Is Martin Newland’s freshly launched paper The Guardian or Pravda? They report, you decide

Is Martin Newland’s freshly launched paper The Guardian or Pravda? They report, you decide

Martin Newland, Ken Whyte’s former deputy honcho at the National Post and head honcho at The Daily Telegraph during the reign of Lord Black of Coleman FCI, is starting up the latest thing: a big-time daily newspaper financed by United Arab Emirates petro-dollars. The Times of London reports that:

He has assembled an editorial staff of about 200, many of them former employees of The Telegraph, including Colin Randall, ex-Paris correspondent who has become The National’s executive editor.

Other hires include deputy editor Hassan Fattah, of The New York Times, and Sue Ryan, Bob Cowan, Alan Philps and James Langton, all ex-journalists from The Telegraph.

Joining this august roster are scads of Canadians to man the bridge in Abu Dhabi, including former CBCer Matt Kwong, Star types Matthew Chung and Jen Gerson, ex-Postie Rob McKenzie and former Montreal Gazette foreign editor Ray Beauchemin. The National’s Web site features a photo of former National Post news presentation editor Laura Koot’s thumb accompanied by the cutline “Laura Koot, the art director, presses a button to send the Arts and Life section to the presses for the first time on April 16, 2008.”

Newland goes around saying this will be the last great newspaper launch in our lifetime, and he’s probably right on that. With the Emirates’ $850-billion sovereign fund as treasury, the whole project should be a wild ride. As for the project itself, well, as the link below demonstrates, this newspaper looks and reads a bit like The Guardian. Only not.

But don’t take my word for that “only not” bit. Here it is neatly summarized from the desk of Martin Newland:

Understand now that we are not here to fight for press freedom—to get yarns about money laundering under the state radar. We are here to produce a professional, commercially viable newspaper. Press freedom is a by-product 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…

I can tell you now that every application from a journalist wanting to come and work here who has included in his or her portfolio an “investigative” piece about labourers’ living standards has gone straight in the bin. Not because the theme is unworthy—it is and we will do it—but because we are looking for other, more nuanced and mature avenues into the national story.

Even at that, Newland will have to walk a fine line between whatever it is he’s trying to do and the natural inclination of his founders to prefer Pravda-like consensus to, er, journalism. He should heed this harbinger from The Times of London:

Other papers have failed in the past to make an impact in the Middle East. Two years ago, Frank Kane, formerly The Observer’s business editor, was hired by Andrew Neil, a former editor of The Sunday Times, to help set up The Financial Times in the region.

However, tensions between the editors and its government proprietors ended in the lifting of its licence before the launch.

Now that Newland has actually launched a newspaper in this context, how it will do remains to be seen. Still, to get as far as he has must have taken some real chutzpah.

I put all this to Newland directly particularly the stuff about Frank Kane. Newland was the soul of candour in response: “Frank is a good man and I am tired of talking about censorship. It mayclaim me, who knows, unlikely. But this will always have been worth doingand the UAE is lovely.”

The National• 10 things you should know about…The National [Kip Report]• Ex Telegraph editor launches Abu Dhabi daily [The Times]• Hire Power [Toronto Life]• Actual journalists need not apply [Dubai Media]• The making of The National [The National]• Abu Dhabi Starts Journal Rival as It Censors Papers (Update1) [Bloomberg]• A new newspaper! [Montreal Gazette]