New Editor-in-Chief “Appointed” For Abu Dhabi’s National

Per The Financial Times:

The National newspaper, which is owned by the Abu Dhabi government, on Monday appointed a new editor-in-chief, barely a year after its high-profile launch.

The newspaper said that Hassan Fattah is to replace Martin Newland, the former editor of The Daily Telegraph who was brought in to set up the English-language broadsheet. Mr Newland will be The National’s new editorial director responsible for expanding the paper’s brand across a “range of platforms and services,” according to the Abu Dhabi Media Company, the owner.

In the current issue of CJR, Andrew Mills has a fascinating report on Newland’s and Fattah’s efforts thus far “to lift journalism in Abu Dhabi,” “to foster a taste in the United Arab Emirates for the kind of tough, high-quality journalism Newland is used to overseeing.”

Writes Mills:

[Newland] lies awake at night, he says, hoping that things like insensitive references to the Prophet Mohammed haven’t made their way into the paper. It’s a job of bringing things along responsibly, but not too quickly. “I won’t lie to you,” he says. “Here, it’s an enormous exercise in stewardship. Trying to find out what the political dynamic is, trying to understand what’s wanted. My worry is that we’re not going fast enough.”

From a memo Newland sent to staff just before the paper’s 2008 launch:

Understand now that we are not here to fight for press freedom. We are here to produce a professional, commercially viable newspaper. Press freedom is a byproduct of this. The more we zero in on templated ‘red-line’ stories at the expense of human interest and the ordinary narrative of life in the UAE, the more we look like a foreign newspaper, peering into the goldfish bowl.

Often, the human-interest narrative is the way into a red-line story anyway. We cannot adopt the stance of the exasperated Westerner. We go at the country’s cultural pace. Do not pick small fights if there is a bigger one to be won down the road. If in doubt, ask.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.