What does the closure of 7Days mean for the UAE’s print industry?


7Days was a refreshing change to the region’s media landscape. The paper, which is closing for good at the end of December, will be missed by its readers and by the industry.

Many of us in the media industry were saddened to hear of the impending closure of the English-language daily 7Days. The paper was founded 13 years back in Dubai, and ran on a free distribution model similar to the concept pioneered by the Metro newspaper back in London.

7Days was unique in many ways. First was its business model, which was to make money through advertising rather than newspaper sales. Secondly, 7Days positioned itself as a community newspaper. It had a strong roster of journalists who focused on local interest pieces. And the community responded in kind; 7Days became known for its letters page, where readers would often vent their frustrations (I’ll admit, I was a huge fan).

The paper had struggled with its finances; a month ago, the management team announced that they’d be cutting the daily print run to once a week and focusing online. And now, the paper will be shutting down completely. To quote the statement made by 7Days CEO Mark Rix:

“The current trading environment and future global outlook for print advertising remains severely challenged. Whilst it was our stated intention to re-focus and restructure the business for 2017 and beyond, it has since proved not possible to create an acceptable cost base that could deliver a viable and sustainable business. It is therefore with great sadness that we announce the unique 7DAYS news brand will close and thus, cease to inform and entertain the UAE in its refreshing and inimitable way.”

While there’s been much talk about the decline of print, both globally and regionally, I have a different take on 7Days. Most of the papers in the region are government-owned, and as such their operations are bankrolled by the state. In addition, due to their ownership they’re seen as a means to communicate with government and hence attract a level of advertising that may seem incongruous with their distribution/readership numbers. For those who have worked in media here, they will be aware that a number of dailies have been unprofitable for many years.

7Days was different – it was an attempt to redefine how a paper could operate and make money. 7Days didn’t hold the same editorial line as other papers in the UAE due to its ownership (the paper is part-owned by the UK’s Daily Mail General Trust). And its distribution setup was different as well; the paper made money from advertising and classifieds rather than paper sales. The paper was also audited; at its height the paper distributed over 62,000 copies daily (except Fridays).

The fact that 7Days was able to operate for 13 years with an operating model that was both new and unique to the region is a testament to how well the paper was run by the editorial and sales teams. 7Days survived many challenges, including one imposed closure and one recession. However, with money flowing from traditional to new advertising models such as digital and social, the model has not proven to be sustainable without the backing of government largess. Even in the Gulf, the future seems to be focused on digital media.

I was asked by one young public relations professional, Rehmatullah Sheikh, what would happen to 7Days digital assets, particularly its social media following. The paper has developed a large online presence, with 161,000 followers on its @7DAYSUAE Twitter account, and 644,730 likes on its Facebook site. Some have suggested that the paper, particularly its letters section, could live on through these sites. There certainly seems a will among the readership to see 7Days continue in some form or another. Could 7Days become a pioneer for the second time, and promote a public-led media forum through its online assets? I for one hope that 7Days will continue in some shape or form.

A Digital Journalism Masterclass – Qatar’s Doha News and @dohanews

Let’s face it, the Gulf doesn’t win many awards for quality investigative journalism. There’s some outstanding journalists out there, but in a region where most/all of the news outlets are underfunded and owned by bodies or individuals who don’t have a media background we’re left with a lack of quality reporting.

Three people, journalists with experience of global media outlets such as the BBC, the Wall Street Journal, and Al Jazeera, took it upon themselves to take on Qatar’s media scene and create a news portal that would deliver news in real time. The result was Doha News, a news service that began its life on Twitter as @dohanews and then developed into a daily news blog.

The stated aim of Doha News is “to educate, inform, and stimulate positive change in the community.” What the three people behind the project – Shabina Khatri, Omar Chatriwala, and Tory Scott – have essentially done is to create a community site where the public can send in their content, be it images or news stories, and have that content edited and displayed for the rest of the community to see and comment upon.

Doha News hasn’t just become another news website; the portal has frequently beaten other media channels to breaking stories. Similarly, the quality and accuracy of the site’s news has been commended. No other Doha-based media outlet has covered the Villaggio Mall fire tragedy as comprehensively as Doha News. The site’s team went so far as to produce a 57-page e-book on the anniversary of the disaster which won praise for its coverage of what went wrong on the day of the Villaggio Mall fire and the ensuring events including the trial and steps taken by the Authorities and Mall owners to ensure a similar incident never happens again.

Below is a selection of items from the site including a news piece and pictures from users of the site. If you’re looking for news on Qatar or simply want to understand more about digital journalism in the Gulf Doha News is definitely worth a visit or three. Let’s hope others take up the mantle and create similar news portals for the rest of the region.

This piece is fairly typical of Doha News - a local interest story that uses social media to engage and benefit local viewers

This piece is fairly typical of Doha News – a local interest story that uses social media to engage and benefit local viewers