Dubai: Tim Edgar, the first editor of Gulf News, remembers how it was to start a newspaper from scratch.
"Among the memories that will always remain with me was setting up our first picture receiver from Reuters (news agency). We were too impatient to wait for technical support so the local bureau-chief, Colin Fox, and I climbed onto the roof of the Gulf News office to try to rig up the giant aerial ourselves," said Tim Edgar, the first editor of Gulf News.
"It was so hot on the roof that the soles of our shoes were literally melting and we had to wear gloves to prevent the huge array of metal cables from scorching our hands. We could only work for a few minutes at a time and with no mobile telephone or walkie-talkies, we had to rely on a relay of people shouting to one another to tell us to move it marginally this way or that way to get a better signal.
"It was immensely frustrating because [we were] just trying to receive pictures of good enough quality to use," he said.
In an e-mail interview from Belgium, Edgar said the other most frustrating part of starting a new paper was the pre-launch. " ... a month prior to the launch we 'published' a full newspaper every day — and then simply threw it away. Producing dummy issues was necessary to train staff and to iron out the inevitable glitches but it was very disheartening that so much effort went into something that nobody read."
Asked whether newspapers will eventually die out, the former editor said he did not think so.
"Like many journalists, ink runs in my veins, so I'm probably biased. But I believe that quality newspapers will still be around for a good many years to come, especially those that can skilfully combine the art of a printed paper with the speed and convenience of an online presence. They are written differently and as long as one complements the other, I believe they can happily coexist and even benefit one another," he said.
But then he adds: "Of course, as our children grow up they are going to be more computer savvy and more used to reading on a screen than we are today. But ultimately there are a lot of people who agree that there is still nothing quite like holding some good quality newsprint," he said.
Excerpts from the interview:
Gulf News: In your view, what exactly is the function of a newspaper today? Is it still to entertain, educate and inform the reader?
Tim Edgar: Yes, definitely. But it just needs to do it in a different way than it did 30 years ago. At the time Gulf News was born, people turned to newspapers as a source of basic information on what was happening in the world around them. Today, that first source of information is often the broadcast media which can't be beaten for its sheer speed of delivery and immediacy of breaking news. So people turn to newspapers to find more in-depth coverage or a different angle on stories they already know something about.
Do you read Gulf News online today? If so, what changes do you notice?
I read Gulf News online and I now have an e-paper subscription.
The paper has changed almost beyond recognition. It now has so much more impact and is rich in news. The fact it is so colourful also helps. It is more than I could have ever dreamed of being possible when we started 30 years ago. It certainly makes me feel very proud to have been part of the small but dedicated team who first launched Gulf News all those years ago.
What were your first impressions of Dubai and the UAE?
When I first arrived in Dubai (in September 1974) there were few paved roads and construction was only just beginning on Dubai's first international hotel, the Intercontinental in Deira. People told stories of how dangerous it was to travel at night between Sharjah and Dubai because it was easy to get lost and veer off the sand tracks towards the sea.
There was no road to the East Coast either. Instead, we would follow the wadis and hope our navigator would remember the way back again. They were very exciting times and there was a great sense of adventure. Electricity and water supplies were challenging to say the least.
But it is funny, looking back on it now; it really doesn't surprise me at all that Dubai has become the global centre that it now is. It was already a city of entrepreneurs, always hatching plans for future projects. Even in those days, good local business stories were plentiful.
When I arrived there were only a handful of Western expatriates, most of whom were employed in key positions by banks or international companies involved in infrastructure projects. If you spent more than a week eating at the restaurant at the Ambassador Hotel you would have met them all.
Our leisure time was spent at the Dubai Exiles Rugby Club, exploring the souqs or trying to play golf with fluorescent red balls so that we could find them in the sand.
The noise [and smell] of the engines of the abras on the Creek and the smell of the spices in the souk are memories that will always remain with me. They are almost the only things that didn't change in the five years I was there, although I recognise now that such changes pale into insignificance compared to those that have taken place since.
How was your job, was it a gruelling 12-hour schedule?
Honestly, 12 hours a day would have been a luxury. For three months prior to the launch and for several months afterwards, many of us virtually lived at the office, working up to 18 hours a day. It was certainly tough but at the same time there was something very satisfying about producing a newspaper each day, sometimes against incredible odds. The power would sometimes go off for hours on end; the telex machines would fail; or we would simply run out of time, laboriously cutting and pasting each of the stories onto a page, one at a time. Oh, how I wish we had had some of today's modern technology.