How can the UAE encourage more locals to enter the media industry?

The words of HH Sheikh Mohammad during the Emirati Media Forum. The country is looking to encourage more locals to enter the media industry

The words of HH Sheikh Mohammad during the Emirati Media Forum. The country is looking to encourage more locals to enter the media industry

This month we’ve been treated to not one but two regional forums focusing on the media sector. First we had the Abu Dhabi Media Summit. Not to be outdone, Dubai held the second edition of the Emirati Media Forum (EMF). The words above were the highlight of the event, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, spoke about the need for there to be more nationals in the media sector.

Reinforcing the message, UAE Minister for State and Chairman of Sky News Arabia Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber spoke on the need for the country’s media to, as Gulf Today put it, become proactive and anticipative, provide deep analysis and interpretation for the current events, carry its social and cultural responsibilities, deliver our message and voice to the world and reflects our sound peaceful culture.

“Over the past years, UAE media has registered many successes and achievements and we need to adopt a balanced and objective strategy that shall contribute in enhancing and bolstering UAE creditability regionally and internationally.”

“When I call for a proactive role, I do not mean exaggeration but rather I call upon our national media to be an icon for ethics and professionalism.”

As a former journalist in the UAE and someone who has dealt extensively with media across the Gulf, the country doesn’t lack for journalists or publications. However, the vast majority of journalists are expats. Even on the Arabic side, most of the media are from Egypt, Jordan or Lebanon.

Whilst it could be argued that the media industry in the Gulf isn’t respected or held in the same regard as in other geographies such as Europe or America, most of the countries in the region have a high percentage of nationals working as journalists – most of the Arabic-language journalists in Saudi are locals, while Bahraini journalists include the head of the local AP bureau. Kuwait has the most lively political publications, which are mostly fueled by local columnists and writers. If countries like Bahrain and Kuwait, two countries with national populations roughly the size of the UAE, how can the UAE promote media among their nationals? Here’s a couple of ideas to get nationals more engaged in the media:

1) Encourage critical thinking and debate – it’s probably no surprise that Kuwait and Saudi have the largest number of local writers, thanks in part to debates around issues such as governance, politics and other issues which matter to local communities. The greater the range of views and opinions that are on offer locally, the greater the public engagement with that media. Conversely, the greater the degree of monotony the less interest there is in the media.

2) Support an independent press – there’s some confusion in the region in terms of what the media is and what its job is. As many media outlets are government owned, they’re often seen as a voice for the authorities. Independent media are generally viewed as more credible, more likely to take on vested interests and promote investigative journalism. Independent media help to promote a strong civil society that in turn promotes transparency and ethics.

3) Engage nationals from a young age – there are some up-and-coming young Emiratis in the media sector who are producing great work. They’re the exception however. Most of the nationals in the media are older and occupy higher positions. We need young role-models for today’s Emirati students to follow, role-models who will tell of the long days, of the persistence on chasing a lead, and of the exhilaration in scoring a scoop.

As was touched upon at the Emirati Media Forum, the Internet is disrupting traditional media. In America dozens of newspapers have had to close shop due to our changing media consumption habits. In a world where stories are broken and shared virally online, many are arguing that traditional media is not needed as it has been for decades. I disagree. Good local analysis can put any news story in context. This is where a strong press plays a role.

For a country that wants to be the first in everything it does, the UAE needs to look again at the local media and ask where is the country’s Al Jazeera, and where are UAE journalists who can be compared to the likes Saudi presenter Turki Al Dakhil, Bahraini editor-in-chief Mansour Al-Jamri, and Kuwaiti journalist Mohammed Al-Sager, all of whom are well respected, famous figures in the media industries in their home countries and abroad.

If the UAE wants a strong media presence and aims to attract more UAE nationals into the sector, then there has to be a shift towards a strong, empowered media that can tell the country’s story through its own words. A mature media that can speak on its own behalf, that has a reputation for holding others to account, and which strengthens local communities can only be good for everyone in the country, most of all its nationals, and will help to attract young nationals who want to support their country’s development as well as be involved in what is one of the most exciting jobs anyone can do.

I’m going to end this piece with a quote from the Columbia School of Journalism, of what media can do for a country.

Journalism exposes corruption, draws attention to injustice, holds politicians and businesses accountable for their promises and duties. It informs citizens and consumers, helps organize public opinion, explains complex issues and clarifies essential disagreements. Journalism plays an irreplaceable role in both democratic politics and market economies.

For those in the industry, I’d love to hear your feedback.

