by Ralph D. Berenger, The American University in Cairo
Mellor, Noha. The Making of Arab News. Oxford: Rowman
& Littlefield, 2005. 176 pages. Paperback, 0-7425-3819-2,
$23.95; Hard cover 0-7425-3818-4, $69.
are often puzzled by the way translations of Arab news stories,
printed and broadcast, are constructed and organized. The same
scholars are confused over the definition of objective reporting,
which to the Western mind often seems just the opposite of what
Arabic reporters practice despite their insistence that they
hold objectivity as an important news value. Thank goodness
someone like Noha Mellor is around to clear us a path.
Mellor, a hybrid journalist-cum-academic-cum-journalist in Copenhagen,
has done some serious work here that is highly readable.
The Making of Arab News rides the crest of Western interest
in Arab mass media and is an indispensable resource for working
journalists and scholars seeking to understand the world of
The author traces the origin of journalistic practices -- in
the Middle East and the West --, questions existing Western
theories and concepts of the Arab press, and provides readers
with an invaluable alternative to currently accepted ideas of
why Arab journalists do what they do.
In Part 1 of the book (four short chapters), the author analyzes
similarities and differences between Arab and Western news construction
and organization, and delves into levels of objectivity, political
implications, public opinion, war coverage, and how American-style
news formats have influenced Arab news coverage. However, Mellor
is quick to point out that the Arab world is neither monolithic
culturally nor linguistically, which the US seems not to understand
when it tries pan-Arabic broadcasting experiments like Radio
Sawa and Alhurra TV.
Students will find her comparativist approach to Western and
Arab media development not only interesting but also critical
to their understanding media systems in those spheres.
A short history of Arab journalism offers readers a road map
they can follow to see how broadcast journalists, for example,
have developed their own styles of delivery and story order.
It also revisits William Rugh's taxonomy (see review
in TBS 12), and takes issue with some ways the ambassador classifies
media in various countries. For example, Mellor says the impact
of foreign-licensed pan-Arab media, primarily magazines, are
changing the way traditional print media is developing; and
international and transnational broadcasting are having an impact
on local media as well. Both issues receive only minor treatment
in Rugh's 2003 book, and he "does not directly account
for the role this type of press plays in public opinion
In Part II of the book (three chapters), which in the main is
very strong and very interesting for bilingual Arab students,
she goes into great detail about the development of Modern Standard
Arabic (MSA) and how languages throughout the Middle East are
becoming bifurcated or even trifurcated by the reality of a
vernacular language used every day, MSA in the media, and the
Classical Arabic spoken in the mosques as the language of the
Koran. She calls this a diglossia or a triglossia. Young students,
she says, favor English and vernacular Arabic languages over
either MSA or Classical Arabic, because the former are "living
languages" that are constantly changing in form and meaning.
In a particularly thought-provoking section, Mellor compares
Arab story construction with the way Western journalists-and
Arab students studying journalism at the proliferating Americanized
universities throughout the Middle East-learn how to construct
news stories, which is often through the summary lead (the 5w's
and h) within the classic inverted pyramid organization. Arab
journalists traditionally have not communicated that way --
in print or broadcast media -- though they are learning to do
so since international print and broadcast media are ubiquitous
in the region. Classic Arab journalists in the Middle East's
golden era of journalism -- who, we learn from Mellor's book,
were mostly trained at Cairo's Al Azhar, the world's oldest
university -- used different forms, either a "right up
pyramid" or a "step pyramid"-that more closely
resembles the story telling narrative form (p.128-129).
A section discusses the differences between Arab and Western
news values (p.97), which is helpful to both Arab and Western
audiences who view transnational news programs and wonder how
stories are selected.
Of particular interest to Arabic-speaking students are the examples,
written in MSA and then translated into English, that illustrate
the difference. This aspect of Mellor's book, the actually usage
of Arabic to illustrate the point, is invaluable for instructors
of Arab students whose own Arabic might not be up to snuff.
However, there is not so much of it that it turns off monolingual
The book's major shortcoming is its lack of an index. Researchers
will be frustrated in trying to quickly locate material and
concepts inside this edition, albeit a thin tome that is fairly
well organized into seven chapters. An alphabetical index would
be an invaluable addition to subsequent printings.
Noha Mellor lectures in Arabic language and
media at the Institute of Middle East Studies, University of
Copenhagen, combining research and teaching while working as