how The National went from print-first to multi-platform organisation

On the Eve of The National’s launch in April 2008, Colin Randall, the paper’s then executive editor, wrote on his blog that he found himself at a late stage of his career “to be participating for the first time in the thrill of launching a national newspaper”.

If truth be told, he added, “it is also a late stage in the career of newspapers themselves”, referencing the structural changes that were already under way in the global news industry, both in terms of how information was delivered and where audiences found it.

Since Randall’s words were written, 15 years have passed. The National Since 2008, has evolved from a daily paper with an add-on website into a news organization publishing stories in multiple formats across various platforms.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - November 11, 2008:  Martin Newland, Editor-In-Chief of The National, the Abu Dhabi daily newspaper, looks over proofs of the new Saturday newspaper and magazine which will publish their first issues on Saturday November 15, 2008. 
( Ryan Carter / The National ) *** Local Caption ***  RC013-Martin.JPGRC013-Martin.JPG

In the early days of The NationalNewsgathering and Production would be completed each evening for print and a separate journalist team would then post those same stories over the following few hours on our website.

While the print-first arrangements of a decade and a half ago may seem unusual to contemporary observers – who are now used to breaking news alerts punctuating their day on multiple devices – they were, for better or worse, built for the times we lived in. In 2008, the iPhone was barely a year old and social media had yet to take hold in many people’s lives.

Content management systems (CMS), the engines behind the rapid dissemination and distribution of information, had not yet evolved into the editorial systems that they have become today.

And newspapers, while already experiencing the anxieties of a world where consumers could read a more up-to-date version of a story online for nothing instead of paying for it in print, remained a central part of many people’s news diets.

Today, there is a large group of employees at The National Our team of journalists is still working on putting together the newspaper every evening. They write, file and edit stories all day and night. The print deadline falls late at night Abu Dhabi time. Our online deadlines never stop.

How can one describe the extent of the changes that the organization has undergone in the last decade and a quarter?

The newsroom, which was located on Mohammed bin Khalifa Street at the heart of Abu Dhabi Island in 2017, has been relocated to offices that overlook Khalifa Park.

To get to the old location in 2008, new arrivals in the city were instructed to tell drivers of the old white-and-gold taxis to ask for “Jareeda Ittihad” and hope the cab would find its way to the correct place. Later that year, the first Google Maps Android phone was released and the days when you had to drive around in circles trying to find your destination were over.

A period of rapid transformation began for the organisation after the crosstown move to Khalifa park six years ago, as well as a change in ownership, and in newsroom leadership.

Mina Al-Oraibi, editor-in-chief of The National, in the new newsroom in TwoFour54 on July 10, 2017. Christopher Pike / The National

To relaunch operations, techniques and processes were redesigned. Revision and refinement were the guiding lights.

And then, three years ago, when the pandemic dispersed The National’s staff to individual home newsrooms dotted across the country and around the globe, adaptation and resourcefulness became our temporary guiding principles, before staff members began to gradually return to the office as Covid-19 prevention measures eased.

It is telling that if the online department used to be viewed as a secondary operation within the original newsroom 15 years ago, today our digital operations are the focus of every working moment.

The traditional structures of a newsroom organised to produce a newspaper are still there, of course – the newsdesk, the desks for foreign, comment, business and so on – but these days, the dynamics of reader engagement and audience analytics are absolutely at the centre of it all. Television screens scattered throughout the newsroom show real-time statistics about which stories resonated with readers.

The traditional newsroom operations have been sharpened by the addition of new departments, such as homepage editors, journalists for social media, reporters who cover breaking news, and others.

The newspaper, once the easiest way to describe the work we undertook each day, is now one product in the organisation’s growing range of offerings.

The main task, however, remains the same.

The National This site is dedicated to reporting on and from a complex region, and telling the story of UAE and its diverse communities.

The world as a whole is changing rapidly. Our goal is to keep up with all major developments.

About the only other thing that hasn’t changed in the past 15 years is the price of a print edition. If you prefer reading a newspaper, you’ll still pay Dh3 at the newsstand for a copy of the print edition – the same as you did 15 years ago.

Updated on April 16, 2023 at 8:01 PM