Egypt Unrest Hits Home

Stations uncover myriad local angles to global story

Several Thousand miles stand between Detroit and Cairo, but WDIV Detroit anchor Sandra Ali has been reporting on Egypt’s revolution as if it were taking place in the heart of Motown.

Ali has a keen interest in the uprising—she grew up in Egypt and is a dual citizen. She has tapped members of her family, virtually imprisoned in their Cairo homes, for their perspective on the uprising. Her reporting has been notably—and uncharacteristically— heartfelt, including photos of her as a child in Egypt, and memories of her homeland. “It took a little while to take my reporter hat off,” she says. “But a story like this is very unique, with my personal perspective woven in. It’s a different experience, for sure.”

For most stations, the tale of the voluble—and at times violent— calls for Egypt President Hosni Mubarak to resign is a world news story best left to the network news partners. For others, it’s of no small significance to viewers in their communities. Stations found a variety of local angles, from WIAT Birmingham covering a protest attended by about 50 people at Auburn University, to WNEM Saginaw reporting on a Michigan couple that was stuck in Cairo, to WAVY Norfolk featuring the emotional return of 13 Virginians who were vacationing in Egypt when the demonstrations turned violent.

CBS O&O KPIX San Francisco found an interesting angle about a pair of locally based technology giants, Google and Twitter, working together to help those on the front lines tweet after the Internet was shut down in most of Egypt. “What brings it home to viewers is the local angles,” says David Friend, senior VP of News at the CBS owned stations.

Meredith’s KPHO Phoenix ran a half-hour special, Crisis in the Middle East, in place of its 10 p.m. news on Feb. 6. Michelle Donaldson, KPHO news director, viewed Egypt both as a local story—including the clash’s effect on gas prices in the area—and a global story as well. “We’re on the cusp of watching history be made,” says Donaldson, who notes that the special rated “respectably,” despite airing the same night as the Super Bowl. “There’s a great lack of understanding about what’s happening. We felt it was appropriate to be the voice of information, instead of speculation.”

Ali, who is fluent in Arabic, discussed a visit to Egypt with her managers at Post-Newsweek’s WDIV, who deemed it too dangerous. She has not ruled out an Egypt trip once the violence subsides. In the meantime, the anchor has launched a blog on that details the plight of her family as history unfolds outside their windows.

There is particular interest in Egypt’s affairs around Detroit; its Dearborn suburb has a large Muslim population. Ali says her knowledge of the local custom and tongue has been a huge asset as she reports on Egypt. “I don’t think I would be able to put these stories together if I didn’t have that knowledge,” she says. “It’s important to know the situation, and it’s more important to know the people.”

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