Interview: Gulf News chief editor reveals paywall strategy, explains why it is key to saving journalism

Abdul Hamid Ahmad, Gulf News’ CEO, Editor-in-Chief and Executive Director of Publications
Abdul Hamid Ahmad, Gulf News’ CEO, Editor-in-Chief and Executive Director of Publications
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Updated 24 April 2021

Interview: Gulf News chief editor reveals paywall strategy, explains why it is key to saving journalism

Interview: Gulf News chief editor reveals paywall strategy, explains why it is key to saving journalism
  • Gulf News is the UAE’s main English language daily, its decision is a first for an Emirati newspaper

DUBAI: In an online universe awash with websites publishing free but inaccurate information, and social media sites offering megaphones to unfiltered opinion, it is no surprise that trusted news media around the globe are facing one of their toughest choices to date — whether to erect a paywall.
Gulf News, the leading UAE English-language daily, is the first to adopt a paywall strategy, asking users to subscribe to one of three currently discounted packages that will allow access to content.

“People think that when you go behind the wall, you’re preventing readers from reading. No, in fact, you’re opening a gateway for them for trusted journalism,” Gulf News’ CEO, Editor-in-Chief and Executive Director of Publications, Abdul Hamid Ahmad, exclusively told Arab News.

“That’s important, you know, and in today’s world, you don’t know how many websites there are, how many on social media, how many of this false, fake news. We are here to give the good journalism, the trusted journalism,” he said.

Indeed, at a time when many international news outlets have been lowering their paywalls to allow users access to crucial COVID-19-related news, the question must be asked: Why now?

“Our whole point was that we have high traffic, and we want the engagement with our readers. We have a very strong, loyal readership and, therefore, when we went into the paywall model, we’ve given everybody an opportunity to come through gulfnews.com to get COVID news,” Meher Murshed, Gulf News executive editor of digital, told Arab News.




Meher Murshed, Gulf News executive editor of digital

“If you come through the site, it gives you the flexibility of scanning the entire site without coming upon a wall. You can read the full site, you know, and get your news, and then move on if you wish.”

The UAE daily competes with media outlets such as The National, Khaleej Times and a host of other publications that currently do not require a paid subscription, and the editors believe that their unique readers will not migrate from the platform to others due to the paywall.

“That’s our strength — the audience that we have is an engaged audience, it’s a local audience and expatriates who want news on the home country and the opinion,” Murshed said.

Currently, the news industry relies heavily on advertising revenue to remain afloat, and while Gulf News averages 230 million page views with 15 million unique visitors monthly, subscriptions will not become the paper’s main source of funding.

INNUMBERS

15 million monthly users

230 million monthly page views

Over 5.4 million engaged social audience

He added: “It’s not that we blocked anyone out, or anything like that. In fact, if anything, the engagement level has gone up, even during these times.”

However, both Ahmad and Murshed believe that this will fine tune the types of ads with which readers interact.

“You have to respect the reader — you have to give them a good experience when they read and not bombard them with too many ads and disrupt their reading,” Ahmad said.

“If you respect the reader, the advertiser will respect you and will come to you.”

Murshed echoed Ahmad’s comments, saying: “I think the advertising and the readers go hand in hand. They always have and always will. I don’t think you can choose one or the other.”

The paywall decision required a lot of research, Ahmad and Murshed said, before deciding on a unique model to offer readers an engaging experience — subscriber or not.

“It’s not a model that you see anywhere in the world, because we have a unique audience, and I think we are catering to them,” Murshed said.

While a dip in readership is expected, as is the case when any paywall is set up, the editors are unfazed by the challenge and, if anything, are confident even more readers will sign up.

“It’s a milestone for us, certainly, and at every milestone you have to face certain challenges. Now the challenge for us is really to keep the content as good as it is — it matters to the reader. When the reader feels that you have the content that others don’t have, they’ll come to you,” Ahmad said.

“So, if you keep providing the reader with good content, they will come to you, and stay with you and trust you,” he added, “But when you say good content, it also has to be verified, fact-checked and credible. It also has to be told in a way that is attractive.”

Established over four decades ago, Gulf News has now expanded, with sections on personal finance, parenting and food that cater to a wide UAE readership.

“For 42 years, we’ve been providing content, very strong content, reliable, and we are continuing to do so. Gulf News has been looking to strengthen and innovate all along the way,” Murshed said.

