there, locally, for journalism training, media education and for the courses that Northwestern provides here?
DENNIS: There’s enormous interest in the kind of school we have at Northwestern University. We’re a bit ahead of the trajectory of media development here. On one hand, there is a need for trained and educated journalists and communications professionals. In some instances, the resources available to particular newspapers and magazines aren’t as great as they ought to be to get the best talent. But there’s a lot of interest, a growing interest in transforming the image of journalism and media. Journalism and media the whole world over once had a very low status and image. That has changed in most societies as people have recognized the importance of media in driving freedom of expression. This in turn is important to the economic success of any nation and any region. There is also the reality of people simply needing to communicate more effectively and to have content for the evolving media. A school like ours is poised to provide that kind of intelligent talent and leadership to be really effective content producers.
What is the potential for the region becoming an entrepreneurship hub for new media, especially social media?
DENNIS: This is a perfect time for social media all over the world to emerge and develop, but it’s especially vital in the Middle East. Here, there are financial resources to make this happen and there are talented young people who are interested in entrepreneurship. They are developing new outlets, new channels and marketing possibilities. There’s a lot out there that will fuel news and information desires for people in the region. It will encourage entertainment and the whole realm of opinion media. It’s is a very good time and media are evolving almost every day.
How much potential is there for developing Arabic language content?
DENNIS: At Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q), we want our students be more proficient in Arabic and to be able to work both in English and Arabic language media. We think that’s very important because the vast majority of the people in the region do speak Arabic, appreciate the Arabic language and want to read and experience things in Arabic. People who only know and can work proficiently in English and who come from this region are in fact excommunicating themselves from their heritage, culture and their people. There is a huge market for well trained and educated people who can manage and lead both the English and Arabic language media and other bilingual media as well.
We are trying to develop the talent in the region so that all of the talent does not have to come from elsewhere. Qatar is on the cutting edge. There is an enormous interest in being an entertainment and media center and I see that as a very real possibility.
In the United States, we've seen the consolidation of media whereas we have not seen that much here in the Middle East. Do you see the consolidation process happening regionally as much as we have seen in the West?
DENNIS: The consolidation of media, which is taking place across North America and in Europe, hasn’t really come to the Middle East yet. That is because the media markets here have not been very well developed and haven’t always had profitable media. Much of the media here is subsidized. Concentration of ownership usually takes place when you have a great deal of profitability in the media and when there is an advantage in merging one entity with another. It’s not always a positive thing when you have enormous concentration. Diversity of media in the Middle East is a good thing. The diversity of ownership is a diversity of ideas; however, media outlets will be more robust and more powerful if there are fewer of them. Instead of having five newspapers of medium quality there could be one or two of high quality. Television media and other media enterprises can be synergistic. Whether they are joined by ownership or joined by partnerships, it’s good to have radio, television, and satellite operations, working with print publishing to repurpose content and to use multiple platforms to distribute information and messages.
Traditionally Egypt has been a hub for soap operas, movies, anything media related. What kind of potential is there for Qatar to stake out its own similar niche?
DENNIS: There has been a great deal of emphasis on media production in Cairo, but there is also a great deal happening now in Qatar. There are production companies and holding companies that have operations here and in four or five countries in the region. I have talked to the heads of motion picture companies here and they want to be involved with our students. There is great potential for growth here. There are media that could go across the whole Islamic world and there are media being developed here that have potential in North America. There are also joint ventures with Hollywood, so this is a very good time for these industries. What Qatar lacks right now is large enough cadre of trained personnel, and this is why NU-Q is so important. We are trying to develop the talent in the region so that all of the talent does not have to come from elsewhere. Qatar is on the cutting edge. There is an enormous interest in being an entertainment and media center and I see that as a very real possibility.
What are the key benefits to being located in an education cluster, such as Education City?
DENNIS: The great benefit of Education City, or what is now called Hamad bin Khalifa University, is the relationships and the collaboration that can and does take place. The real advantage is for students who can come to Education City, attend Northwestern yet take courses at Carnegie-Mellon, Virginia Commonwealth or Geogretown in a variety of fields. There is also a relationship with one’s home campus. There is a bilateral relationship with North America which expands the talent pool and increases intellectual traffic. We have a new student center in Education City where people actually get together and have dialogue. We have production facilities at NU-Q that are among the best in the world for our students. There are huge advantages here. There is also the practicality of small classes and a great deal of educational attention that would not be present even at our home campuses in North America or in Europe.