Nehal El-Sherif: Building a future as a multimedia journalist in the Middle East

In this alumni profile Nehal El-Sherif talks about her award-winning podcast ‘A business built on breadcrumbs’ and the importance of combining new skills and technologies in a changing media environment.

Nehal El-Sherif accepting the Lorenzo Natali Media Prize from the European Commission.
Nehal El-Sherif accepting the Lorenzo Natali Media Prize from the European Commission.

Nehal El-Sherif is a print, wire and multimedia journalist from Egypt who graduated from Mundus Journalism’s London specialisation in 2016. Nehal is experienced in producing text and multimedia pieces on topics related to politics and conflict in the Middle East for international news agencies, newspapers and online media outlets. In 2017, Nehal received the Lorenzo Natali Media Prize from the European Commission for producing a podcast about money saving practices of the female owners of small businesses in a village in Egypt.

Nehal’s journalistic career started as a print journalist in Cairo when she took up a job at a local newspaper in 2006. Before starting on the Mundus Journalism programme, Nehal worked for media outlets like Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH, as well as freelancing with DW Radio and Euromoney. She is now in Jordan where she works as the Middle East Correspondent with the Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH. We asked Nehal a few questions about her podcast and her career. 

Mundus Journalism: Your podcast, ‘A Business Built on Breadcrumbs’ is a fascinating story of how women in small villages in Egypt are driving business through informal saving schemes. What inspired the concept of this podcast and how did you develop this award winning story? 

Nehal: In 2016, I was visiting the Al-Hakamna village in Beni Suef province. It is a very small village where UN Women was supporting a project and I went there to do a story on that project for the newspaper that I worked for. When I went there, I saw the village women on street, going from one place to another.  I was recording that all for my story and I started thinking about the atmosphere - it stuck in my mind. 

Before starting Mundus, I liked audio very much but I did not know a lot about podcasts. Later on, when I went to Aarhus for the first year of Mundus Journalism in 2014, our cohort started the radio services Planet Mundus and I learnt about podcasts, audio editing and audio software etc. When I came back to Egypt after Mundus Journalism, I was excited to work with audio so I pitched the idea for this podcast on the women’s saving groups in the village to the They approved it and, with the help of the UN Women, I conducted research in that village for the podcast. This is how this podcast was developed. 

MJ: Since your career started in 2006, you have worked with both text and audio and multimedia technologies. In the changing trends in journalism, how useful do you think podcasts are as a journalistic tool and how do you see the future of podcasts? 

Nehal: Journalistic trends have changed a lot since I joined the profession. News organisations are trying to adapt to the new technologies, to the fact that everything is online now. News travels faster now than before, outlets are trying to visualise things more. There are more photos, videos, data and infographics. 

In this context, I think the podcasting trend is going to continue for a while. In the Middle East, podcasting is picking up--more and more people are interested in listening to podcasts and more people are producing podcasts in Arabic. It is like any other form of journalism: there is so much that you can do with podcasts. You have so many formats to choose from. You can make ‘Q&A’ or make a discussion based podcast.  You can talk to people who do not want to appear on camera. 

My work is a mixture of covering politics, business and human interest and stories on these topics are always changing here

But in conflict environments, I am not sure about the future of podcasts in journalism. In 2016 In Cairo, the atmosphere against media was very hostile. At that time, I tried to do a story on medicine that was not available in the market but my sources refused to talk to me even on the phone. People were complaining about the situation publicly on twitter but they were not ready to talk to journalists or meet them in person. I could not finish that story. In such environments, I am not sure if people will want to talk on radio any more than they talk on camera.

MJ: From a graduate in the Business and Financial Journalism specialisation in London to a Middle East Correspondent specialising in reporting of politics and conflict, how do you feel about your career progression after Mundus and what skills are important for such career progression? 

Nehal: I like it very much! Working as a journalist in Middle East for me is quite diverse and not boring. My work is a mixture of covering politics, business and human interest and stories on these topics are always changing here. I was in Cairo after 2011 when the Arab Spring conflict began. We had protests, then we had elections. And now maybe the focus is more on the legislature and what kind of laws are being approved there. It is different every time. It is not something that is going on for a while.

For skills, I think that whether you are working with text or video or photographs, it is good to know different skills because the new industry is changing so much and it is important to learn new skills if you want to be relevant in the changing environment. I work mostly with text at present but I can do video and audio too. Other than technological skills, research skills are always important no matter what you are doing. I think also trying to find a new angle in your stories is also very important for journalists to create differentiation in their work. 

MJ: How did Mundus Journalism help you gain those skills?

Nehal: With Mundus, our classes in Aarhus were very helpful to develop my research skills. We had to read different authors and discuss them in class with other students. I think this gave me a new perspective in doing research. Then the multimedia skills-audio and podcasts. I did not know about using these technologies before. I learnt to use them through some courses which were offered in London and also through volunteering for Planet Mundus.