Three anonymous sources

Arab News, the newspaper that calls itself “The Middle East’s Leading English Language Daily,” published this piece about the lack of lack of cultural and recreational activities available to women in Saudi Arabia. While I don’t question the premise of the story, I do have a problem with how the story is written. The piece quotes three women who decided to hide their identities. The first is a PE teacher, the second is a university professor, and the third is a “Saudi girl.” Two things: a) how could the editors pass a piece with three anonymous sources and not raise a flag? b) no offense to the three women, but I see no reason why they refused to be identified. I could cut the girl some slack, but not the the teacher and the professor. The way they put it makes you think they were revealing state secrets or something. Sheesh.

Origin of Arab News, Saudi coed study

  • Arab News is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. To commemorate the occasion, the newspaper has published a supplement that carried articles by many people, including one by Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former Saudi ambassador to the US and the UK. In his article, Prince Turki reveals that both Arab News and Asharq al-Awsat, the flagship publications of SRMG, were actually the brainchildren of himself, Kamal Adham, and Hisham Ali Hafiz. In other words, both newspapers were born at the offices of the Saudi intelligence agency.
  • A study on co-education at university level has been recently conducted. The study sample was comprised of 440 med students from KSU and KAU. 71% of them said they support co-education, compared to 29% who were against it. Makes you wonder about all those ‘majority’ arguments that some people like to bring up when discussing controversial issues in the country.

The View of Arab TV, advertorial in Arab News

  • Why most of women talk shows on Arab TV channels have four hosts? Amal Zahid jokingly says, probably because they accept the notion that one woman is not enough for a man. The reason, of course, is because most of these talk shows are modeled after The View. But I agree with Zahid that my friend Buthaina al-Nassr is more than capable of hosting her own show instead of sharing the table with three other women on Al Hurra. She has already done it with Al Ekhbariya, and I’m sure she can do it again.
  • Dear Arab News, I like you guys, but shame on you for publishing this piece without telling your readers that it is an ad. Seriously, shame on you.

Today’s Links

  • Note to Arab News: my last name is al-Omran, not al-Omranm. The way you misspelled my name makes it unpronounceable. Another thing: I don’t blog for Saudi Jeans. Saudi Jeans doesn’t pay me any money. Saudi Jeans is my blog. It’s the website where I blog. Also, don’t rephrase what I said and then put it in quote marks. Kthxbai.

  • Fellow blogger Najla Barasain is about to leave KSA soon heading to the US in order to continue her education. She is understandably worried.

Arab News Redesigns

Finally, and after many long years of stagnation, Arab News gave their website a redesign. Nothing groundbreaking, but certainly an improvement over their old one which looked like a website from the mid 90’s.

True to its nickname, the Green Truth, the new design features the green color heavily, using it for all headlines and links. Although I have to say that the green .com next to the newspaper name is pretty lame and it looks rather outdated. The website also uses more pictures in a much nicer way than the old one. But more importantly, they finally introduce RSS, but the feeds are not full so you will have to visit the website to read the articles.

They also decided to open all articles to comments by readers, so that’s something as well. The very first comment on the new AN was about the Grand Mufti’s call for monitoring of massage centers, and it reads: “That’s all this blind man cares about?! I expected him to encourage MOH to care for the poor patients who lose thier (sic) lives due to mistakes and recklessness. I guess massage pose a greater danger!!!”

I guess it will be interesting to watch their policy when it comes to comments. Is it going to be like al-Arabyia’s ‘everything goes’ policy, or something like al-Watan’s which its editor Jamal Khashoggi recently bragged that he employs ten girls whose their sole job is to monitor comments.

But back to the redesign itself, it will be inevitable to compare it to the other English daily in the country, Saudi Gazette, which has also gone through a redesign last year.

While Saudi Gazette uses a solution developed by the local company SmartInfo, which Fouad al-Farhan recently sold, Arab News uses Escenic, a CMS developed by a Norwegian company that was also used for the website of al-Majalla. However, when compared to other regional and international newspapers, both remain pretty barebones. Nothing out of the ordinary, and nothing that really stands out.

It is very obvious that newspapers here are still approaching the web with their old mentality. Except for al-Riyadh, which has a very good team of local smart developers, none of these newspapers think of their websites as an important part of their service. None of them has an ‘online newsroom,’ and none of them think of their websites as a new medium where they can build a community where they can engage their readers in ways print cannot do.

I believe that the local internet scene is still lacking on many levels, and there are many opportunities to create excellent Saudi content especially in Arabic. The attempts that we have seen so far in this field are very weak and leave much to be desired. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and I have some ideas that I’m working on, so if you are interested please get in touch.

Poor Journalism Says Hi

I’ve been following the local mainstream media closely for the last three years. One of the things that I observed is that some of the English-language press here do a better job when it comes to reporting important and controversial local stories. Part of this has to do with the fact that they are in English so they are not under the radar of the censorship, but more importantly because their editors are usually committed to higher standards than their peers in the Arabic ones.

arab_news_logoHowever, every once in awhile the very same publications come up with gems like this which make me reconsider that observation. Other than some unknown market analysts, the reporter relied completely for his story on one source only: the owner of a company that runs a few of these amusement parks and who apparently looks forward to open more of them. And why not? I mean he, after all, was the one who said his “centers were located in attractive places, close to beaches and residential areas” as well as being “equipped with advanced educational and entertainment facilities.”

This piece of lousy reporting, and believe me I’m being way too nice to describe it as reporting when it sounds like a paid for commercial more than anything else, makes me lose my hope in the future of the fourth estate in this country. When I spent two weeks in the States last September I decided to take a break from the Saudi MSM while I was there and guess what? I didn’t miss it that much.