History and profile
The National was first published on 16 April 2008. Mohammed Al Otaiba is the editor-in-chief of The National. The editor-in-chief between 8 June 2009 and 2 October 2013 was Hassan Fattah. Prior to this, and from the launch of the newspaper Martin Newland was editor-in-chief. Abu Dhabi Media, the government-owned media company, runs the newspaper along with a stable of other publications, including Al Ittihad, Zahrat Al Khaleej, Majed, and National Geographic Al Arabiya (in partnership with National Geographic). With its pledge to emulate Western newspaper standards and to "help society evolve," The National claims to be an anomaly in the Middle East, where most media are tightly controlled by the government - however there have been several high level resignations across the editorial team regarding spiked stories and the newspaper's impotency when covering stories on Abu Dhabi. On the other hand, the major goal in establishing the paper was to have respect from the international community on the part of the government.
The National built its staff levels up to 200 recruiting from newspapers around the world, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Daily Telegraph of Britain. Martin Newland was editor of the Daily Telegraph from 2003 to 2005, and he took with him many former Telegraph employees, most notably Colin Randall (former Telegraph executive news editor), Sue Ryan (former managing editor) and senior photographer Stephen Lock (who covered domestic and foreign news and the international fashion circuit during 20 years on the Daily Telegraph). While there have been changes in the editorial team over the last few years, mainly due to expat churn and limited restructuring, the staff levels remain at 200. The cuts are a reflection of the paper's inability to generate enough income through advertising and subscriptions. Earlier in 2012 they parted company with their sales director and the sales executives from across the publishing titles were merged into one team. Despite high levels of marketing across the country the paper struggled to break 10,000 subscriptions after launch and it is believed that current subscription levels are around 7,500 but as the title is not audited there is no reliable information to back this up.
The 2008 circulation of the paper was 60.000 copies.
The paper is organised into four daily sections (News, Business, Sport and Arts & Life) with rotating weekly magazines, including UltraTravel and a new luxury title. It covers local and international news, business, sports, arts and life, travel and motoring. The target group of the paper can be described as educated, affluent, out and about, business leaders, decision makers and key influencers as well as well vultures (cultural travellers).
Controversies and allegations of skewed coverage
In a 2012 article in the American Journalism Review, former foreign desk editor Tom O'Hara contended that coverage was skewed to favor the agenda of the government of the United Arab Emirates. He said that the newspaper had a "meticulous censorship process" that directly influenced coverage and word usage in the newspaper, such as prohibiting use of the term "Persian Gulf". He said that the newspaper engaged in self-censorship, suppressing coverage of subjects deemed as casting an unfavorable light on the UAE royal family. He said that, among other things, coverage of the Libyan uprising was suppressed, as were articles about Wikileaks and gay rights.
The New Republic reported in February 2013 that The National had failed to live up to high expectations that had been raised when it was established. The magazine said that the newsroom has had a series of crises during the preceding five years, and that "tensions over the management and direction of the paper have been simmering behind the scenes, with leadership changes, budget cuts, infighting and allegations of rampant self-censorship conspiring to trigger a series of defections that have depleted the paper of much of its marquee talent". The article described examples of rampant self-censorship, and said the newspaper's story was "a cautionary tale about pursuing journalism in a censored society".