Just how good is our media?

The quality of media in the UAE often comes under fire, but how does it rank on a world stage? We asked three international experts to give us their verdict

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By  Richard Abbott Published  December 18, 2005

Just how good is our media?|~|viva200.jpg|~|Viva magazine|~|Magazines As a magazine editor, Mike Soutar has won magazine of the year awards in the US and the UK. He oversaw a 126% increase in sales on Maxim magazine in the United States and took FHM UK from a circulation of 50,000 to 500,000 in under three years. He is now editorial director of the UK’s largest consumer magazine publisher, IPC Media. Based on a list of the most significant titles chosen for us by media agencies, Campaign gave Soutar five UAE consumer magazines to review. I found this a bit of a tough gig to be honest. I pride myself on being able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of most titles in the UK. But reviewing magazines when you are only seeing one issue and you are so far removed from the market they operate in, leads to all sorts of snap and, possibly unfair, judgments. But here goes… Viva Viva boasts all of the elements you would expect to see in a glossy monthly anywhere in the developed world — and it delivers a good and well-balanced read. The November issue, for example, featured highly readable pieces on personal finance and on pioneering UAE women in the media, which stood out as highlights. The wheels come off sometimes — the “Book Club” feature where Dubai women discuss a novel and talk about their life experiences is a grind to read and the photography does not flatter. There is room for further improvement. Some of the design is inconsistent. For example, a lot of the section headers (especially up front) are overly wordy and complex; and the pacing of the flatplan is (if anything) too conventional and predictable. A great magazine, I always think, is one which combines consistency with novelty — readers should know what they’re going to get but be surprised when they get there. Emirates Woman Do swish houses in Dubai have letterboxes through which magazines on subscription are posted? If so, this weighty tome will be killing small yappy terriers on doormats across the region on a monthly basis. Emirates Woman is big. And very glossy. It simply oozes premium production values. The cover is perhaps the weakest part of the proposition — which is a shame because in magazines the cover is the proposition. It is an underwhelming and very restrained piece of work, with muted colours and far too many typographical weights and styles. Some consistency and rigour here — and just a bit of confidence on the part of the editor and art director — could work wonders. Inside, things are much better. The shoots are pretty good, the fashion direction seems appropriate, the brands featured feel right. And, like I say, there’s lots of it. Hello! Slick and confident as you would expect and you can hardly see the joins between the material which is imported into this edition from overseas — roughly 90% of the overall content I’d say — and the pages which have been produced locally. At twice the price of Ahlan!, Hello! is not great value, though the stock is crisp and glossier than its more mainstream rival. I bet the advertisers like it more. Ahlan! This is a chirpy, cheery sort of celeb magazine, quite tame by comparison to the voracious and very tabloid weeklies that are published in the UK. It’s very tightly edited; its editors are obviously working hard to shoehorn in as many stories and as many famous faces as they can — and in this market that’s no bad thing. Tonnes of value. Design-wise, the pages in the main part of the book have been inspired by Hello!. And when I say “inspired” I mean, of course, entirely copied from. Blue backgrounds, white text boxes, Q&A formats wherever possible, keylines around the photos — this is all clear and highly accessible stuff. Again, this is good. In terms of editorial voice, the display copy in Ahlan! (its headlines, decks and captions) are often tone deaf. And many of the headlines at the front of the book don’t always relate directly with the pictures — a mistake in a magazine dominated by photography. What’s On Have all the caption writers in Dubai been sacked? What’s On has virtually no captions telling you what’s going on in the pictures at all. This is a shame, because it is otherwise a solid, useful read. There’s quite a dry and detached tone to much of its writing; several pieces in here have a world-weary and often whimsical voice. Take the Flugtag feature which bemoans a “decidedly Middle Eastern approach to the deadline”. I like it. It’s a conversational approach which winds its way around your heart. Peculiarly, for a magazine which purports to be a guide to events across the region, there are very few actual listings pages. Instead, the editorial offering is dominated by a huge variety of feature material but I find myself wondering just who the reader actually is who would be interested in all or even most of this. As the market matures, this is a magazine which may find that it has to start making those sorts of choices.||**||Just how good is our media?