“So, I think, you know, we will give the audience what we do best — what they want, what they’re looking for, and we will strengthen it further and evolve. That’s our journey,” he added.


AP releases statement after Israeli attack on building housing media offices

AP releases statement after Israeli attack on building housing media offices
Updated 25 min 37 sec ago

AP releases statement after Israeli attack on building housing media offices

AP releases statement after Israeli attack on building housing media offices
  • We are horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau: Pruitt

NEW YORK:  An Israeli airstrike destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza City that housed offices of The Associated Press and other media outlets on Saturday. All AP employees and freelancers evacuated the building safely.
AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt has released the following statement:
We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza. They have long known the location of our bureau and knew journalists were there. We received a warning that the building would be hit.
We are seeking information from the Israeli government and are engaged with the US State Department to try to learn more.
This is an incredibly disturbing development. We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life. A dozen AP journalists and freelancers were inside the building and thankfully we were able to evacuate them in time.
The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.

The strike on the high-rise came nearly an hour after the military ordered people to evacuate the 12-story building, which also housed Al-Jazeera, other offices and residential apartments. 


Macron, Ardern hold talks in new push against online extremism

Macron, Ardern hold talks in new push against online extremism
Updated 14 May 2021

Macron, Ardern hold talks in new push against online extremism

Macron, Ardern hold talks in new push against online extremism
  • The campaign aims to bring together governments and top tech platforms
  • Christchurch Call’s participants are asked to commit to pledges to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern were to hold talks Friday by video conference to advance their two-year-old campaign to curb online extremism.
The talks will mark two years since the leaders launched the Christchurch Call, an initiative named after the New Zealand city where a far-right gunman massacred 51 people at two mosques on March 15, 2019 while broadcasting his rampage live on Facebook.
The campaign, which aims to bring together governments and top tech platforms, has been boosted by the decision of the administration of new US President Joe Biden to join the initiative after Donald Trump turned his back on the drive.
The aim of the talks, due to get underway at 1830 GMT, will be to “reaffirm strong, high-level political support, determine new goals for Christchurch Call signatories and maintain an open but demanding dialogue with digital platforms,” the French presidency said.
Participants in the Christchurch Call are asked to commit to pledges to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content on social media and other online platforms.
It was not immediately clear which tech chiefs and other leaders would be dialling into the virtual talks.
According to Macron’s office, this initiative now involves 52 states, the European Commission, 10 large companies and global Internet platforms and as well as dozen civil society associations.
The drive was launched to counter a growing use of social media by extremists, after the Christchurch attacker broadcast live footage on Facebook from a head-mounted camera.
The New Zealand leader earned huge international prominence and respect after the attacks by reaching out to Muslim communities at home and vowing a widescale crackdown on extremist content.
“Among the priorities I would like to see progressed is a strengthened collective ability to manage crises related to terrorist and violent extremist content online,” Ardern said in a statement released by the French presidency ahead of the talks.
Macron added: “The work of the Call is ongoing and it remains as important as when it was launched two years ago.”


Turkish tourism video taken down after online outcry

Turkish tourism video taken down after online outcry
Updated 14 May 2021

Turkish tourism video taken down after online outcry

Turkish tourism video taken down after online outcry
  • Opposition parties and critics on social media said the promotional video was an insult to Turks
  • The video, in English, was published Thursday on the social media accounts of official travel guide Go Turkiye

ISTANBUL: A video promoting tourism in Turkey amid the pandemic has caused an uproar on social media for showing tourism employees wearing masks that read “Enjoy, I’m vaccinated.”
The video, in English, was published Thursday on the social media accounts of official travel guide Go Turkiye linked to the country’s tourism ministry and was taken down later that day without explanation. It aimed to promote travel to Turkey as a “safe haven” for foreigners and showed unmasked tourists being served in hotels on the Turkish coast.
Opposition parties and critics on social media said the promotional video was an insult to Turks. A hashtag calling for the tourism minister to resign was trending on Twitter Friday. Users likened the masks to branding cattle and interpreted the ad’s message as Turks being subservient to foreigners.
“Sanitized resorts and vaccinated staff! We call it double safety for tourism. Our guests call it peace of mind” the video said.

