With the aim of serving the large Arab community currently residing in Ohio, in the Midwestern region of the United States, a Jordanian journalist transformed his personal and challenging experience into a meaningful social relationship with the more than 200,000 Arabs living in the 7th most densely populated US state with 11.7 million residents.
It all started three years ago, when Abdallah Mobaideen, 48, a veteran journalist, decided to leave Jordan and immigrate to the US and settle in Columbus, Ohio, where he found access to information and services in his native language, Arabic, almost non-existent. Due to his modest grasp of the English language, interaction with society and the world of information was a huge challenge.
“I saw that many Arabs who are living here face a challenge in the form of finding a credible source in Arabic to satisfy their daily needs for important information.”
“I started to learn more about life in the US and how there is a wealth of information for anyone to grab; I saw that many Arabs who are living here face a challenge in the form of finding a credible source in Arabic to satisfy their daily needs for important information, so at that point, I decided to establish Ohio Bel-Arabi (Ohio in Arabic),” Mobaideen, who holds a Master’s degree in Modern Journalism and Mass Communication from Jordan Media Institute (JMI) – a non-profit educational institution founded to enhance the performance of journalists and media practitioners in Jordan and the region, told Inside Arabia.
The Arabic-language monthly newspaper has been the Holy Grail for immigrants and newcomers like Mobaideen who found it very helpful to have a newspaper that communicated with them in their own language and provided information about almost anything.
“Many elements contributed to the establishment of this newspaper which could not have been achieved due to the restrictions imposed on press freedom in our Arab region, but I believe that the most important element was giving individuals and societies the power to know [what’s going on] regardless of language barriers,” he said.
Mobaideen’s passion for producing quality content, commitment to professional standards and journalistic work ethics, and his admiration of the freedom of expression he has witnessed in the US triggered his vision of establishing a monthly publication in Arabic that provides crucial information about local news and services.
“The first edition was out in February 2020, and the feedback was better than I expected; it seemed that the Arab communities were waiting to see a media outlet that represents them . . . and speaks to them in their own language. I have received dozens of positive messages that support and encourage the idea,” Mobaideen added.
The newspaper gained the attention of professors of Arabic language at universities, and according to Mobaideen, some teachers used the newspaper in their classes to study, analyze, and tackle its content. And with the interest in this new publication reaching almost every corner of the state, positive feedback was growing, especially from civil society organizations, which highlighted the role of the newspaper in supporting their efforts toward helping refugees and immigrants.
But the death of print media might challenge the determination and positive attitude of the founder and editor-in-chief of Ohio Bel-Arabi, who believes that “media is an extension of the senses . . . and its forms will remain as long as human senses are alive.”
“Despite the decline in major print newspapers, there is an increase in local and community newspapers and specialized publications.”
“According to several studies regarding print media . . . despite the decline in major print newspapers, there is an increase in local and community newspapers and specialized publications,” Mobaideen said. “Whenever a local newspaper is launched, service providers are making a greater effort toward their societies by depending on local [media] to explain new laws and provide clarifications on certain services.”
Mobaideen started with modest resources: his own money and assistance from friends and acquaintances, especially in the translation department. He was able to build a newspaper after more than 10 months of research on what content might appeal to the local Arab community.
“Reading a newspaper in its paper edition still has its magic. I used to go out every day, holding the newspaper in my hand and run around the streets here in Columbus and distribute it for free to the Arab communities,” said Mobaideen, who built his publication from scratch and does not receive funding from any private or public entity in order to remain independent, added.
But can a young local newspaper survive all the media industry challenges, including financial dilemmas, poor funding, lack of distribution and advertisements, and the impact of COVID-19?
“Well, it is not easy to talk about our five-year plan, and it is even more difficult to talk about next year’s strategy in light of the unexpected challenges we are facing,” Mobaideen shared. “But what I hope to achieve is for Ohio in Arabic to become a model for independent professional journalism; reach the main cities in Ohio and perhaps other states, [and] more platforms; and to become the nucleus of a research center in the field of communication and media.”
“The newspaper [takes] a long time to get enough ads to continue providing its media services and I believe that after the coronavirus’ impact, the challenge [will] double.”
“The advertising market is relatively weak and [takes] a lot of effort; the newspaper [takes] a long time to get enough ads to continue providing its media services and I believe that after the coronavirus’ impact, the challenge [will] double because companies and business owners will think more about the budgets allocated for advertising,” Mobaideen, who is currently doing around 90 percent of the work alone and sometimes asks the help of friends, added. “My hope is that the opposite [will] happen and people start seeing the important aspect of spreading awareness about their services and products and return to advertising.”
According to Mobaideen, the publication uses simple Arabic in order to communicate with the very diverse Arab community in Ohio who speaks the many dialects used by the 22 countries of the Arab world.
“We need everyone to benefit from the wealth of information provided by the newspaper and that is why we are using simple Arabic; it is a newspaper made by Arabs [for] all Arabs,” he stated.