Why I’m excited to be back at the ‘voice of a changing region’

Why I’m excited to be back at the ‘voice of a changing region’

I have returned to Arab News after almost 20 years, but during that time I was not far away. Anyone who works at Arab News will always have an attachment to our well-known green newspaper. Once Arab News, always Arab News — this is what people who work, and have worked, at the newspaper believe. 
But what makes coming back at this time so exciting are the changes that are taking place at Arab News. Under the leadership of Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas, the leap has been huge and the change gigantic. 
From the start, Arab News has been a pioneer and a leading force for good journalism in Saudi Arabia. The seed that was planted on April 20, 1975, has grown into a strong and sturdy tree, green and unshakable. With its global reach and “digital first” focus, Arab News has become the prime trusted source for news in the Middle East. Not only is it “the voice of a changing region,” but it also sets high standards for change.
When I joined Arab News in 1988, I began on the news desk — what Arabs call the kitchen of news. That is where everything is made and put together, so starting there was very beneficial to me. Not many people like to be in the kitchen because it is very hot and often hectic. Most people prefer to go out and be a reporter, getting in touch with people, but I enjoyed working in the kitchen, editing copy.

Five years later, I was sent by Arab News to the Thomson Foundation in the UK to do a diploma in journalism. There, I met people who had a great deal of experience in newspapers from many English-speaking countries, from Africa to Eastern Europe. 

It was intimidating, and I lacked confidence at the time, but I remember a colleague telling me: “We’re a strong newspaper, we’re a first-class newspaper, so you don’t have to worry about anything. Just go ahead and make the most of the training.”

At that time, Arab News was more advanced technologically than others, even in the UK. We used to have PageFax, which sent pages to the printers. We also had systems that sent pages via computers to the printer. 

When I was in London and visited The Independent newspaper, they were still using PageFax. During a tour, I was told that in six months they would start using computers and stop using PageFax. The man told me proudly that when that happened, it would take between 90 seconds and two minutes to send a page to the printer. 

Arab News began as a newspaper to inform expatriates living in Saudi Arabia about the country’s rules and regulations, news about the Kingdom, its traditions, and also to keep them in touch with their own countries. 

Tarek Mishkhas

I spoke up and said: “No, it will take 15-20 seconds.” He looked at me, and I was delighted to inform him: “I’m speaking from first-hand experience because we already have this computer-to-print technology.” This gave me confidence. I was proud that we were ahead — and still are — in many aspects, especially related to the latest technology. 
That year, while I was studying, I was chosen as the best journalist of the 21 being trained by the Thomson Foundation. You can imagine how happy I was because I came from such a strong newspaper.
During the 12 years that I spent at Arab News, we covered a range of epochal events, including the First Gulf War (Aug. 2, 1990, to Feb. 28, 1991). That was a game changer for me because we would print twice. First we sent the pages by midnight, then we returned and made whatever changes were necessary before sending another edition to bed at 4 a.m. 
It was hectic but very rewarding, and it was an eye opener in terms of how things could be done. I was getting first-hand experience of how Arab News was changing at the time, and how I could be involved in those changes.
Arab News began as a newspaper to inform expatriates living in Saudi Arabia about the country’s rules and regulations, news about the Kingdom, its traditions, and also to keep them in touch with their own countries. 
During the First Gulf War, we became the source of news for all Western media. All the Western reporters and correspondents who came to the Kingdom came to our bureau in Dammam, and it become the headquarters for CNN, the BBC, CBC and others. All of them converged on our office to get the latest news from us; that was a very heady feeling that made us proud but also aware of our responsibilities.
Today, we are the source of stories coming out of not only Saudi Arabia, but also the wider Gulf and the entire Middle East. We are reporting about the changes taking place, the opening of society and new developments in Saudi Arabia. We are again at the center of things, and are the source of trusted and dependable news. Because of this, we have become “the voice of a changing region.”
We must not overlook social media. It is a powerful tool and plays a big role in the dissemination of news. Arab News has some 5 million followers on Facebook; Twitter is also buzzing 24/7 with our latest stories from the region. We take immense pride in what we put out, and we check and double check before posting anything. That conscientious attention to accuracy has won us the trust and confidence of our readers.
Many people have come to Arab News over the years, and of course many have left. There is no doubt that some of their subsequent success is due to the good training they had at Arab News. The good thing about our family is that we keep in touch with those who have left, and remember the good times when we were together at the newspaper.
For me, coming back to Arab News has brought a rush of memories and feelings of nostalgia. My return is a great opportunity for me to be part of the enormous changes taking place in the region and in all our newsrooms and bureaus, wherever they are.

  • Tarek Mishkhas is deputy editor-in-chief of Arab News
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view