|~|radio200.jpg|~|The standard of radio in the UAE is only average|~|Radio Morag Blazey is managing director of media agency PHD UK and a fellow of the Radio Advertising Bureau, which exists to promote radio as a medium for advertising. She is known as a formidable negotiator. Campaign sent Blazey recordings of four UAE breakfast shows. I love listening to the radio — on both a personal and professional level. I find it very reassuring to know that pretty well at any time and anywhere you can turn on the radio, rummage around and find something interesting to listen to. So listening to four stations broadcasting in a country I have never visited carried huge appeal. Dubai 92 The station has a slick if rather indistinct feel. Where am I? Who is this station targeting? If the local currency hadn’t been frequently referenced I could imagine listening to this style of broadcasting in the UK. And herein lies my biggest issue with the station: it’s actually quite difficult to listen to. If I were to rank the output by volume, I would guess this: ads; promos/competition; chat; music. I think I only heard three songs in half an hour. Play more music. That is why people choose music stations.5/10 Channel 4 Now, if Dubai 92 is overly commercial, the Channel 4 breakfast show takes the biscuit. Every element, be it traffic reports, news, showbiz reports, even the show itself, is sponsored. Some sponsorships include live DJ reads. The end product is tremendously cluttered and really confusing to the listener. While the music policy is pretty clear, at times the presenter seemed somewhat distracted and completely dislocated from his co-host. Don’t they like each other? Or perhaps he is too cool for the over-evident commercial imperative in the show. 3/10 Radio 2 Radio 2 is much more clearly targeted with a well defined music policy. But once again the ads and promos are too dominant. Some of the ads don’t...er... shall we say, enhance the listening experience and station idents interrupt the news headlines. Meanwhile, other station idents sound pretty dated in a UK context. Chat is relegated to fourth place in the output hierarchy which is no bad thing but where does one go for a station devoted to music round here? 6/10 Dubai Eye Speech radio is a very difficult (and very expensive) format to get right. All stations are inevitably compared to the BBC’s Radio 4 and all breakfast shows to its Today programme. While the sound-bite orientation seems appropriate for the time slot, longer news-based pieces and interviews are essential to hold listeners in. In the short segment I listened to these didn’t hang together well nor did the interviews feel sufficiently well prepared. Having said that, it would be great for advertisers if a serious, speech-based commercial radio station could emerge to offer a genuine range of opportunities in the medium. So keep at it. 5/10||**||Just how good is our media?|~|EMIRATES-TODY200.jpg|~|Emirates Today|~|Newspapers Mediacom is responsible for planning and buying the advertising for some of the world’s biggest companies — among them Procter & Gamble, Shell, Glaxo Smithkline, Royal Bank of Scotland, Nokia, Masterfoods, VW and Universal. Steve Goodman is group press director in the agency’s London HQ. We gave Goodman four newspapers to review. 7Days The first title I looked at was 7Days, which has a good looking, lively cover. The first spread was a bit of a surprise — three quarters advertising, with a full-colour page ad on page three. I thought I would never feel a paper’s editor has allowed advertising to rule the roost, but I think the sales team here have gone one step too far. This is likely to have a negative impact on readers who would see this as an advertising vehicle. There are some good features and a local editorial feel. Good bite-sized news stories and good use of colour. Nice ink — it doesn’t rub off — and decent sport. It feels a bit like Metro in the UK (a free commuter daily) and overall it is a very good, modern-looking free newspaper. Emirates Today The front cover of Emirates Today looks more like an issue of Campaign, rather than a newspaper. It is glossy, with excellent colour, but this wraps newsprint inside. It is quite political and carries heavy editorial. The celebrity spread is not in keeping with rest of the paper. Sport coverage is decent. It is well laid out and professionally put together, but could lighten up a bit editorially, with some more upbeat news stories on the earlier pages, if not an element of humour. Gulf News Gulf News looks better value compared to Emirates Today and is similar in appearance to the UK’s Sunday Times. The broadsheet format of news, business and appointments could be reformatted to tabloid in keeping with the other tabloid sections, although the glossy paper allows for excellent reproduction of ads and editorial photos. The ads on the early pages are a mess, both in layout and nature. They appear to have been sold into the paper without much consideration for the image the ad content may impart on the paper, and the stacking style of layout is something I would only expect from a title put together by students. The leader spread is professional looking with good content and, being ad free, is an oasis from the earlier pages. To give more harmony to the paper, and a more modern feel, the masthead used for the Tabloid and Freehold section should probably be used throughout, without giving up the colour-coding currently being employed.It’s a big surprise that a paper like this is not audited. The Khaleej Times The paper has a dated looking masthead. The front page is poorly laid out, without any major story to grab readers, and poor use of photography, with small, uninspiring images. Pages 2 and 3 are horrific, being nearly 90% advertising. The paper has some of the worst flatplanning I have encountered until the leader spread, and it’s not until the second half that things improve, marginally. The appointments section is not worth bothering with, given the low pagination, and could probably be incorporated into one of the other sections, which all leave much to be desired, apart from the City Times section, which apart from an off-putting, if not misleading front cover and name, is probably the best part of the paper, and makes the Khaleej Times cover price just about justifiable. ||**||

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