The New York Times looks to Arabic, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat goes Chinese

The New York Times’ Mark Thompson expects the newspaper to focus more on the Middle East next year; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat is moving further east, to China (image source: http://english.alarabiya.net)

All eyes in the media world seem to be looking East. First, at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit, we had New York Times Company chief executive Mark Thompson talking about how the New York Times is looking to print and report in additional languages next year (the paper currently publishes in English and Chinese). Speaking to Al Arabiya News, Thompson spelt out his vision for the New York Times and its relationship with the Middle East.

“We will look at other languages and obviously Arabic is on this list. We would not want to do anything that was not very high quality, and it’s got to make economic sense.”

“The appeal of the Middle East – whether we do an Arabic edition or not – is that it is a big region which necessarily, because of the extremely complex and unstable politics of the wider region, is fascinated by news,” he added.

“We also believe that a lot of people would be interested in other perspectives. For the really international news brands the Middle East is an opportunity you cannot ignore.”

Not to be outdone, one of the region’s largest and most respected newspapers is looking to launch its own Chinese version of the newspaper online. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat already publishes in both English and Arabic and has numerous apps and digital editions in addition to its online portal and hard copy – its Android app has around 25,000 unique users on a daily basis, and I’m sure its applications on the iPhone and iPad have the same amount, if not more, readers.

What is fascinating is Al-Sharq’s focus on Asia. The newspaper, which claims a daily circulation of 230,000 copies, is looking to establish itself in and around the largest economies in Asia. As part of this drive, the newspaper’s editorial management is looking to print in Mandarin Chinese. With Saudi’s increasing focus on Asia (the newspaper is owned by a Saudi-listed company), the move to publish in Chinese makes sense. Will other Arab newspapers follow suit?

How not to pitch to the media – examples from the Gulf

I wrote recently about pitching to the media, and I thought I’d share two examples of how not to approach journalists which have been shared with me by a couple of editors here in the Gulf.

The first is from a local company in the UAE. Written by a former editor (who should know better), the message ticks off the media for not running the release the day before. Is this really going to get your news published? The short answer is most likely not.

Telling off the media isn't the best approach to getting your news published

Telling off the media isn’t the best approach to getting your news published

The second pitch is more brief, but just as useless, in that it doesn’t tell the journalist anything. Instead, it almost shouts we’re here so publish something. For a pitch about a fashion collection, so much more could have been done particularly around visuals, to get the news published.

Yes, this is the pitch.

Yes, this is the pitch.

Pitching to journalists isn’t the easiest of things to do – they’re a difficult bunch at the best of times (and I’m including myself in that description as well). However, a well-crafted pitch explaining the news and why it’s beneficial to the journalist’s readers will go a long way to help you achieving your goal of publishing your news.

And to show that journalists also get it wrong, have a look at this piece highlighted by The Media Network.

The Daily Telegraph, published in Sydney by News Corp Australia, has made an embarrassing editorial blunder, by running a headline stating that Australian bombing raids killed dozens of terrorists in the UAE, according to the newspaper’s online platform.

While the story referred to bombings in Iraq – in which Australia’s super hornets conducted a total of 43 flights over the country since becoming operational almost two weeks ago – the prominent headline told a different story.

The headline has since been amended to citing the Middle East instead of the UAE, though the original URL remains.

First there was #MyDubai, and now we have #InAbuDhabi – Promoting a city on social media

Will #InAbuDhabi do for the capital what #MyDubai has done for Dubai’s social media presence?

There’s a saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s the case, then #MyDubai, the social media campaign which was launched to give the city’s residents a way to tell their own story, now has another honor to its name in addition to the one million Instagram uploads.

Abu Dhabi has followed in the footsteps of #MyDubai and launched its own hashtag to share experiences. To quote from the Khaleej Times:

Residents and visitors to the Capital have a new platform to share their experiences and events: #inAbuDhabi.

Announced on Sunday by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA), the new online service is meant to promote the emirate’s culture, entertainment, heritage and hospitality both at home and abroad.

“The #inAbuDhabi campaign will be wide-reaching and rolled out across all communication channels of our visitabudhabi online resource. It will be used across social media for maximum reach and impact and will be a tool to tell the destination story locally, regionally and internationally,” said Mouza Al Shamsi, acting executive director of Marketing and Communications at TCA.

So far, so good. However, despite launching the campaign on October 20th it’s probably fair to say that the #inAbuDhabi hashtag is yet to trend among social media users. Most of the usage has been by corporate accounts related to tourism such as @VisitAbuDhabi, @AbuDhabiEvents and @EtihadAirways.

The hashtag #InAbuDhabi had a strong start but has tailed off rapidly since its launch

The hashtag #InAbuDhabi had a strong start but has tailed off rapidly since its launch

Will #InAbuDhabi become another #MyDubai? Does it have the emotional resonance with residents of the capital? Or should Abu Dhabi’s Tourism and Culture Authority not imitated Dubai and done something completely different? What do you think?