On April 1, a tweet went out from the Arab News account: “Arab News — as you know it — will no longer exist! #AprilFoolsDay #WhatChanged.”
The message was a teaser building up to the relaunch of the English-language daily following a comprehensive overhaul, described by Editor in Chief Faisal J. Abbas as “The biggest shake-up the paper has had throughout its 43-year history.”
On April 4, the relaunch issue hit the newsstands, with changes also reflected across the digital editions. While the new look and feel of the paper represent a bold departure, many of the shifts have materialized over the past year. In a wide-ranging interview with Communicate magazine, Abbas described the evolution of Arab News since he took the reins in September 2016.
“We went back to our roots and took the paper back from being a local news outlet to its original positioning as the English voice of the region,” he told the magazine.
To achieve this, Arab News, which is owned by the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG), has opened bureaus in London, Dubai and Pakistan and has hired some of the best industry talent, made significant changes to its workflow structure and rewritten its editorial policy.
The changes are all part of a future plan entitled Arab News 2020 to coincide with the paper’s 45th anniversary that year. Key to this is a “digital-first” philosophy which is incorporating more video and social media to serve the title’s expanding demographic in the online sphere, though with print revenues at 90 percent, it won’t be killing its print editions any time soon.
Instead, the focus is on expansion. “We are moving away from being recognized as merely a “newspaper” to a whole array of digital offerings, events and tailored products,” Abbas said. Examples include the Arab News partnership with YouGov, producing material that “quickly became a reference for the region,” on major events, including polls on lifting the ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia and a 2017 survey on British attitudes toward the Arab world — cited in the UK Parliament.
The paper’s metamorphosis coincides neatly with the transformation taking place in Saudi Arabia as the country embraces an ambitious reform program as part of the Vision 2030 which, among other things, is redefining the local media industry. “As a journalist, I don’t think there is any place more interesting in the region than Saudi Arabia,” Abbas said. “We are very lucky to be at the heart of (the) change.”