The first parallel universe I encountered was in the Abu Dhabi newsroom. Yesterday, American Journalism Review ran a story written by Tom O’Hara, an American editor who had spent two years there most notably, it seems, on the foreign desk.
“When the newspaper launched in 2008, its goal was ‘to establish an institution on par with some of the greatest newspapers in the world,’ according to its Web site. Well, that hasn’t happened. The mission statement should say: Don’t offend the government or anyone who has a link to it.”
“The censorship isn’t the only burden mainstream journalists must endure at the paper. The paper is basically a British publication with British spelling and style. But British ethics also rule – and they’re, ah, loose, shall we say.
The most flagrant abuse is putting staff bylines on wire material. It is routine practice. … The practice caused The National some embarrassment when someone sent an e-mail to media blogger/aggregator Jim Romenesko with details about systemic plagiarism in the business department. Here is part of the September 2011 post.”
A memo went out from the editor-in-chief instructing staff to comply with correct sourcing policies, which were, immediately ignored. ‘I know this because I did it myself several times a week,’ O’Hara writes.
• “I would rather the readers be confused than offended.” Deputy Editor Bob Cowan, August 2010.
“Cowan, once a respected editor at the Telegraph in London, issued that guidance after telling an editor on the foreign desk to remove all references to religion from a fascinating story about an Iranian Shiite imam. The story made little sense without the religious details.”
• “This is no time to be intellectually honest.” (Editor-in-Chief Hassan) Fattah, January 2011.
“The editor shared this gem with the foreign desk after reading a story from one of our best correspondents about speculation that the revolt in Tunisia might spark other uprisings. As we all know, the speculation was accurate as the Arab Spring spread across the region in the months that followed.”