Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Counting down to The National

I am more optimistic than some about the breand-new newspaper which Thursday will bring. Some ex-pats point out that The National is owned by the government and can therefore never be a truly independent voice.

But we shouldn't forget that government in the Sandlands most often resembles a hugely diversified family enterprise dominating a local market. The family in question, the Zayed dynasty, as widely perceived as being one of the most enlightened; there is the distinct perception that Sheikh Mo means what he says and often what he says is surprisingly progressive and thought provoking. The closer The National is to him, and I reckon it is very close indeed, the more chance there is that the paper will be bolder than some might expect.

Two problem areas will have to be kept under close monitoring, one external, the other internal.

The diversified family enterprise which is Abu Dhabi has many ancillary activities which have absolutely nothing to do with government but are firmly, comfortably and profitably ensconced in the private business sector. One of the remits of the Fourth Estate is to keep an eye on business and, when necessary, call entrepreneurs to account. Will there be business entities which The National will fail to name and shame, if such censure be merited, due to the lofty status of the owners?

The internal problem zone is more subtle. The launch of a newspaper in today's environment is a daring commercial proposition. Newspapers in many parts of the world are shrinking; stories of the decline of the press are everywhere to be read. Those involved in the launch of The National have been heard to say what a fabulous opportunity they have been handed. Let us just hope they don't get too smug. I hope they're reading what Los Angeles Times Editor is saying to his staff.

Jeff Jarvis reckons
this is a big deal: LA Times editor Russ Stanton said the paper will “train all editorial employees in new skills in every medium in which we work (print/web/TV/mobile/radio).” I hope that also means training everyone in new opportunities: collaboration, networks, opening up the process…

If The National copes successfully with both of these problem areas then the paper could surprise us all. If it looks as good as the teaser on their website hints, nice typography, clean design, that will be an added binus.

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