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15 Nov, Thursday
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Challenges faced by electronic media

I participated yesterday in a conference entitled Challenges and Opportunities in Electronic Media organized by Mustapha Karkouti, the head of corporate affairs at the Higher Colleges of Technology.

The first day of the conference was held at the Abu Dhabi Men’s College on Sunday and I took part in a panel discussion about blogging. My panel was moderated by Alexandra Pringle, the editor-in-chief of Bloomsbury, and included Ilicco Elia, the mobile product manager for Thomson Reuters, and Bill Parkinson, technical manager of the BBC. Our discussion was proceeded by a short address by fellow blogger Helena Frith Powell, who works at The National with me.

I talked about the challenges that I face at The National trying to get our slew of blogs up and running on our website, and the difficulty to get reporters and editors to blog, either because they don’t understand the concept very well or because they feel it is an extra burden on them that they do not get paid extra for. This is a problem that many newspapers have faced across the globe, where reporters are being asked to only report and write stories, but increasingly are being asked to also take photos, film video and blog about events that they cover.

The overall theme of the day was that you cannot be a serious journalist without having an online presence. Both the Minister of Higher Education Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan and Nick Guthrie, the editor of Dateline, London, noted that the Christian Science Monitor in the US is planning to scrap its print edition in April 2009 and continue running the paper as a purely digital one.

“Eighteen per cent of Americans said in a survey that their only source of news was the Internet,” said Guthrie. “There were 3 million Internet users in the Middle East a few years ago, and today there are 42 million net users, out of a base of 200 million. ….There are 12 million American adults blogging, and 57 million American blog readers.”

One of the most interesting participants was Vidar Meisingseth, the project manager of the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang. Strangely enough, his paper makes 42 per cent of its profits from its online edition and not from its print edition, which is the the reverse of most newspapers who struggle to make any money from their digital products.

“We have 2 million unique viewers online everyday, even though we only have a population of 4.5 million in Norway,” said Meisingseth. “For us traffic is king and we are always finding ways of aggregating traffic. At VG we get 12,000 posts a day on our discussion forums. We allow comments to go up and then we check them and delete offensive ones because of the huge volume.”

He added that after VG readers started using mobile phones with SMS and MMS capabilities, the newspaper was flooded with a veritable tsunami of story tips from readers. “Thirty to forty per cent of our stories online are from tips from our readers,” he said.

The conference continued today in Dubai. It was being co-sponsored by Elaph.com, the first Arabic daily online newspaper.