The National, City 7 TV and the Quest to Make Media Profitable via Digital

Both The National and City 7 TV will be letting go of many editorial staff as they look to restructure (image source: Arabian Business)

The past couple of weeks has been tough for many colleagues in the UAE media industry. First, information was leaked about job losses at the Abu Dhabi-based, English language daily The National. The reported job cuts follows five months after the paper’s purchase by International Media Investments (IMI), a subsidiary of private investment firm Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation (ADMIC) from state-owned Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADM). At least a quarter of the editorial staff will be leaving The National by the end of June 2017, as the paper’s owners support a “digital transformation” at the paper.

“As part of this transition, over the past few months, IMI has finalised its new vision for The National, supported by a robust editorial strategy to ensure that The National fulfils its potential as a premier English language source of news about and for the Middle East,” a spokesperson told the AFP.

Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation also owns a majority stake in Sky News Arabia, and a project team has been set up to aid the “digital transformation” at The National.

The second news story over the past week were job cuts at Dubai-based English language television channel, City 7 TV. The channel has been sold by BinHendi Enterprises to WeTel-TV, a TV platform for global educational news and current affairs. A number of the editorial team have left as the channel focuses on education.

For many media outlets, the focus is increasingly on profit. In a region which is going through austerity, and where media ownership is primarily in the hands of government (for newspapers and television at the very least), there seems to be a rethink among many outlets as to how to reduce costs. As with every other region, digital is waved as the answer. However, even global titles such as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Daily Mail have struggled to turn a profit online. Digital revenue streams simply aren’t going to replace lost print advertising any time soon.

The other question that The National’s media owners need to ask is how will the loss of so many journalists impact editorial quality? When it comes to media consumption, online is no different from offline; readers want good content. How that content is delivered is obviously different, but the demand for good media will remain. And will there be a logical approach to a “digital transformation”, that combines both The National’s quality copy with the multimedia abilities of Sky News Arabia? An Abu-Dhabi based rival to AJ+ would be an exciting proposition, and I hope that The National has a strong digital enabler at the helm.

Whatever happens with both publications, my thoughts are very much with those people who are leaving. I hope that you’ll find new employment soon.

What’s in a word? Coverage of Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi’s departure by newswire media and social media reactions

Another week passes by and we witness more remarkable changes in Saudi Arabia. Over the past weekend Saudi King Salman announced a raft of changes which impacted the Kingdom’s government structure as well as those who were tasked with leading the changes.

The headline grabber, in more ways than one, was the departure of the longstanding oil minister Ali Al-Naimi. Al-Naimi had been an ever-present in government, serving as the oil minister for just over two decades. There had long been talk of Ali Al-Naimi, who is now 80, stepping down. When the time came, it was still a surprise to many.

Rather than talk about the man, who is a legend in the oil industry and is held in high regard by Saudis, I wanted to briefly look at the headlines from the AFP, Bloomberg, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.

AFP used the word ‘sacked’ in their headline, but then reverted to replaced in the copy. Interestingly, the piece which was on the AFP site is no longer present. The below is from the cached version on Google.

AFP Naimi coverage

Bloomberg, which has scored a number of scoops in the Kingdom recently with its coverage of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, went for the below title which . The news piece was diplomatic in terms of the wording used about All Al-Naimi’s departure, including the use of the verb ‘replaced’ to describe the change in ministers (Ali Al-Naimi’s successor is the Chairman of Saudi Aramco Khalid Al-Falih).

Bloomberg Coverage

Reuters also focused on the incoming minister and used the word replaced.

Reuters coverage

Last but not least, Wall Street Journal initially opted for the word ‘fired’ in their title. After a firestorm on Twitter, including attacks against its Riyadh-based Saudi correspondent (and Saudi national) Ahmed Al-Omran, the title was changed from fired to dismissed (the word fired is still in the url as you can see from the below).

WSJ coverage

The argument that the WSJ team put forward is that the wording was correct – one is appointed to a minister’s post and then one is fired. Fired effectively means the same as replaced, dismissed or sacked. The nuance was lost on many who took offence and reached out directly to Ahmed via Twitter to complain. In a rare display of understanding, the WSJ changed the title. Ahmed Al-Omran also apologized for any offense taken.

In a region where the international media has rarely been given much attention by the national population, the Ali Al-Naimi story underlined a possible change in attitudes brought about by social media and the need to communicate what Gulf nationals feel is a correct story or narrative to the outside world. For these reasons, this will not be the last time that the foreign media comes under scrutiny for the wording they use to describe what is happening on the ground here in the Gulf.

#Hajjselfie, Whatsapp and smartphones – how is technology changing Islam and Muslims?

We’re a funny bunch in how we can change so quickly and then justify how we’ve changed 180 degrees. I remember how up until ten years back, camera phones were banned in Saudi Arabia. And today, the hot topics are #Hajjselfie and how modern technology is making its mark on Saudi society.

The beginning of October was the timing for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, a mandatory religious duty for Muslims. During Hajj Muslims are to abstain from all temptations which may lead to sin; in essence, the pilgrimage is a time for renewal for the two million plus Muslims who take the rite of passage annually.

