You’ve seen it. Maybe even this morning…May 25, 2015 12:00
Khaleej Times vs. Gulf News
Sporting a new design, Dubai daily Khaleej Times is hoping to beat its old competitor, Gulf News. Is it managing to succeed?
In the emirate next door, Abu Dhabi’s The National, with a bold branding camping and a slick design that seems stolen from the old Guardian, is taking the battle to the two dominant Dubai dailies, Khaleej Times and Gulf News.
“For years Gulf News and Khaleej Times were the established, must-read papers here,” Austyn Allison, the managing editor of Communicate magazine, told The National recently. “Now there’s this new competition from The National and other publications. Newspapers are having to change.”*
But how do these two bitter old rivals compare to one another? Here’s the scorecard, with each criteria scored on a scale of 10.
Design: 5. KT’s new design was clearly intended to boost the profile of the 30-year-old paper. It sure needed it, having a design that looked – well, that looked 30 years old. We’d have given it a score of 1 before.
The result? Better, but not good enough.
Yes, the shaded KT behind Khaleej Times is a nod toward what Pentagram, the design gurus brought in on short notice to handle the project, called “deliberately modern,”which beats looking accidentally out-of-date. The serif headline font is an improvement over the block letters of the past, which made the paper seem ridiculously unserious.
But there’s still something lacking here. Perhaps it’s the details, like the awkward abundance of white space, or capitalizing the first letter in each word in the headlines. (Yes, we know many American dailies do that, but somehow KT can’t pull it off.)
Perhaps it’s telling that that Pentagram mentioned in its blog that it only had 10 weeks to complete the redesign. Nice foresight, people.
Perception: 5. The paper was known as a less serious alternative to Gulf News before. Now the paper is now known as a less serious alternative to Gulf News, which is known as a less serious alternative to The National.
Delivery: 3. We’re talking about whether the newspaper delivers on its promise, not whether the newspapers gets delivered.
Prior to the redesign, we’d have maybe given an 8 for delivery. Since the paper didn’t seem to promise much, there was little room to disappoint. Today, we’d give it a 3. The paper looks more like an actual newspaper – until you read the so-called “news.”
Reach: 5. KT claims a circulation of 90,000, but without an audit from BPA – its last auditor, Audit Bureau of Circulation, having pulled out of the region in 2006 – that number’s difficult to prove. The only thing we can say for certain is they’ve started delivering it free to our apartment in Jumeirah Beach Residence. They’re piling up in the hallway.
Relevance: 2. The paper has no unique selling proposition. Note to editors: We know that that you are part-owned by the government, but so is , like Emirates Business 24-7. That doesn’t mean readers really need to know which sheikhs recently sent letters of greeting to the president of Mali.
Design: 7. Say what you will about the UAE’s leading English daily – at least it looks smart.
Perception: 6. Launched in 1978, Gulf Snooze had traditionally been a bit too much like the campus paper that people love to hate. It would be far worse to have suffered the fate of indifference, which is what might happen now that The National is around.
Delivery: 8. The truth is, it was never that bad. GN has rarely pushed the boundaries of journalism, and its editorials are often groan-inducing, but the syndicated international content usually saves the day.
Reach: 9. It’s difficult to argue with over 100,000 audited readers.
Relevance: 7. The Gulf needs a general interest English daily, and for all its faults, the GN has played the role moderately well.
It also has a sinister stranglehold on the classifieds market, something of high relevance in a country filled with people often looking to unload a Corolla in a hurry.
We’d have given it an 8 for relevance, but for the competitive threat from The National. Once the dominance of print advertising in the region ends, which it inevitably will, it is unlikely the market will support two dailies of the size and stature of Gulf News and The National.
ADVANTAGE: Gulf News.
* Rounding out the “media echo chamber” effect, we should disclose that Austyn Allison works in the same newsroom as the Kipp Report, which is published by the same company as Communicate.
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