How Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s first English-language newspaper, was born

How Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s first English-language newspaper, was born
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Updated 20 April 2020

How Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s first English-language newspaper, was born

How Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s first English-language newspaper, was born
  • 45 years ago, Hisham and Mohammed Hafiz launched it in a Jeddah garage
  • The first issue was a 16-page tabloid published on April 20, 1975

JEDDAH: Brothers Hisham and Mohammed Hafiz had a dream: To publish a daily, English-language newspaper in Saudi Arabia. In 1972, they began to seriously discuss how they might turn that dream into a reality.

Almost everyone they spoke to was skeptical about the idea. Undeterred, in 1974, they pushed ahead with their plans and began to buy the equipment they needed. They also hired Ahmad Mahmoud to be the newspaper’s first editor-in-chief, and sent him to Pakistan to hire a team of journalists.

The first issue of Arab News, a 16-page tabloid, was published on April 20, 1975, from a small garage in Jeddah. Thanks to its instant popularity, and the quantity of advertising it generated, by the end of August it had blossomed into a broadsheet.

The late Farouk Luqman, who died in July 2019 at the age of 84, was there at the beginning and became editor-in-chief 18 years later. In his book “Globalization of the Arabic Press,” he told the story of the Hafiz brothers and their incredible journey, which began with the launch of Arab News and grew into the biggest publishing house in the Middle East. He revealed that in the early days the newspaper had only six employees, including the editor-in-chief.

“We were doing everything, from writing stories to translating news and laying out pages,” said Luqman, who was managing editor at the time of the launch. The entire operation was based in the garage — from writing, editing and layout to advertising and administration.

“We worked until dawn preparing the first issue and the publishers stayed with us all the time until we finished and printed,” Luqman said. “They were true journalists and often pointed out mistakes, even spelling errors.”

Newcomer Arab News was in direct competition with the renowned International Herald Tribune, which was published in Paris, and the Lebanese Daily Star, both of which went on sale in Saudi Arabia the day after initial publication.

According to Luqman, Arab News proved popular not only with Europeans and Americans but also Asians and Africans.

During an interview in 2005, Mahmoud, the first editor-in-chief, recalled the offer of the top job caught him off guard.




 The Hafiz brothers went on to publish over a dozen newspapers and magazines, but Arab News retained a special place in their hearts. (AN) 

“One fine morning in 1974, I got a call from Mohammed Ali Hafiz asking me to meet him and his brother,” he said. “At that time I was with Al-Madinah Arabic newspaper. They told me about their project and, in the same breath, offered me the post of editor-in-chief. That took me completely by surprise.”

Mahmoud added that he did not have much time to ponder the offer as the Hafiz brothers told him the first issue would roll off the presses within six months.

“I did accept the offer, but I made it clear that I had no experience in English journalism,” he said. The response of the Hafiz brothers was: “When one is a journalist, one will always be a journalist.”

Like all new arrivals, Arab News had its share of teething problems. Following some trial dummy runs, Mahmoud — assisted by Luqman, who had experience of English-language journalism — encountered a series of niggling problems as they tried to put this new and novel venture to bed every night.

“There were challenges and trials, but with youthful determination and zest we did our best and overcame them,” Mahmoud said. “Arab News came out in difficult circumstances. As it was the first of its kind, we had to face up to the fact of limited news sources, a dearth of photographs, inadequate manpower and poor printing quality. Despite all this, surprisingly, the paper was well received.”

Despite the large number of additional successful publications launched by the newspaper’s publishers in the past 45 years, most notably Asharq Al-Awsat, Arab News retains a special place in their hearts.

In a letter to readers, the Hafiz brothers wrote: “The solid base of Arab News, financially and its journalistic success, paved the way for the birth of other successful papers and magazines, of which the majority are still being read today.”

As for the distinctive green-tinted paper on which Arab News is printed, that tradition began with its Arabic sister paper, Asharq Al-Awsat. In 1978, when the Hafiz brothers launched the pan-Arab newspaper, which is published and printed in London and other European cities, they wanted to make it easy for readers to find their paper on newsstands.

Noting that almost all of the hundreds of newspapers available in a variety languages are published on white paper, they decided to print theirs on green stock so that it would stand out. Later, Arab News began to follow its sister paper’s example, using green paper for its front page.

