Today I take a step forward from the day-to-day running of a newspaper. I have always been a media person, and journalism has always been my passion. Although I’ve had the privilege to be the editor-in-chief of the two Saudi English-language newspapers I’ve always believed that editorial titles do not mean much as in the final analysis, we are journalists.
After leaving Arab News in October 2011, I decided to embark on my book-writing project and set up an online English paper. I shelved those projects and was asked to head the Saudi Gazette — a paper that for a long time had been a competitor!
An editorial audit of the paper revealed a neglected, stagnant and dying state that would require a Herculean effort to revive it, and it had to be done with a good professional and dedicated team and in good time.
So exactly two years ago I stepped into the Saudi Gazette. It was a cold newsroom. From Day One we made the change by reverting back to the original flag of 30 years ago. I also was pleased and amazed that there was a good number of editorial staff members who were true professionals and eager to pitch in.
The combination of the new and old created an editorial team. There was no rivalry, and the open management system to which I have always adhered created a cohesive force. From the start, our challenge was the upgrading of editorial content — providing news and views, opinions across the spectrum and pushing the envelope.
In a digital age, where print media is no longer our only competitor, we had to be on our toes. And we were, thanks to our team of young and old whose enthusiasm helped report the changing Arab political scene and a host of other topics that were anxiously awaited by the readership.
In essence we became a voice for the country as we learned from the large number of visitors to our website. The truth be told, we did not curry favor with any power — our main aim was to present facts as objectively as we could.
An editor-in-chief is like a platoon commander. He has to make hasty decisions, shoot from the hip and improvise without turning to press rules and regulations. And I enjoy doing that as exhibited by front-paging the story of the two Saudi women athletes to the Olympics when many others were hesitant to do so. For our team, red lines often were very thin and blurred.
Media corporate warfare, boardroom infighting, management caution and lack of resources did not deter me, and those distractions countered through the improvisation and determination of this loyal, trusted team. I was determined to have it our way. Words are not enough to thank all those in the newsroom who made the difference and propelled us into a first stop for visiting foreign journalists, diplomats and policy makers. Every day was a new challenge, and the adrenalin ran faster; I am sure it will continue that way.
Today I proudly leave my nominee, a female journalist — Somayya Jabarti — who will take the helm of the paper. She has been associated with me for almost 13 years, and I’ve had the goal almost as long of wanting to see a Saudi woman enter the male-dominated bastion of editors-in-chief. It was not a question of gender but of merit that decided and earned her this opportunity. I am proud to have played a role in her career. She is determined and dedicated, and I can assure her and the team that I will be there to assist and advise, so that Saudi Gazette further advances as a media unit in a highly competitive and digital age.
Now I can look forward to focus on my writings, talks and concentrate on many other ventures that the pressures of headlines and deadlines did not allow me to do.
I am grateful in many ways for having colleagues who were more like family to me, and together we were able to be the first in any venture. The Saudi Gazette team is a first-class one, and I expect our readers will continue supporting the Gazette. I promise you that it will still be your platform — and your first choice for news.