Arab News, the early years: An inside view

Arab News, the early years: An inside view
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Arab News, the early years: An inside view
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Arab News, the early years: An inside view
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Roohul Amin being honored by group chairman, the late Prince Ahmad bin Salman.
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Updated 21 April 2020

Arab News, the early years: An inside view

Arab News, the early years: An inside view
  • Pakistani journalist Roohul Amin was one of the first to join the newspaper
  • Amin worked as a copy editor when the office was in the Sharafiya district

ISLAMABAD: “We worked in complete harmony,” said Roohul Amin as he recalled his experience working for Arab News in its early days.

The veteran journalist was among the first to join the newspaper’s editorial team. He played a part in some of the most memorable events in the publication’s history, and to mark its 45th anniversary, he shared his memories of some of them.

Amin arrived in Saudi Arabia in 1975, the year the paper was launched. He came from Karachi, where he had worked at the Pakistan Press International news agency. Just three weeks before moving to the Kingdom, he got married.

The first Arab News office was in Jeddah’s Sharafiya district. Amin worked there as a copy editor.

“It was a small space,” he said. “Everyone sat together in a single room — from publishers to office boys. Later, the office moved to Al-Faisaliya district, where we had a simple but elegant building.”

Roohul Amin, right, with Khaled Almaeena, seated center, and other members of the staff at the newspaper’s old building in Jeddah’s Al-Faisaliya district. (Arab News Archives)

The printing process, he said, was time consuming in those days because it used Linotype machines, a “hot metal” typesetting system that created blocks of metal type. The flow of local news was little more than a trickle, he added, so the newspaper had to rely on stories from the news wires to fill its pages.

The editorial staff had to work hard to meet their deadlines, Amin said, using old-fashioned equipment. As the technology evolved, however, computerized design and layout was introduced, and Arab News moved from its original eight-column page format to a six-column design. Later, an Apple Macintosh computer system was added, which improved workflow and helped to streamline the production process.

“Being a subeditor requires full commitment and responsibility, which we all understood,” said Amin. “Though we didn’t face any major obstacles to our work, we always made sure that nothing was published that went against Islam and its core values/teachings.”

Amin is proud of his work with Arab News during a time that included eras and events such as the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet Union, the unification of East and West Germany, the post-Thatcher years in the UK, the fall of the Marcos regime in the Philippines, the rise of the Congress Party in India, the tragedies of the Gandhi family, and the days of Bhutto and Gen. Zia in Pakistan.

He said he developed good relationships with his fellow journalists, and with the staff working on the graphics desk. He described his experience of working under a number of editors in chief, including Ahmad Mahmoud, Mohammed Al-Shibani, Abdul Qader Tash, Farooq Luqman and Khaled Almaeena, as enjoyable and profitable.

Amin, in turn, became a respected figure among his bosses and his co-workers, all of whom paid tribute to his conscientious approach to work.

“There was great coordination with one another and we always helped each other,” he said. “We used to share our viewpoints with one another, but we always respected the other person’s views.”

Such was Amin’s dedication to the newspaper, some of his friends called him the “soul and spirit” of Arab News. On weekends, he often drove co-workers to Makkah. These were memorable trips, he said, which he remembers fondly. He is proud of the great friendships he developed with other members the production team, whose creativity he always admired. In particular, he said, he was fascinated by the work of veteran cartoonist Mahmoud Kahil.

Of course, there were some hard times, he said, but when things were challenging, everybody pitched in and worked as a team, creating a bond of true friendship of which he will be forever proud.

During the First Gulf War, for example, Amin remembers how reporters and subeditors worked hard to cover events taking place on the northern borders of the Kingdom, ably supported by their colleagues in the office in Jeddah. Khaled Almaeena, the editor in chief at the time, was among the team of senior reporters covering events from the border as Saddam Hussein’s army invaded Kuwait.

The work was hard, Amin said, but with the support of other sub-editors the team was able to ensure that readers were kept up to date with the latest news and developments. To help accomplish this, some Arab News staffers chose not to go home but to remain in the office working incredibly long hours. They realized how important it was at such a crucial time in the history of the nation and the region to maintain the flow of breaking news from the northern front. Sometimes, he said, staff remained in the office 24 hours a day to keep up with events. Their first priority, he added, was to be certain of the factual accuracy of the stories that came to them.

Over time, Arab News evolved and grew.

“Later, the setup expanded and I wanted to move from Jeddah to Riyadh,” said Amin. “I was fortunate to get a chance to do so.”

He went on to work for Urdu News, a sister publication of Arab News, and left Saudi Arabia in 2000. He now lives in retirement in Karachi. His son, Mashhood Amin, has followed in his father’s footsteps and is part of the Arab News team.

Amin congratulated the newspaper on reaching its 45th anniversary. He said he was impressed by the recent launches of its online Pakistan and Japan editions, and hopes it will continue to flourish. His experience while living in the Kingdom was excellent, he added, and he misses the country — especially being so close to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.