 


‘How do we get smarter? With better data’

‘How do we get smarter? With better data’
Updated 22 January 2021

‘How do we get smarter? With better data’

‘How do we get smarter? With better data’
  • Media innovator Tarek Daouk on the key trends shaping the Middle East’s business future

DUBAI: In January 2020, Tarek Daouk, CEO of media and advertising group Dentsu MENA, sat with his leadership team discussing what they believed was a generally optimistic year ahead for business. Fast-forward six weeks later and the whole world was in crisis.

“There was no way to predict what was going to happen, and how fast and how bad this was going to affect people and businesses across the world,” he said, recalling the widespread uncertainty at the time.

Although Daouk hopes COVID-19 vaccines will help the world get back on its feet, “the unpredictability of how we plan and make the business flexible enough to react to things that we cannot predict will always be there.”

Business challenges

The key challenges that businesses faced in 2020 — and will continue to face as the economy improves — are supply and demand, and cost infrastructure.

Daouk said that many clients faced logistical challenges due to restrictions on supply from outside the region, resulting in a delay in business activities.

“Obviously, this is easiest to sort out as things go back to normal,” he said.

However, the bigger issue is that of demand. Due to lack of job stability and an economic downturn, consumers became wary and even as the supply chain returns to normal, it will be a while before consumer confidence bounces back.

“That’s also the role of businesses, especially marketing and advertising, to restore people’s confidence in investment,” he added.

The second challenge is that of cost infrastructure across cities and sectors in the region where the cost of doing business was already high. Rents, especially, play a major role, with businesses forced to close their offices still paying high rents.

Geopolitical scenario

However, Daouk sees a silver lining largely on the back of Dubai and Saudi Arabia’s potential. It is an ideal time for Dubai to play a role as a hub beyond the MENA region.

Due to its location, Dubai is a strategic spot for businesses operating across Europe, Asia and the MENA region, which is critical at a time when Europe is still relatively locked down.

“I have met a few companies that are headquartered in Europe and many are considering relocating their headquarters to Dubai,” he said.

Moreover, as company structures change, there is room for a more mobile headquarters, which can be moved from one country to another depending on the business’ focus market at a given time.

Saudi Arabia is Dentsu’s largest and most significant market in the region with the highest per capita gross domestic product. Vision 2030 has opened up new avenues of doing business in the Kingdom that are already attracting investment, with the Kingdom’s investment in tourism and local entertainment giving the country a big push and strong potential to bounce back, Daouk said.

Increased digitization

With investments in digital advertising climbing well over 50 percent of the total ad spend in 2020, it is clear that businesses are seeing the benefits and reaping the rewards of their investments.

Daouk highlights the move toward digitization for business transformation, with companies investing in moving data to the cloud through products such as Microsoft Azure, and using the data to model business and advertising decisions.

“It allows you to put a layer of analytics on top of the data to help these businesses in their decision making, which will transform to a better, smarter, more personal experience for the consumers,” he said.

Lack of advertising measurement

Dentsu MENA has helped a retail client move its data to the cloud with a predictive modelling exercise to help the sales team by collecting data from all touchpoints — from the store to an online ad.

The businesses data is much more robust than the advertising data. For instance, digital media consumption data is provided by the digital platforms without any third-party auditing. Similarly, measurability for offline media consumption remains a challenge.

Daouk said that there are initiatives in the pipeline to improve measurability, with plans to launch people meters to measure TV in Saudi Arabia. But for now, he said, “we are getting faster, bigger, more accurate data — marketing data — much faster than what we get on media consumption.”

Decline in advertising spend

The global decline in ad spend in 2020 is forecasted to be around 9 percent, but in the MENA region it has fallen by up to 25 percent.

The obvious reason behind the decline is the pandemic. However, there are other factors at play. The increase in the digitization of business transformation, for instance, has taken budgets away from advertising.

However, according to Daouk, the disparity in the decline of ad spends in the region compared with the global figure began in 2016. Most ad budgets for the MENA region are decided globally and he has noticed a decline over the years in budgets allocated to the region. This could be attributed to a softness in the market that began in 2016, coupled with reduced consumer spending and a high cost of doing business.

Moreover, as other markets such as Asia began growing, they also commanded a higher share of the global ad budget.

“This is why there might be an opportunity for the region now. The role of the region is changing, but we need to bring trust, and trust can only be brought through measurability, governance and data,” he said.