Visiting as part of a training course in preparation for a newspaper competition conducted by The Times of London, ten IT diploma students from the Sharjah Men's College got an opportunity to question editors and reporters at the Gulf News about news reporting and dissemination.
Question and answer
Editor-in-chief Abdul Hamid Ahmad welcomed the students and presided over the question and answer session.
Students got an opportunity to engage with staff writers and editors to ask them about the guidelines they follow to direct reader's attention to the day's top stories, particularly the headlines.
"We consider our readers to be of utmost importance," said Ahmad.
This according to the editor in chief was the defining mantra behind the success of Gulf News — an ability to provide the public with the stories that interest them while correctly informing and formulating public opinion on important issues and subjects.
To facilitate understanding of the rules and regulations governing the press, students were given a brief introduction to the UAE code of ethics for journalists. They were also given the day's copy of Gulf News.
The students were keenly interested to know what Gulf News had to offer young readers.
In reply, the editor in chief highlighted the supplements and magazines that come out regularly with the paper. The weekly, Notes is an informative supplement for students seeking higher education and careers in the UAE, while the daily Tabloid highlights international and regional celebrity gossip and latest events.
Talking about the opportunities for young graduates with Gulf News, the editor in chief said, "We take students from universities as paid interns. They are then trained with the newspaper and when they have graduated they have the choice to join us on staff."
The editor in chief added that staff writer Alia Al Theeb who covers the crime beat is one of the many students who have joined the organisation that way.
Mohammad Ebrahim, a student, asked about remuneration for those who join the newspaper. "Gulf News is the first newspaper in the region to adopt a two-day weekend. We were also the first to pay a yearly bonus and tickets. For UAE citizens, we also provide pensions after their retirement," added Ahmad.
Students raised their concerns on general issues like the growing traffic congestion in the city. They also highlighted the disparity in the cost of female and male education in the UAE. The question was based on a perception by the students that colleges for women offer more courses and opportunities than for men.
At the end of the discussion Ebrahim, said, "The interest of the editor in chief to promote youngsters is specially commendable. He patiently listened to us and explained everything in detail."
Alia Al Theeb, staff reporter, cleared the doubts of the students regarding the follow-up of crime stories and explained her job responsibilities.
"My main duty is to be alert, watch out for emergencies and crimes throughout the day, as well as traffic updates on the website," she said.
She added that she regularly follows up with her sources in the public and private sectors to be abreast of the latest information. It is through consistent follow-up and checks that the final news in the paper meets its high standards of authenticity, she added.
In response to questions by students Mohammad Eisa and Abdul Rahman Ahmad, Meher Murshid, the UAE desk editor, explained why pictures of criminals were not published and why the statistics for casualties varied from one newspapers to another.
"We do not publish photos or death tolls unless we are authorised by the police or the court," he said. "Numbers need to tallied and confirmed. Without final authorisation we cannot print them."
Murshid reiterated the editor in chief's words by adding, "Newspapers, unlike in earlier times, are now a two-way process. We consider the readers' opinions and interests, and construct the news in a responsible manner that readers prefer."
Understanding the inside story
During the tour students met with deputy managing editors Mohammad Al Mezel, Tom Clifford and Robin Chatterjee. Al Mezel explained how information is compiled from the staff reporters, freelancers and other sources. Chatterjee described the page-making process and how importance was assigned to each news item.
"Creativity is a vital factor in designing the newspaper. The increasing internet dependency for information and diminishing newspaper reading habits require great creativity to attract and hold readers," said Clifford.
As the group explored the different sections of the organisation, watched the busy newsroom and production processes and understood the various departments that make up a newspaper, they had a renewed respect for the organisation. Student Ahmad Khalid said, "I have been inspired by the work environment at Gulf News. I wish to be a part of the photography team, where I can exhibit my skills in photography."
The online advantage
Sean Burns, online manager for gulfnews.com, explained the technical aspects of creating a website and how necessary it is to involve creativity in order to draw the readers' attention to the news.
Adam Flinter, web editor for Gulf News, described the increased demand and use of the online version of the newspaper. The main users, he said, were residents who browse for the latest news and readers from all over the world who cannot obtain a hard copy of the paper.
"The online version has an edge over the printed paper because people tend to refer to the website for late and breaking news. We post the news within ten minutes of authentication," said Flinter.
He also mentioned the upcoming developments on the website which include the addition of audio clips that will allow readers to listen to the news while scrolling the website.
Change of perspective
Students expressed their pride in the work done at Gulf News. Muadh Yousuf and Abdul Rahman Ahmed said, "We feel proud to have visited Gulf News and we have affirmed the fact that it works for the truth."
Ali Hassan added, "After the visit, I have realised all the effort that goes into making a newspaper. I now appreciate the daily hard work and I will remember everything I have seen here when I see a newspaper next. Hats off to everyone at Gulf News!"