DUBAI: Social media is by far the most popular source of news for young Arabs with 61 percent getting their news from the medium in 2021, according to the annual Arab Youth Survey. In comparison, 43 percent got their news from TV and 9 percent from newspapers.
The quick, bite-sized, always-on nature of social media channels has challenged many traditional media brands.
One such brand is CNN. Its Arabic edition, CNN Arabic, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, ranked as the number one news provider against competitors such as Sky News, Al Arabiya and BBC Arabic, according to an independent study of news consumers in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and the US.
Speaking to Arab News, Caroline Faraj, vice-president of Arabic services at CNN, reflected on the network’s decision to branch into Arabic 20 years ago. “Back in 2002, CNN already had networks in English and Spanish, and the addition of CNN Arabic gave us the ability to reach, engage, better represent and understand those of us who speak one of the world’s most popular languages.”
“Since then, we have realized that vision by telling stories for Arab audiences all over the world in myriad ways via mobile-first video, interactive content, written news and more,” she said.
The digital transformation of CNN has been at the forefront of its success. “As a digital news service from the very outset, it has always been in our DNA to evolve, experiment and be relevant as people’s news habits continue to change.”
For example, when CNN first launched, there were no smartphones. Today, however, 90 percent of the network’s traffic comes via mobiles because “long ago we started tailoring our content to engage with people on the devices they carry around with them 24/7,” she said.
Despite social media being the most popular news source, it is the least trusted. Only 26 percent of young Arabs consider it “very trustworthy” as a news source, according to the Arab Youth Survey. More than 50 percent of them don’t have much trust in any channel — be it TV and newspapers, or online portals and social media.
Yet, CNN Arabic emerged as highly trusted, scoring more than three times the average trust rating compared to other brands in the industry.
“This trust factor is crucial,” said Faraj, “especially at a time when research such as the Arab Youth Survey shows high levels of distrust in news, particularly on social media.
“Looking further ahead, the way that news is consumed will undoubtedly change, just as it has changed in the last 20 years.”
CNN Arabic witnessed its biggest year in 2021, with daily audience numbers growing by more than 150 percent in the past six years, according to Adobe Analytics.
Although “we are in a strong position right now due to our audience growth across various digital platforms,” said Faraj, “the platforms that people use for news will certainly evolve in line with new technology and ways of communicating.”
“Our focus will always be on credible, authentic and factual reporting. Our commitment to the Arabic-speaking world is that we will continue to innovate in the way that we provide people with news and information wherever they need it.”