The paper’s approach falls somewhere between the kind of tough story a foreign correspondent might write and no coverage at all. “There are so many layers to the labor story that it’s not just one big human rights violation,” Bhattacharya says. “You can write about these things, but. . . . There’s always a ‘but.’ ”
Stories that push the boundaries are handled with extreme care. A favorite trick is to write a story about ways the government is trying to solve a problem rather than directly tackling the problem itself. For example, instead of writing about the rash of human traffickers who are kidnapping immigrant women in the UAE and then forcing them into prostitution, The National highlighted the fact that the Dubai police conducted a sting operation that shut down a notorious gang of traffickers. “The solution is always highlighted up top. You have to read down to the bottom of the story to get to the heart of the issue,” Bhattacharya says.
And while Western journalists might dismiss such a roundabout approach, Newland calls it “holistic” and explains that it is the big difference between doing journalism in the West and what is acceptable in the UAE. “The natural default mechanism of the West toward anyone with power is to sift through their rubbish,” Newland says. “Here, the culture doesn’t allow for it, especially where the ruling classes are responsible for taking these people from a life of suffering in the desert to this.
“In the West we would put a photo on the front page and say, ‘This is the bloke you’ve got to hate.’ But it’s not within the culture here to back people into corners. You don’t do it.”
In December, as Newland and his family prepared for a Christmas holiday in France, he and I grabbed a few minutes to chat in his stark white office. As he hunched in his desk chair, behind a green sign that read, “The beatings will continue until morale improves,” I found it difficult to believe he was having much fun in this job. “I am incredibly tired,” he says, ignoring the ringing BlackBerry on his desk. “Ten years, six proprietors, three continents, two mass newspaper launches, and one mass newspaper edit.”
The punishing hours—and maybe the balancing act—have taken their toll. Deep bags sagged under Newland’s dark eyes and his skin matched the walls in his office. He was smartly dressed in a well-cut suit and looked fit, but he was a far cry from the weightlifting “testosterone man” they used to call him behind his back at the National Post. “Look,” he says, “it’s a different sort of job here and I suppose you could call me a bit of a whore, but you shift according to the chair. The game is still journalism. It’s still finding things out. And I won’t lie—the most compelling thing about it is playing politics. That’s the rush.”