Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Q&A with IHT Publisher Michael Golden | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Michael Golden (Asharq Al-Awsat photo)

Michael Golden (Asharq Al-Awsat photo)

Michael Golden (Asharq Al-Awsat photo)

Q) The International Herald Tribune is an American paper in the heart of Europe, how would you describe the competition with local papers that really have a legacy in the region, especially in the UK?

A) We are not an American paper, we are an international paper that distributes 240 thousand copies around the world, and 5000 only in the US.

Q) But you”re perceived by many as American, and as you know there is a kind of sensitivity in Europe towards American imports?

A) You are right about the sensitivity; however, the New York Times Company invested a lot of money in research after buying the IHT. What came out of this research is that &#34Yes, the NYT is a paper with a great reputation but no, we don’t want a European NYT&#34. Therefore, we came out with the current format, and as you know we have our own team of reporters here in Europe covering the region, and this is why we are not looked upon as American, but rather as international.

Q) To what extent are you different to the NYT in overall presentation and content?

A) When it comes to editorials we are very close, we do not publish all of them but some of the editorials the NYT publishes. Also we consider NYT to be an important source of information for us. We do edit the copy to make it more suitable for our worldwide readers in addition, of course, to our team of reporters contributing to the majority of material in the IHT.

Q) I have read that your marketing campaign labeled &#34broader business

perspective&#34 which was launched in 2004 argues that &#34business is more

than just market and company news&#34. Would you elaborate please, especially because many of the newspapers around the world still have this problem?

A) Our readers are the successful people, be it in business, governmental or non-governmental organizations. As a person moves up it becomes more important to him to get a wider perspective. Take for example Apple computers, They achieved great results in that company. Is that a business story or music or a style feature? In reality it is all that put together and as a general interest paper our reader expects us to write about all these different factors, therefore we have a business story but also a music story and a style story, and that is what we mean by broader business perspective.

Q) To what extent is that related to the fact that the average reader might not be interested in politics or business, but in the end all readers are consumers. You mentioned Apple and I assume you are talking about the success of the iPods. So if I want to implement what you said I would say that maybe not everybody is interested in knowing how many of these devices Apple made, but in the end you are an iPod user and you might want to know how many people in the world are similar to you.

A) That’s correct, and also why did the iPod become this popular and what are the different ways of using it. What is its impact on the future of the music recording industry. There are many stories you can spin off from one subject.

Q) As for your future plans, I read that you are planning to launch a site in Dubai Media City? Would you elaborate please?

A) Yes, we are planning have a printing center over there.

Q) To serve which markets?

A) Dubai and maybe Saudi Arabia as well.

Q) But will you localize your content for that particular region?

A) Our partner in Lebanon and the Middle East, the Lebanese &#34Daily

Star&#34 does secure local content in Beirut, Cairo, Kuwait and are looking to do the same in Dubai, should we begin operations.

Q) Since you brought up &#34The Daily Star&#34, would you mind giving us a

bit of history concerning cooperation between you two ?

A) We started with them in July 2001, at that time they printed in

Beirut and we secured the IHT to them. This is the format we follow in many countries around the world. It is very good for us and our partners, for us because it gives the local partner that has experience in newspapers and distribution and gives the &#34Daily Star&#34 an excellent product which is the IHT to sell with their local papers.

Q) What about Saudi Arabia?

A) We are not allowed to print in Saudi Arabia.

Q) Do you have numbers regarding readership in the Arab world?

A) I have statistics regarding circulation but not readership. In 2004 we reached 7300 copies daily, that is 2600 in Lebanon, 1100 in Kuwait and 700 in sub-Saharan Africa.

Q) As you know, many publications such as &#34Newsweek&#34 and &#34Forbes&#34 have issued Arabic versions. Are there any similar plans for the IHT?

A) No, we only publish in English.

Q) How about deals with certain papers to publish some of your stories in special supplements?

A) The NYT does that, we do not.

Q) The Wall Street Journal has announced it will shift to tabloid

format in both Asia and Europe, do you think we will see that happening soon with the IHT?

A) We are certainly looking to this change, which has become very popular in the UK, and there are papers in Poland and Germany that adapted this transformation, but until this moment, we do not think that the evidence is sufficient. Certainly, The Independent has benefited but I am not too sure what happened with The Times. Anyhow, at this level and with 30 printing houses around the world and partnership with local papers, we are not planning any change in format.

Q) What about what Rupert Murdoch? A few weeks back he said that

publishing under estimates the impact of Internet on newspapers, and that the coming challenge is to make newspaper websites the homepage of users?

A) Well, Bill Gates said it in another way. He said that people over estimate technology in the long run and under estimate it in the short run… maybe that’s what Murdoch meant. However, parallel to that, we must note that no new media has ever eliminated a previous one i.e. newspapers didn’t eliminate books, TV didn’t eliminate radio, in fact radio grew even more popular in after the introduction of TV and FM, AM and Shortwave was created. What is happening is a new trend in the world of media, and I am not trying to devalue the importance of internet, as it is a great communication and media portal.

Q) How do you see the IHT”s website in a couple of years?

A) We are consistently improving our website, and strengthening the relationship between the website and paper. You will notice more promotion in the papers asking people to visit the site and vice versa. We believe they both have to work together, they both have advantages we want to capitalize on.

Q) You are in charge of both editorial and commercial sides of the IHT, what do you advice people in the same position?

A) First of all, deep respect for your client, in this case we have

two: the reader and the advertiser. However, the reader has to come first, because without credibility, without people believing in what they read in the IHT, we will have nothing to sell.

Q) So what do you think about the reported conflict between the Los

Angeles Times and GM? Apparently GM withdrew all ads as a response to some stories that the paper published? What would you do if this happened in your paper?

A) As I said, readers must come first; we are not out there to attack anyone, but when there is news to report we will report it, because that is our duty towards our readers even if some people are upset by that whether it be governments, advertisers or consumers.

Q) You have previous experience in local papers, how would you describe the difference between working in local and in international newspapers and which is more difficult?

A) Its different, the international paper is exciting and a challenging at the same time. Our readers are very different and the challenge is to come out with a publication that is interesting to those living in Japan, China, India and Indonesia and these are very different countries. We also want a publication that is interesting to those in Lebanon, Germany, Norway and UK. Thus, our mission is to find reports that are interesting and that tackle people”s daily lives. This is also what we do in local papers, on a much smaller scale.

Q) But do you produce one version of your paper? Or do you localize the paper for every region?

A) Yes, we have three Asian versions, and two European. The difference is in balancing the news.

Q) As a publisher of one of the world”s biggest papers, I am curious to know what is your daily schedule like?

A) Well, ever since I moved to Europe I wake up at 6:30, I read the

IHT and go to work at 8:30 and at work the first thing I do is check my email and some websites including our own and some business newspapers and publications then I leave at about 7:30.

Q) You do not see the paper before it is published.

A) No

Q) How could you go home and relax without knowing how the paper will come out tomorrow?

A) We have a great and professional editorial team, some of them have been doing this for 30 years. My job isn’t securing the daily report.

Q) Do you take one day off or two?

A) I always try to take the weekend off, but in this job travel is important sometimes.

Q) And how does your family feel about this? You know that most journalists rarely have time for anyone outside work.

A) That”s right. That is another challenge, my wife is here with me and my kids are in the United States, we stay in touch via email and sometimes over the phone, I travel to see them whenever possible and we try our best to make it work.