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

  • 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.

 


Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ launch fund to support Lebanon’s news industry

Updated 13 August 2020

Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ launch fund to support Lebanon’s news industry

  • The new program will support local media outlets

The Facebook Journalism Project, in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), has announced that it will invest $300,000 in a program that aims to support the stabilization and recovery needs of journalists and news organizations in Lebanon affected by the Beirut explosion.

The new program called “Supporting Beirut: Response and Recovery Fund” will assist in supporting local media outlets that have suffered damage to infrastructure and resources.

ICFJ and Facebook will award $150,000 in emergency relief funds to Beirut-based news organizations and journalists directly impacted by the blast and in need of urgent financial support.

The first phase of this program will involve identifying Lebanese news organizations and journalists who require financial support. These journalists and news organizations will then be able to apply for immediate emergency relief grants. ICFJ will award grants to select Beirut-based news organizations and journalists who meet a set criteria.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Lebanon and everyone affected by this immeasurable tragedy,” said Mohamed Omar, news partnerships manager, Middle East and North Africa, at Facebook. “We’ve been getting regular updates from our contacts in Beirut; the damage to the city’s infrastructure, including its many newsrooms, is enormous. In spite of these devastating circumstances, the news industry is working hard, under extraordinary conditions, to keep people informed and updated,” he said.

“We applaud their efforts and are continuously working with our partners to both understand their needs and support them the best we can,” he added.

ICFJ, a non-profit organization focused on raising the quality of journalism worldwide, will mobilize its local networks to implement a two-phase response and recovery initiative for the Beirut crisis.

Sharon Moshavi, ICFJ’s senior vice president for new initiatives, said: “People turn to local journalists for critical information on how to keep their friends, families and communities safe. As the impact of the devastating explosion continues to unfold in Beirut, ICFJ is prepared to work with the Facebook Journalism Project to provide tailored support to Lebanese journalists and news organizations that are providing critical information to a nation in crisis.”

The Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ will offer additional, deeper support to select Beirut-based news organizations during phase two, depending on the longer-term impacts of the crisis.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced that it would donate more than $2.1 million to local hospitals, medical institutions and NGOs to support relief and recovery efforts, $1 million of which has been matched by its community as part of a Facebook fundraiser.