Image by Leo Reynolds via Flickr
Today we say goodbye to the unlovely Emirates Business 24x7, the newspaper that managed to be as unwieldy and unattractive as its name. Its passing will only be mourned by PRs who found it an easier target than other papers when selling in any story that had a positive Dubai spin. Emirates Business 24|7 was always a sucker for a positive Dubai angle because that's what it pretty much became - the in-house newsletter for Dubai Ltd.
Launched as Emirates Today by Awraq Publishing, a subsidiary of government-owned Arab Media Group, the paper was meant to be a quality tabloid. It was seen by many as a reaction to 7Days, an expat-owned tabloid that launched almost by stealth, originally a weekly but moving to a daily schedule and managing to survive a number of scandals triggered by its UK-style tabloid editorial. The majority holding in 7Days these days sits with the UK's Associated Newspapers, the owners of the Daily Mail and 7Days' natural cousin, freesheet Metro.
Emirates Today launched on a ticket of media freedom - I knew journalists who were contacted as part of the paper's recruitment drive and they were sold heavily on a ticket of 'Here you can finally be free to write what you like.' Some of us who had been around for a while thought this was interesting, if naive. Sure enough, wrangles over content policy started to see defections, talented journalists finding that perhaps there were a few more rules being laid down than they'd been led to believe. Emirates Today never really carved a place in the market - Gulf News remained the heavy hitter, 7Days its snarky, populist competitor. At the time, Khaleej Times was arguably passing through something of an identity crisis, one symptom of which was a slew of often amusing headlines that could reach six-lines in depth.
Relaunched as Emirates Business 24x7 (or 24x7 or 24|7 or 24/7 or whatever), the newspaper attempted to position itself with a differentiated proposition - there was no business newspaper in the market and yet the reason we're all here in Dubai is to do business - a regional trade hub, it made absolute sense to have a heavy-hitting business and finance focused newspaper.
Except Emirates Business 24x7 never hit heavy. Its slow descent into relentless positivity was accelerated by the recession, the increasingly shrill and desperate-sounding headlines becoming more and more witless as the recession deepened. As people facing waves of redundancies packed up and left Dubai, they did so to the sound of Emirates Business 24x7 shrieking 'It's not happening!' For many, this was so at odds with reality that they lost all interest in the newspaper.
So what do you do with a newspaper that has signally failed to deliver since it was first launched? That nobody will pay for or advertise in? That's right, you close it. You stop the constant haemorrhage of good cash into the maw of the printing press and you take it online. And that is precisely what Emirates Business 24x7 has done - today's copy is the last and we told to expect the launch of multi-media, multi-modal, multi-platform and multi-dimensional website Emirates 24|7. The website will launch, according to today's editorial, in mid-July. I personally wouldn't launch a new media project in the UAE in mid-July with Ramadan starting on the 10th of August (August already being the 'holiday month'), but then who the hell cares what I think?
You can follow @emirates247 on Twitter (@emirates24|7 remains unregistered) but not on Facebook, where Emirates247 is not a thing. Emirates 247.com takes you to business24-7.ae, so at least it's registered. Nowhere is there any hint of a smart thought-through approach to handling online queries as a result of today's announcement and the Twitter feed is simply a list of headlines with links to content - not the best use of Twitter I've seen. If we are to believe in a hyper-smart approach to a new and dynamic online initiative, the evidence is sorely lacking today.
Let's not be hasty, though. The new website could well be a smart, popular and brilliant product that we all gravitate to. Let's face it, it's going to have to be. Gulf News already has a significant online presence, with multimedia production teams creating numerous streams of content around the core newspaper website. The National also has a high quality website with additional content to the core paper, including some fine blogs. And then there are players like arabianbusiness.com, Maktoob, Zawya and AME-Info. It's already pretty competitive out there and creating a strong, differentiated brand that serves compelling multi-media content is the name of the game. If you're just setting out to save a print bill, you're not going to cut it. Worse, it's an unforgiving medium. With limited online experience, transitioning from paper to protons is going to be hard and made harder by online-savvy competitors with existing audiences.
The move will undoubtedly up the ante for Middle East media online. But if you're waiting for me to start wibbling on about how this is the beginning of the end for print, I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. This has nothing to do with print vs online. This is about a bad idea that should never have happened in the first place - a largely undifferentiated newspaper with little to offer launched into a highly competitive market, slowly failing until finally breathing its last weary gasp.