Newsletter No 5 03 November 2005
 
Editors Voice:
What Sets a Newspaper Apart?

What is the place of the newspaper in society? What sets it apart from, and above, its rivals? Are newspapers succumbing too easily to the temptation to become more populist? How do they increase readership and broaden their influence?

Newspapers have grown into just one of many media that make up our information society. The newspaper is not the most powerful of them. Radio, TV and the Internet are faster, more diverse, and often more appealing. Moreover, and more importantly, it no longer controls how news is circulated, nor does it set the tone for our collective information.

Viewing the decline of the daily press forces us to question how it is adapting to today’s information market, its capacity to meet the needs of its public, and in essence, its role in society. In other words, we must ask whether the quality of information it provides and the services it renders live up to its historical legitimacy and the ambitions it continues to hold dear. Therefore, what is the role of newspapers is a question that has to be made.

Ahmed Al-Yusuf, Editor-in-Chief, The Saudi Gazette, Saudi Arabia, answered a series of questions for “Shaping the Future of the Newspaper” (SFN).

The Saudi Gazette is one of two English-speaking dailies in Saudi Arabia. Established in 1976, it has a circulation of about 15,000 copies. It is published by the Okaz Organization for Press and Publication, which also publishes Okaz, one of the most popular Arabic-speaking dailies in the kingdom.

SFN: What do you believe is the role of your newspaper in the society in which you publish?
Al-Yusuf: As a private and independent English language daily, we are a source of information and news on local issues for expatriates. We also deliver their most important home news. As an English-language publication, we also enjoy a wider margin of freedom and, as such, tackle issues of great importance to Saudi readers.

SFN: How does this vary from other news media with which you compete?
Al-Yusuf: Sensitive issues covered by The Saudi Gazette would not be tackled by the official and Arabic language press, television or radio, which shy away from what is considered controversial for fear of a hard reaction.

SFN: What do you believe are the main assets of newspapers, relative to other media – television, radio, Internet etc – in providing news and other services to their audience?
Al-Yusuf: Newspapers allow the reader the time to probe into information that television and radio does not. Television and radio are fast media. A reader can read at the time they choose and if certain content is of importance, then it can be clipped and saved. Also, a “good read” is a source of pleasure to intellectuals and people who enjoy reading more than watching and listening to content. Newspapers offer in-depth information and analysis in addition to well-written features that are considered more educational and informative that what is available on the airwaves.

SFN: Some people in our industry are arguing that newspapers, in an attempt to increase circulation, have become more populist in their content, and rather than concentrating on more serious issues in society, are carrying more stories on television personalities or sport, at the expense of more serious material. What are your views about this?
Al-Yusuf: It is vital for any publication to serve the needs of readers and offer them the content they want. Having said this, newspapers are always in search of “new needs” that are created through new types of content and services. A daily newspaper has to be comprehensive in its content in order to attract as many readers as possible, especially in small markets where niche and specialized market segment interests are very low. By satisfying as many readers as possible, the newspaper can be a viable and profitable business, a very important factor for independence as well as continuity.

SFN: What do you believe newspapers should be doing to increase their readership?
Al-Yusuf: Newspapers must work hard to come up with original content that is unavailable elsewhere. With the hard competition coming from new media, television and radio, newspapers find themselves in need of scoops and breaking news more than ever before. In order to achieve better original content, newspapers find it necessary to probe deeper when writing features, opinion and analysis, in order to compete with documentaries, debates and live shows. Through tackling a wider range of subjects, newspapers increase their readership. A newspaper-magazine marriage brings information of interest to readers. Magazine type content is already invading newspapers but more of that content could widen the reader base even further.

SFN: What do you think newspapers should be doing to increase their influence in the societies that they serve?
Al-Yusuf: Newspapers should become catalysts for change by tackling issues that are ignored by other media, including an ever more active monitoring role that allows people insight into the truth, and detailed probing of issues of importance to society, be these political, economical, social or moral.

SFN is an exclusive project for WAN members that produces an annual series of reports on new operational and strategic developments in the press. In addition to the strategy reports, the SFN project offers a wide variety of studies, data, case histories, business ideas research and media news drawn from WAN conferences, seminars and elsewhere. For more information, visit www.futureofthenewspaper.com