Martin Newland on high end newspapers, social media and the great Reckoning

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Picture: On March 23, 2008, Martin Newland told the staff of the then-unnamed new Abu Dhabi newspaper that they now work for The National (Sammy Dallal / The National)

Another very good talk at the

yesterday came from Martin Newland, the founding editor of The National, who is now the editorial director of

, our publisher.

The obvious disclosure, before moving forward: not only do I admire Martin as a great editor and passionate newspaper man - and as a sort of Churchillian leader of men - but as the boss of the boss of my boss, he can also get me fired.

With that in mind, here are some of the interesting bits from his talk:

- Does The National have some sort of top secret super-plan for the internet? His speech began with a cryptic clue: "the last thing I'm going to do is tell you lot what the digital plans of The National are."

- Is The National in a head-to-head newspaper war with

? Not really, he said. "Park your tanks on Gulf News' lawn and you'll have your teeth handed to you." The reason The National hasn't dived into classified ads, property sections etc is because it is trying to pick a fight it can win, carving a small space at the top end of the market, a "discrete and we hope lucrative corner of the newspaper market where we can thrive."

- His former paper,

, could charge twice as much for an ad as some papers that sold twice as many copies, because of the high-end demographics of its readership. That kind of distinction does not yet exist in the UAE ad market, but Newland wants to change that.

He said The National is an attempt to "try and create a market as well as a newspaper." Aiming for this top-end of the market means "we're trying to say that one of ours is worth ten of yours. I really hope is that everyone doesn't rush for the middle of the market, but as everyone dumbs down, there is always a place at the top."

- Papers are cutting costs on expensive stuff like reporting, foreign bureaus, investigative journalism etc, and investing more in opinion-led coverage of the news, which is cheaper to produce. The result is that "you now see more newspapers containing bias and prejudice, instead of reporting hard facts on which you can base your bias and prejudice."

- On competition from web-based news outlets that rewrite or summarise reported news stories and publish them online alongside their own ads: "there is going to be a reckoning - there

will

be a reckoning." Does he fear these online services trying to compete with newspapers in the offline world? "I would love to see some of these online properties trying to do what we are doing."

- Should newspapers and media companies in the Middle East embrace social / citizen journalism? "You're handing the keys to the people in the street, so you've got to be aware of where that is going," he said. Cultural / religious / political sensitivities, security issues and the general potential for the internet to be used as a platform for incitement etc, means people handing over the keys to their influential media properties to citizen reporters need to play it very carefully.