Al Watan is
the newest newspaper in the highly competitive Saudi market. It was
launched in 2000 and has become one of the leading newspapers in the
country. “Al Watan leads the newspaper industry in Saudi Arabia,” says
its Editor-in-Chief, Othman Mahmoud Al Sini.
“After Al Watan
appeared in the market, other Saudi press invested half a billion
Riyals (about US 133 millions) in modernizing by acquiring printing
presses, introducing color, etc. Al Watan ’s arrival made them aware of the need to evolve,” he says.
Its clear objective has taken Al Watan to economic profit after three years of losses, says Al Sini.
No new Arab-language newspaper had been launched for 20 years in Saudi Arabia before Al Watan ’s
arrival in the market. “We wanted to give readers a real new newspaper,
so we adopted a different layout. Moreover, in an era where satellite
channels are experiencing a boom in the region, we decided to do a TV
newspaper to face TV competition,” he says.
After visiting some newspapers in the United States, Al Watan decided to follow the USA Today model and adopted a compact seven columns format with a very visual layout.
“Since every newspaper in the country was a broadsheet, the compact
format really gave the impression of having a brand new paper. It is
also more comfortable to read, which helps attracting readers. A proof
of our success is the fact that other newspapers in Saudi Arabia later
adopted the same format, Al Riyadh and Okaz, for instance.”
Color is used to facilitate navigation and gives an important role to
pictures. “Pictures open every section, being themselves independent
stories,” says Al Sini.
“As a new newspaper, we took advantage of new technologies. We set up
the first digital information center in the kingdom which allowed us to
coordinate the different newsrooms in the country within seconds and to
present the newspaper we wanted to in terms of layout” says Al Sini.
“Since we wanted to cover and reach the whole country, we established
two printing presses: one in the Assir region and another in the
capital Al Riyadh. We are now set to open a new one in Jeddah,” he says
An open workflow space has been implemented for the 350-person staff.
“It fits our ‘one team’ philosophy as it facilitates interactivity
between sections and individuals. It also makes you gain time as you
can control every employee’s production in a glance,” he says.
The paper says to have a circulation between 150,000 and 180,000 copies daily. Al Sini’s says these figures are a result of Al Watan
covering national issues rather than local ones. “Papers in the kingdom
are mostly local or pan-Arab. We are the only national one. Therefore,
readers buy their regional newspaper for regional news and Al Watan for national news.”
Al Sini also points to the newspaper’s approach to news as one of the
differences between his newspaper and the rest. “We are an informative
paper; we go to the point directly.” It has helped the paper in gaining
a young readership. According to the Editor-in-chief, the average
reader of Al Watan is under age 40.
“We also write about subjects others do not dare to. As a result, we
have had four editors-in-chief in five years,” he says, since in Saudi
Arabia editors-in-chief are appointed or approved by the government.
Despite this success, Al Watan
keeps looking for ways to improve and grow in the future. “Now that we
have established ourselves after five years, we are studying the
possibility of launching new specialized newspapers and magazines,”
says Al Sini.