 

 

Tourism workers have been prioritized to receive their vaccinations and the country’s foreign minister promised “we will vaccinate all people tourists may see by the end of May.” Many people are waiting for their turn. About 12.8 percent of Turkey’s nearly 84 million population has been fully vaccinated using China’s Sinovac or the US-German Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Turkey is in the final days of a full lockdown and the government has ordered people to stay home and businesses to close amid a huge surge in infections. But millions of workers are exempt and so are foreign tourists.
The restrictions, which began in late April, have brought daily infection numbers down from above 62,000 to around 11,500. Turkey’s president said the aim is to lower cases to below 5,000 in order for tourism to begin.
Turkey is courting international tourists during an economic downturn and needs the foreign currencies tourism brings to help industry and the economy as the Turkish lira continues to lose value. International tourists have been enjoying an empty Istanbul, Turkey’s famous beaches and other sites all to themselves, while Turks have been told to stay home and face expensive fines if they break rules.
Russia, however, has suspended flights to Turkey until June 1 and the UK and France recently warned their citizens not to travel to Turkey, introducing mandatory quarantines for travelers arriving from Turkey.
Starting May 17, Turkey is dropping the requirement to present a negative COVID-19 test result when arriving in Turkey for passengers arriving from Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Israel, Japan, the United Kingdom, Latvia, Luxembourg, Ukraine and Estonia. Turkey requires mandatory quarantines for people who visited India, Brazil or South Africa, but other travelers can begin their vacations straightaway.


Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children

Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children
Updated 13 May 2021

Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children

Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children
  • A new online safety bill will regulate social media with terms and conditions on minimum age thresholds
  • Ofcom, the government-approved regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications, will be responsible for enforcing the new bill

LONDON: The UK government announced plans on Wednesday to introduce age verification for users accessing social media platforms as part of efforts to protect children online. 

A new online safety bill will regulate social media with terms and conditions on minimum age thresholds, while tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter will face hefty fines if they allow underage children to access their services. 

Ofcom, the government-approved regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications, will be responsible for enforcing the new bill.

Currently, children under 13 are not allowed to sign up to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, while those under 12 are prohibited from creating a Google account. Meanwhile, the Facebook-owned chat service WhatsApp has a minimum age of 16.

Most social media companies rely on users self-declaring their age when they sign up. However, under the new regulations, Ofcom will have the power to carry out age checks and recommend certain social media platforms introduce age verifications. 

This could mean that social media firms will require users to upload a form of ID to verify their age. However, platforms warned that this move would exclude millions of users, both young and old, because many lack the documentation required.

The Online Harms Foundation criticized the UK government’s plans, saying that the proposals “overwhelmingly ignored” smaller platforms in favor of tech giants.

In a statement, the foundation claimed that the government focused on larger platforms, which already carry out much of what the bill demands.


Live TV broadcasts Israeli mob attacking driver they believe to be Arab

Live TV broadcasts Israeli mob attacking driver they believe to be Arab
Updated 13 May 2021

Live TV broadcasts Israeli mob attacking driver they believe to be Arab

Live TV broadcasts Israeli mob attacking driver they believe to be Arab
  • The driver was forcibly pulled from the vehicle and dozens of people descended on him and beat him
  • Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital said in a statement that “the victim of the lynching is seriously injured but stable”

LONDON: Footage of a far-right Israeli mob attacking a man in Bat Yam, Tel Aviv, who they believed was an Arab was broadcast live on TV on Wednesday as Israeli extremists assaulted Arabs in several cities.

The footage was aired on Israeli public broadcaster Kan, but reports indicated that the police and emergency services did not arrive on the scene until 15 minutes later. By that time, the victim was lying on the ground motionless and bloodied in the middle of the street. 

Although Israelis at the scene justified the attack by saying that the driver was an Arab who was intentionally trying to crash into the crowd, the footage showed otherwise. A white car is seen reversing away from a crowd before it collides with another vehicle.

The car then appears to speed forward toward the crowd before being stopped by the mob. Then the driver is forcibly pulled from the vehicle and dozens of people descend on him and beat him. 

Six people have been arrested following the brutal attack. Meanwhile, Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital said in a statement that “the victim of the lynching is seriously injured but stable.” 

The live broadcast comes amid increased demonstrations by far-right Israelis and escalating violence between Israel and Hamas, with the UN warning that the two sides are heading for “all-out war.”