Wednesday, 30 June 2010


Wood TypeImage 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 takes you to, 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, 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.

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BRAY said...

The new product was a good idea had it been allowed to launch as the original concept of Emirates 24/7. However senior management decided to hire an editor in chief two weeks before the launch who disagreed with the new product's design, content and philosophy which is how Emirates Business came into play.
The team had spent eight months developing Emirates 24/7 and then had eight days to develop Emirates Business. A series of appalling senior management decisions then led to the slow demise of quality. RIP

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more with this - a fine summary. Given that ET has never been able to offer compelling content in any of its past incarnations there's no reason to think it will be able to as a website. I wonder how much cash has been ploughed into ET since the beginning. It's amazing how expensive incompetence can be.

Anonymous said...

It could work, if it portalises all DMI content into English and has experienced online players running and developing it.

Sadly, I doubt that is going to happen.

Anonymous said...

Excellent comment on a useless newspaper. I also doubt whether the reincarnation online will ever happen. Does anyone really care?

rosh said...

Sumptuous writing and thought flow. Nicely said, I couldn't agree more. A neat opportunity wasted indeed. The alternative not isn't quite promising.

Anonymous said...

. in defense from one who worked there.

while Emirates Business was alive, Spotonpr argued and argued for a back pager and was refused..

Yours was not the only agency..

with the drop in advertising, a lot of PR companies would beg and plead us for interviews but turn difficult once we started asking our own qts.
or they would block the client from talking directly to the journalist. or interrupt an interview...
Or asked us to send qts and turned them into releases.

Long list, let me not get into details or names...
Be fair.
Ms Sticky toffee pudding

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