Newsletter No 11 20 December 2005
 
Financial Management:
Being New and Setting Standards

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.



Design
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.

Management
“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.

Content
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.