Campaign Middle East newsletter, 25 September, 2005

Well, it’s finally on the street and, for what it’s worth, here’s my take on the Arab Media Group’s newspaper offering.

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  September 25, 2005

A promising start, but time will tell for new papers|~||~||~|Well, it’s finally on the street and, for what it’s worth, here’s my take on the Arab Media Group’s newspaper offering. Elsewhere in today’s issue we talk about the Arabic edition, but I’ll focus on the English language version as it’s the one I’m able to deal with at first hand. First the good news about Emirates Today. Most importantly, it’s a definite improvement on its rivals. The pacing of the news section is good — they’re mixing the stories based on news value rather than adopting the traditional local format of having a gulag for Indian news, a ghetto of UK news, and so on. They’ve also just carried out possibly the first “doorstepping” in UAE media history. Doorstepping, by the way, is when the subject of a story who would be unlikely to agree to have their picture taken is taken by surprise and photographed on their own doorstep. It’s an honourable tabloid tactic. The story accompanying it was a decent one too — a doctor practicing in the UAE who had been struck off in the US. And that brings me to the most encouraging thing of all. Despite the story reflecting poorly on the Ministry of Health, the paper still went for it on the front page. Inside the paper, in a further show of independence, it covers the story of a girl’s death in a fire — and effectively accuses Sharjah Civil Defence of lying. These bode well for the fact that, despite the closeness to Dubai’s leadership, the paper appears willing to take the odd risk. We’ll just have to wait and see if this is sustained. The other good thing is the colour — this is one of the world’s few daily newspapers that makes it available to advertisers on every page. So what is it like as an advertising vehicle? Credible, certainly. There are no foolish compromises, at least so far. There are no cover wraps, the back page is reserved for sport and the first advert did not appear until page five. And, apparently in deference to advertisers, the paper is on a mixture of glossy and matt newsprint stock. And that brings me on to the bad news. The glossy paper risks making it feel more like a brochure than a proper paper. It’s also less reader-friendly as pages tend to slip. The glossy paper has got to go. At the moment it cheapens the look of the paper. The risk is that by appeasing the advertisersin the short term, it will harm the paper’s long-term credibility. The distribution is not right yet either. The promise to initially follow the 7Days footprint and distribute for free to begin with does not seem to have been followed through. A straw poll in my office failed to discover anyone who had received the first day’s edition at home. I found my copy in a supermarket, which had just three copies buried on a shelf. The printing was also slightly off. No doubt that will improve, but on some pages the colour registration was terrible. A design issue too — the paper is not being designed as double page spreads, but rather as two pages that happen to be next to each other, which means that on occasion two headlines will juxtapose. And finally, comes the pedigree of the staff. They may prove to be extremely good, but none of them have Rolls Royce CVs. For the launch party, they produced an edition introducing the team. Under the editor (UK regional papers and Ahlan!), comes a staff who have not been at the top of their profession in their home countries. That’s not to say they’re no good, of course — they can show that one way or another in the coming weeks. But they’re also not the most expensive which may be more to the point. It’s impossible to judge the quality of a paper from its first few editions. Give it a couple of months. By then it will either be much better or much worse than it is now. But the ambition is certainly there and I hope it succeeds.||**||

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