This year, one of the major stories which broke at Hajj was the #hajjselfie. You’ll probably know of the selfie, a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone and then shared online via social networking services. This year, the selfie was introduced en-mass to Hajj. To quote from Saudi Gazette and AFP.

Raising his arm, Yousef Ali hugs his elderly father near the Grand Mosque in Makkah as they grin for a selfie — a craze that has hit this year’s Haj. But not everyone is happy about young pilgrims from around the world constantly snapping “selfie”, photographs taken of one’s self, as they carry out Haj rights.

From Tawaf — circumambulating the Holy Kaaba — to prayers atop Mount Mercy in Arafat, and stoning of the “devil” in Mina, the key stages of Haj have all been recorded on cameras and smartphones for posterity, and for instant sharing through social media.

“As this is my first pilgrimage, it is important for me to document all the events taking place around me,” Ali, 24, told AFP, snapping a picture of himself with a green sign reading “Big Jamarah”, which refers to a wall where pilgrims ritually stone the Satan.

“Wherever I go, I take pictures, especially since nowadays we have these little cameras… that offer a full view of the area,” the bearded Kuwaiti said with a smile.

The increasingly popular phenomenon has sparked controversy among conservatives, however, with some taking to Twitter to criticize pilgrims who take selfies.

“When we went for Umrah in the mid-90s, Dad nearly had his camera confiscated to shouts of ‘haram!’ Now, #HajjSelfie is A Thing. What a world,” wrote one Tweeter.

Another user named Kahwaaa wrote: “It’s a time to connect to Allah and purify my soul. #hajjselfies selfies shouldn’t be taken.”

But others said the issue was being blown out of proportion.

“People creating a huge issue about #hajjselfies. If photos are allowed during Haj then what is wrong with selfies?,” asked Abdul Mufeez Shaheed.

Nothing at all, says Ali’s father Mohammed Ali, 65.

“A person taking such pictures is documenting a rare event”, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many Muslims, he said, wearing a traditional white robe.

“This is a symbolic place representing history,” Mohammed Ali added, pointing to the three sites which pilgrims began stoning on Saturday at the start of the Eid Al-Adha feast of sacrifice, which is celebrated by Muslims worldwide.

Two women covered in traditional black abayas and veils hurried toward the Big Jamarah wall, but not without stopping for a quick self-portrait along the way.

“My daughter and I are taking selfies to show our Haj pictures to our family in Paris. It’s also a nice memento,” said one of the women, a Saudi pilgrim from Jeddah who gave her name only as Umm Abdallah, 44.

Her daughter Wafaa Ahmed, 19, said: “I love taking many selfies wherever I go to keep them for myself, as well as to show them to my friends and brothers.”

Speaking to AFP by telephone, a professor of Islamic Shariah law Riyadh said that “if photographs are only for personal memory and not for disseminating, then no problem.

“But if they were for the purpose of showing off, then they are prohibited, such as the photography that takes place at the (Haj) rites.”

The scholar requested anonymity.

“It is better for Muslims to avoid them,” he said of selfies.

For the teenage pilgrim Wafaa Ahmed, “this is not a convincing view” because taking selfies “has nothing to do with religion”.

The elderly pilgrim Mohammed Ali also discounts the scholar’s opinion.

He says the camera “is a tool such as mobiles, used even by religious scholars who have not prohibited them, so why prohibit another tool of the modern era?”

As he speaks, a group of young Saudi men gather for a group selfie in front of a Jamarah wall before they stone the “devil”.

Analytics of #Hajjselfie by Topsy. The trend peaked on October the 4th.

Analytics of #Hajjselfie by Topsy. The trend peaked on October the 4th.

The #hajjselfie wasn’t the only social media story coming out of Saudi Arabia this month. A recent piece in Saudi Gazette bemoaned the erosion of traditions surrounding the vacation among Saudi nationals.

“Take for instance the recent Haj holidays where it was common practice to visit relatives but several people did not do so,” said Omar Yousif Tobbal, a senior projects manager in a government firm.

He said that these occasions allow families to spend time together but people are increasingly resorting to calling or texting their relatives to extend their greetings instead of actually visiting them.

“If it hadn’t been for modern technology, families would meet, dress up and generally enjoy themselves,” he said, adding that before the advent of technology, Saudis had more time for each other and talked for hours on common themes of interest. However, there are some who still observe the occasion in accordance with tradition, he noted.

It’s not all for the worse however. One positive which came out of the combination of social media and Hajj this year was the appreciation show to the security teams who were working to ensure the safety of the two million pilgrims through the use of the hashtag #thanks_security_men. This time from Arab News.

Photos and videos of security officers from various military sectors assisting and providing services to pilgrims during the Haj season have been trending across social networking sites, such as Twitter. A number of religious leaders and media personnel have devoted their pages to discussing the positive role of security authorities in Saudi Arabia in the success of this year’s Haj season.

Active users on social networking sites produced various hashtags, notably #thanks_security_men, to express their gratitude and appreciation for their humanitarian efforts and positive representation of Saudi Arabia.

What are your thoughts on the above? Do you think #Hajjselfie is halal or haraam? Let me know your thoughts, especially if you were on Hajj. And have a look over the #hajjselfie images below from BuzzFeed, from what is one of the most amazing spectacles on earth.