Iraq has been generating news headlines everywhere for more than a decade now, yet this same massive coverage has not been welcomed by many Iraqis who are gradually turning away from using the traditional media as a reliable source of news, in favor of social media.
In a country like Iraq where sectarian and political rifts continue to steer the balance of the power, news coverage has been often filtered by the agenda of the ruling political parties or even regional players who fund many of the country’s media outlets.
In their quest of unfiltered content many Iraqis have turned to social media as alternative. The past few years has witnessed the rise of several Iraqi bloggers particularly on Facebook, where 70 per cent of Iraqis have an active account.
Frustrated with the conditional freedom of the local or Arab press, some Iraqi journalists also decided to expand their message beyond the sponsor using the same platform to reach out to a wider audience.
Despite the fact that some local traditional media, newspapers or broadcasters, have started to incorporate social media, audience reaction has not changed since the content remained the same.
Yet one news agency seems to have utilized social media differently and effectively to market its content. Why News (ynewsiq.com), is a newly emerging local news agency that has garnered popularity among many Iraqis despite its relatively short life. Within less than a year the agency managed to make a buzz particularly during the recent crisis of created by the invasion of “Islamic State of Iraq and Levant” (ISIL) of Mosul and other parts of the country.
By using “influencer marketing” as a strategy, the Iraqi news agency is using both journalists and bloggers to reshape the way local media market operates.
A group of Iraq’s most influential journalists and bloggers and media analysts have been contributing to the agency’s newsgathering and content on regular basis. By leveraging these influencers the agency managed to build its credibility and expand advocacy for an independent transparent press.
The majority of the contributing writers or correspondents are offering their content for free to help reduce expenses spent on hiring staff to gather the news or analytical reports.
This approach also helps the agency to build its brand as a reliable news source. By virtue of the fact that these influencers are choosing to publish content on its website, they are actually signaling their approval of it.
Since the agency has content from a wide range of Iraqi influencers based inside and outside and from different age groups, each of whom shares his or her content with their diverse groups of followers on Facebook or Twitter, which means more people are visiting the agency website.
In return, the agency is offering the influencers a chance to expose their uncensored content to wider circle of audience through its website which also has build so far a significant percentage of organic visitors.
Much of the credit must be given to the professional young leadership of the agency for selecting the right group of influencers and managing to build and maintain a healthy transparent relationship with each one of them to ensure the flow of quality content.
Like many promising media projects in Iraq, the challenging aspect for an agency like Why News remains the funding. The online ads, which are usually cheaper than other media ads, bring very little revenues.
Despite the fact that a considerable amount of the content is produced by the influencers free of charge, the costs of maintaining the website as well as the costs of hiring technical and editorial staff remain challenging, but hopefully the fruits of their labor, which already started to pay off, will ease that problem.