The Middle East @ Work

New paper hopes to be read all over

Kai Ryssdal Mar 13, 2008
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The Middle East @ Work

New paper hopes to be read all over

Kai Ryssdal Mar 13, 2008
HTML EMBED:
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL: There’s a city down the road from here we’ve mentioned a couple of times this week. Abu Dhabi’s using its oil money to change the Middle East in its own ways. Less ostentatious than Dubai. More refined, the folks down there will tell you. It’s getting a local branch of the Louvre Museum. Frank Gehry’s designing a new Guggenheim there. And it’s launching what it hopes will become the Gulf’s newspaper of record. It’s cherry-picking reporters and editors from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. We can’t tell you what the paper’s going to be called because they wouldn’t tell us before it launches sometime next month.

A couple of days ago we drove the hour or so down the coast to talk to deputy editor Hassan Fattah, formerly of the New York Times. I asked him why Abu Dhabi’s starting a paper now.

HASSAN FATTAH: We’re all part of the same project, really. And that is to put this place on the map. But just as important to basically say, you know, “This is the new Arab world.” Certainly there is an oil boom going on and there’s a lot of money swimming around here. But there is good things being done with that money.

RYSSDAL: Let me ask you the business model question, right? The rest of the world newspapers are moving from the print page to the computer. You guys are actually putting out a print product here. You are starting this new thing.

FATTAH: Well first of all, we will acknowledge that the Web is going to become an important part and we will launch with a website and that sort of thing, but the fact is that demographics are on our side. This is the fastest growing country in the world. Internet penetration is not that strong here so by definition the old model of the newspaper still exists and it’s still thriving. And, in fact, there is a reason that newspapers like the Times of London are now jumping over themselves to publish here. And it’s because you have a lot of expatriates, a lot of educated Arabs, a lot of people who want to read an English language newspaper all landing here. The least of my problems is commercial. This newspaper will be in ten years.

RYSSDAL: Is your mandate actually to be profitable? I mean it’s not like the government of Abu Dhabi needs money.

FATTAH: I am funded by essentially a venture capital fund that’s given me money to bring talent, you know the top talent from around the world, but ultimately expects me to break even.

RYSSDAL: Is there a conscious effort in this part of the UAE to contrast with Dubai and its image as a center of commerce and business.

FATTAH: I mean, I think there is a conscious effort to do it differently. The way they put it here is they’ve learned from the lessons of Dubai. They’re not interested in, necessarily, in revenues and selling in the same way. They don’t really need it. They have all the oil here. What they do want is to stand for something. The economic development problems, the rise of extremism, all these different problems that the greater Arab world is suffering from, there is a way out of it and they want to show the way out.

RYSSDAL: You’re owned, basically, by the government of Abu Dhabi. Do you worry that people might say “Oh man, they’re run by the government, I better cooperate.”

FATTAH: Well, that can be a plus and a minus. In some ways that could help you in getting people to take you seriously. Look, the idea of us being government-owned locally is not a bad thing. And in fact gives us certain street cred that an independent paper would not have, ironically enough. But it is also just a reflection of the different way the government works here and this sense of the government seeing itself as a driver of change.

RYSSDAL: Hassan Fattah is the deputy editor of a newspaper that we don’t know the name of yet. It’s going to start in about a month. Hassan, thanks for your time.

FATTAH: Thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.

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