AEC News Today Story

I recently read a story about a young woman from Saudi Arabia seeking asylum in Australia. She succeeded thanks to the enormous media attention. I was very proud when I learned that the story was originally discovered by one of our users and had to use the chance to learn more about it. Please find my interview with John Le Fevre from AEC News Today below.

Thomas: You recently mentioned a story that you discovered and that you were able to get featured by many large news sites. It had a life-changing result for that person as well. Would you mind summarizing what it was about?

John: An 18-year-old Saudi Arabia woman, Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq al-Qunun, was attempting to travel to Australia where she intended to seek asylum. She claimed she was subject to years of abuse from male family members and had renounced Islam.

We were the first publication with the story and as such our traffic went through the roof. It was common to have up to 100 people onsite at any one time. We made extensive use of Twitter, in addition to other social media platforms to promote the story.

John Le Fevre

She was intercepted by Saudi officials airside on arrival in Bangkok, had her passport confiscated and was to be returned home by Thailand immigration officials. In Saudi Arabia, a woman is not permitted to travel without the approval of male family member.

Ms al-Qunun had used the opportunity of a family holiday to Kuwait, where such laws do not exist, to make her escape bid.

If she had been returned home she would have most likely been executed for apostasy.

Ms al-Qunun was granted asylum by Canada and left Thailand after five days. Hers is the first asylum application submitted in Thailand. Thailand in the past has not permitted asylum seekers to lodge applications, nor recognised their status.

AEC News Today Story
AEC News Today constantly updated their breaking story.

 

How did you hear about it?

Ms al-Qunun began tweeting about her situation after her passport had been confiscated by Saudi officials. People with knowledge of what was occurring and who were involved in helping Ms al-Qunun were calling out on Twitter for Bangkok-based journalists. Then one asked people to search for Australian journalists in Bangkok and I was one of several whose name was found.

I was contacted via Twitter and conducted a rigorous interrogation of the source. The situation was complicated by Ms al-Qunun, who I was put in contact with via Twitter, only able to speak minimal English.

Once I was satisfied that the information was genuine I posed some questions to Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs using a special Line Messenger communications channel set up for accredited foreign correspondents.

The question and supporting material I posted was then available for every accredited journalist in Thailand to see. This was deliberate, as our voice wasn’t going to be strong enough, fast enough, to influence the deportation. This needed to go viral quickly, globally. The approach worked and it did.

AEC News Today is a three-year-old bootstrapped start-up based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. You are an accredited Bangkok foreign correspondent. Where are you from, originally, and what brought you into this region?

John Le Fevre
John Le Fevre: Source: John Le Fevre

I’m originally from Melbourne, Australia. I moved to Southeast Asia in the late 90s after 10 years working in conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East. I was in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide and Zaire for the first of the big, modern-day ebola outbreaks. I held various senior editorial positions in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand over the past 17 years or so.

The story was featured worldwide. A week in, did you notice any effect on your site’s traffic or in building relationships? What did you learn and can recommend to others?

We were the first publication with the story and as such our traffic went through the roof. It was common to have up to 100 people onsite at any one time. We made extensive use of Twitter, in addition to other social media platforms to promote the story.

We ran the first story as a ‘breaking news event with updates being made without notification’. On the first day, three updates were made to either add information or clarify earlier information. Once updates had ceased being made we labelled the story as such.

On the second day, I published a fiery piece early in the morning taking aim at the Thailand government and linking its actions in the current matter to the future of human rights throughout the region over the next 12 months as Asean chair. This was a particularly hard jab as their year as Asean chair is only just beginning.

When the BBC, who went airside in Bangkok, reported that the flight Ms Rahaf was scheduled to be on had pushed back without her on board we upgraded the story to ‘breaking news with notified updates’ status. The difference being that updates to the original story are noted at the bottom of the original.

By the time that Ms Rahaf had been handed over to UNHCR staff, the original story had been updated six times. Our updates included photos, video, links to sources, and more. Our traffic at the time increased substantially, as did downloads of our mobile apps and subscriptions to our daily email feed.

The main lesson was the value of social media in bringing eyes onto the stories quickly, and the value of being able to update quickly and frequently when additional relevant information became available. It’s whey there is a very limited future for print media.

AEC News Today – Tagesschau.de
Thanks to John, this story was featured in the whole world. I saw it on the largest news site in Germany – tagesschau.de

 

You are displaying ads on your site. Is that the main revenue stream and can you make a living from it?

Our income currently only comes from onsite advertising. For this reason, we have invested heavily in maximising the number of places we can place advertising without interfering with the visitor experience. We don’t use popups, pop-unders, overlays, autoplay videos with audio, or anything else that might detract from the visitor’s experience.

We have no intentions of introducing a paywall. My philosophy is that paywalls deprive poor people of knowledge, placing information only in the hands of those able or prepared to pay for it.

John Le Fevre

We’re especially delighted with the power and flexibility we’ve found delivered by Advanced Ads. It allows us to easily management placements and move ads around. More importantly, technical support, on the rare occasions we need it, is among the best we receive from any vendor.

We have no intentions of introducing a paywall. My philosophy is that paywalls deprive poor people of knowledge, placing information only in the hands of those able or prepared to pay for it. This only furthers development and knowledge gaps.

A more knowledgable and educated population is something employers should be encouraging through advertising of independent media and those who make their news openly available.

Which ad networks do you use?

We use Google Adsense, MediaNet, and Adsterra currently, and are also looking at several others. We also offer direct advertising if anyone wants to support independent media.

What are your goals for 2019?

To maintain the trust we have built with our existing readers and to continue earning the trust of new readers as a reliable, independent journalism source… and hopefully attract some direct advertising and corporate sponsors who support journalism based on transparency and good governance.

Thank you, John, and all the best to you and your project in 2019!