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A newspaper is like many other businesses but is very different in a number of ways

Malcolm Payne
Filed on April 16, 2016

The product is produced more or less the same way each day, times must be adhered to but each day's newspaper is different. Stories become old very quickly.

In August 1977 when I made my first trip to Dubai, the busy stretch of road from the Trade Centre towards Abu Dhabi was pretty quiet. The Khaleej Times did not exist, except as a concept, and none of the other industries which are there now had been planned.

In fact, when I called at the site of the newspaper building the only sign of any planned activity was a truck and a couple of men taking soil cores to test for the foundations. The Khaleej Times was very much of its own at that time.

I flew back to Britain convinced a good paper, well designed and giving the best of news and features, could prove a success. At that time there was the Emirates News in Abu Dhabi and the Recorder which was not really a newspaper but a stapled sheets of news items and advertisements. In Britain for the next couple of months I worked on the many details necessary before a paper could be published.

By the time I returned to Dubai on a permanent basis in November, the shell of the present main building was well on its way. But for the half-dozen people who started the company, work centred around an office in the old Galadari car showrooms.

From there, Mr Mahmoud Haroon, now Minister of the Interior in Pakistan and whose family control Dawn newspaper in Karachi, Mr Muzammil Ahmed the present director of the Khaleej Times, Mr M.J. Zahedi, acting editor for the last year, and Mr Iqbal Noorie who was in charge of setting up circulation, set about all the tasks of organisation. Not long after Mr Patrick Heyland joined from Britain to take charge of advertising and promotion.

A newspaper is like many other businesses but is very different in a number of ways. Chief among the differences is probably the ability to harness the individual skills of editorial staff while ensuring that everybody pulls together as a team. The product is produced more or less the same way each day, times must be adhered to but each day's newspaper is different. Stories become old very quickly.

In November it was mainly paper work and thinking. In December of 1977, Mr Ahmed and myself flew to India and Pakistan to interview some of the hundreds of people who had replied to our adverts for staff. We had to recruit journalists, accounts staff, typesetters and paste-up men, and all the other people needed for a newspaper.

Some time in January we had finished; we knew who we wanted and back in Dubai we set about more organisation. I can't remember now when we moved into the main building. It wasn't that long before the first issue, maybe six weeks or so. By then a few of the staff had joined our small team.

One of the major problems was a lack of telephones. There were no lines in those days as far out as we were, but with the help of Mr Ian Coffin of the telecommunications staff we got two radiotelephones and we managed. We had radio tele printer links-notvery good ones-with Reuters and Agence France Press news agencies for our news. Photographs were obtained by a daily courier service from United Press International in London.

Slowly the building took on a more civilised look. The airconditioning was fitted, the press was built and tested, training started for the typesetters and paste-up staff, the big page cameras were tried out and the first furniture arrived. We moved into somewhat bare offices but the place began to look as though one day we might produce a newspaper.


A column by Malcolm Payne, our first editor, on the fifth anniversary of the paper on April 16, 1983.

The word 'unique' is horribly overused in the media. Very little in this world qualifies for such a description. But there is one aspect of the Khaleej Times which I believe can carry this with respect.

Mr Haroon had decided that a home delivery system should be organised. I don't really remember why he made this decision but I do remember how firm he was about it. Possibly it came from his experience in Britain, which has one of the few efficient delivery systems in the world, but whatever it was it was a near stroke of genius which has been copied since in many places.

The job of putting a system together fell upon a young man called Iqbal Noorie. With no street names in many areas, no house numbers and new buildings going up, it seemed, every other day it was a daunting task.

Mr Noorie recruited people to help him, some of the staff and others part-time. They mapped out every house, office and block of flats in Dubai and Sharjah and then went on to the other emirates. They started with maps and used men on bicycles andmen on foot. Slowly it was done. When Mr Patrick Heyland arrived he added some of the refinements to the basic work. But when you get your newspaper in the morning, on time and correctly delivered, Mr Noorie is the man to thank.

While I was busy designing layouts with the help of Mr Zahedi and a small team of subeditors into my life came my Man Friday in the form of Joan van der Merwe, officially then my secretary. Her typing was about ten times slower than my own but she had the ability to organise and that was needed. When her typing improved I let her write and you've had her ever since. The idea of the Women's Association started with me but a great deal of the early work fell on Joan and Jess Parker and later with Mrs Ahmed . I hope it is still successful.

When the day came for His Highness Shaikh Rashid to open the newspaper officially it would have been nice to think that all the problems had been solved. We were faced with producing a paper every day of the week. Unfortunately we had many problems left. We had done a lot in a short time but we still had much to do. We worked long hours-an 18-hour day was not unusual in the first few months-seven days a week; we were often late but we never missed a day's issue.

I grew to like Dubai a great deal and when I returned each time after I had left the Khaleej Times it was in many ways like arriving home.

I remember several people telling me in the early days that little would come of a daily newspaper in Dubai. Most of them lived ino ther parts of the Gulf and some were with existing newspapers. They have all eaten their words since 1977.


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