Journalism matters for Lebanon, now more than ever. Driven by this burning conviction, we are proudly announcing the launch of L’Orient Today, accessible now at www.lorient.today.
After nearly a century of telling the news in French, we've decided to open up and expand into English with this sister publication to L’Orient-Le Jour, while keeping at the forefront our historic values: defending freedom, openness and tolerance; demanding transparency and accountability; promoting equality and human rights; caring for society’s weakest; and strengthening the ties between Lebanon, its diaspora and the world.
Our country is going through historic changes that could jeopardize its mere existence. A year ago, Lebanon was rocked by major protests, the thawra, against a failed elite.The people unleashed their discontent as Lebanon’s dying economic system began its collapse. Shedding partisan identities, citizens took to the streets in a powerful rebuke against the sectarian order. This long-awaited reawakening created an immense need for credible journalism for Lebanese at home and abroad, who clung to their smartphone screens trying to follow and understand the situation. This ongoing economic downfall and the tragedy of the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion has pushed thousands of citizens to emigrate and thrown an already fragile media ecosystem into turmoil, reducing the diversity of sources to the bare — and insufficient — minimum.
Today we are lacking information, points of view and critical but constructive thinking to help figure out how to tackle the challenges the country is facing. In this exceptional environment, L’Orient Today will provide hard-hitting coverage of politics, society and the economy, but will also go beyond that, aiming to tell readers what is driving the news. Our journalistic goal will not be achieved solely by covering facts made public, but also by uncovering realities that matter for the public good. Holding power to account will be one of our most vital tasks, buttressed by our staunch commitment to fact-checking and verification, and embodied in our slogan: “Speak truth to power.” News will be the core of our work, yet opinion will be crucial too, and so we intend to offer expert insight and a variety of perspectives to our readers.
L’Orient Today will abide by a fundamental rule that applies to the entire OLJ group: editorial independence and the full empowerment of the newsroom. Although we feel the need to expand our offerings and spread our values through this new medium, launching an English language edition obviously does not affect our historical attachment to French, which we’ve been writing in for the last 96 years and will keep doing for as long as L’Orient-Le Jour exists.
The quest for a nation
More fundamentally, our project draws its inspiration from what has always been a priority for our founding fathers: the quest to understand and define the essence of Lebanon, as a nation. Michel Chiha, considered the founder of Le Jour and the father of the Lebanese constitution, dedicated an important part of his life to this quest. He viewed it as a relentless “effort to find out what we are, and to explain it in the light of what we were at one time,” an effort necessary to ensure “the relative stability of our country throughout the vicissitudes of our history which has been extraordinarily eventful.”
In a powerful editorial published in 1949, Georges Naccache, founder of L’Orient, asserted: “A State is not the sum of two incapacities — and two negations will never make a nation.” What was true 70 years ago remains the same today, and after the widespread rejection of the current system should come the time to build anew. Hence our core project: to investigate the failure of the Lebanese system and reflect on how to create a better country for all its citizens. Chiha would conclude best: “Perhaps the time has come to bring oneself up to the level of one’s dreams.”
An outstanding team, integrated in a wider newsroom
In order to meet this challenge, we’ve put together a unique team as — simply put — journalism is a people’s business. Benjamin Redd, a former reporter and editor at Executive Magazine and The Daily Star, will serve as our managing editor. His professional achievements, deep knowledge of Lebanon and leadership skills have convinced us he was the right person with which to build this venture. Around Ben, we are setting up a newsroom of 10 journalists that will rapidly grow to answer the need and that will be fully integrated into our other newsrooms, in order to draw on the expertise of our 60+ journalists in total, no matter their language. L’Orient Today becomes the latest addition to a media group with L’Orient-Le Jour, the French-language daily, as flagship, led by Emilie Sueur and Elie Fayad, as well as Le Commerce du Levant, our economic publication, led by Sahar al Attar. They will all work hand in hand.
Safeguarding a century-old institution from financial trouble and political peril
It’s also important to acknowledge the role played by our shareholders. Four families — Eddé, Choueiri, Pharaon and Rizk — own a large majority of L’Orient-Le Jour’s capital, and have ensured the survival and development of the group by ongoing financial support in harsh times. This has allowed us to reject any kind of political financing. Conceived as an NGO-like structure, L’Orient-Le Jour has not paid any dividend (since at least 1990) — a pledge that our late chairman, Michel Eddé, would hammer at every board meeting throughout the 29 years that he stood at the helm of the newspaper. Besides, L’Orient-Le Jour’s shareholders have always kept the rule of editorial independence at heart. When asked by then-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri why his newspaper was persistently attacking the government to which he belonged, Eddé would respond: “I’m sorry Abu Bahaa, they are journalists, not employees.”
Yet, no matter how benevolent our shareholders are, true independence will only come from our readers. Hence our emphasis on building a unique relationship with our audience, essential to developing a robust digital subscription model, as we learned from L’Orient-Le Jour’s transformation experience. Through that business model, we are aiming to make L’Orient Today self-sufficient within five years. By relying mainly on subscribers, we are tying our financial performance to our editorial success. We expect the diaspora to account for an important share of subscribers, and will openly seek to cement the bridges between those who have left and their homeland.
L’Orient-Le Jour’s long-term goal is to write a new chapter in the Middle Eastern media landscape. At a time where most of the news outlets are either politically controlled or facing financial difficulties, our objective is to build a media group that is both independent and sustainable. As ambitious as this might be, we feel this is something we owe to Beirut, given what our capital used to stand for in the Arab press.
There is no doubt that the image we will paint of Lebanon in the coming years will be mostly grim. We pledge nonetheless to try to give you hope about Lebanon’s future. Read us — we’ve lifted the paywall for a start — share your feedback and, if you enjoy our work, subscribe to join our community. Lebanon needs journalism, and journalism needs you.
Nayla De Freige is the chairperson of L'Orient-Le Jour
Michel Helou is the executive director of L'Orient-Le Jour
Journalism matters for Lebanon, now more than ever. Driven by this burning conviction, we are proudly announcing the launch of L’Orient Today, accessible now at www.lorient.today. After nearly a century of telling the news in French, we've decided to open up and expand into English with this sister publication to...