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Readers in the Middle East are evolving. Is traditional media and journalism keeping up?

Declining readership and ad revenues are altering the news media landscape in the Middle East

Readers in the Middle East are evolving. Is traditional media and journalism keeping up?
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

This month, two legacy English-daily newspapers in the UAE announced the discontinuation of their weekend print editions. They cited reasons such as dwindling ad revenues and declining readership for print. 

It signifies the profound changes occurring in the media landscape in the Middle East, reflecting the evolving reading preferences and behaviors and the increasing dominance of digital platforms in delivering news and information.

It is part of a global trend affecting the media industry – newspapers closing and turning to digital-only editions. 

“It’s been happening in other countries, and it was a matter of when it would happen here. In other Asian markets, print is still leading as the world leans toward online mediums. It’s only a matter of time before this change occurs even there,” says Joseph John Nalloor, Discipline Head for Media and Communications at Murdoch University in Dubai. 

Online is, clearly, the way forward. Advertisers don’t want to spend in print anymore as they used to. “The problem with print is it doesn’t come equipped with analytics, unlike online, which can give an exact count on how many impressions, clicks, and views a piece of content received. Which is what discerning advertisers want – value for money, which print editions could not offer,” Nalloor adds. 


And as technology advances, it raises the question of whether journalists of the future need to reskill themselves. In the past, the print medium necessitated specific storytelling, writing styles, design, and layout; now, Dr. Michael L. Mallory, Program Director for Media & Communication at the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD), says mediums are diverse. Therefore, the formats and styles of stories are limitless. “Nonetheless, the core concept of journalism remains intact.”

The nature of journalism is changing, primarily driven by advancements in the digital landscape. Dr. Ruta Vaidya, a lecturer in Journalism and Digital Media at Middlesex University Dubai, explains that certain skills that were once unique, such as a “nose for news,” have become common and less crucial due to the widespread availability of information.

Are any journalistic skills of the past irrelevant today? “Most obsolete skills are to do with technical knowledge rather than journalistic skills per se. There is no question that we work in a completely different way now in the field,” says Becky Anderson, Managing Editor at CNN Abu Dhabi. 

While some skills may become less prominent or evolve, the core principles of journalism, such as accurate information, contextualization, and storytelling, remain essential in informing and engaging audiences.

According to Dr. David Tully, Head of Media at Middlesex University Dubai, storytelling remains essential for informing people about our world. He states that while the medium of storytelling may change, the need to inform through narratives will persist.


In an era of information overload and misinformation, the role of journalism in providing accurate and verified news and analysis remains indispensable, holding those in power accountable and uncovering stories that shape public discourse.

According to Nalloor, despite the popularity of online media, “The ability of a journalist to give context to a story is still important. The most crucial job of a journalist is providing authentic news.”

Agreeing with him, Anderson says, “I don’t notice a lack of skills in those entering the industry, and I’ve been impressed with the young people we’ve met through CNN Academy.” She acknowledges that different media require distinct skill sets, with specific approaches for writing in digital and TV formats.

“It would be a mistake to dismiss print-style writing as dated – there is a place for long-form text-based storytelling on digital, and that format can be invaluable when unraveling a complex story. There are many ways to tell a story; all can be valuable.”

To keep up with changing media trends, Dr. Tully emphasizes updating media programs to align with changing times and requirements. “We revamp our media programs every couple of years because technology changes quickly.”

Considering the uncertainty in the media landscape, Dr. Mallory highlights the need to teach journalism students skills that will help them in the future, including AI, machine learning, and data analytics, to benefit their careers.

Enabling students to have relevant skills is crucial. “We need to make sure what we teach students is relevant and not limited to a textbook from years ago,” says Nalloor.

According to experts, aspiring journalists need awareness regarding differentiating between news and information and opinions available on social media. “A lot of these principles and journalistic skills must be retained to make stories newsworthy and relevant,” says Dr. Vaidya. 

“The ‘media’ as a concept or an industry changes daily. New things, technologies, and software disrupt what we do and force us to be on a lifelong learning journey. This means we’ll always be learning and adapting to the changing media landscape,” adds Dr. Mallory. 


Speaking of trends, AI has recently received much applause for demonstrating capabilities that align with the core principles of journalism, such as gathering information, generating content, and fostering informative conversations. So, in the near future, will we rely solely on stories human journalists tell?

Dr. Vaidya states, “The human aspect and skills of sourcing news through reliable sources, and the ability to investigate and ask the right questions are essential. Journalism is a people skill, and trust is essential in collecting, reporting, presenting, and disseminating news and information.”

While AI can assist in fact-checking and data analysis, the human element remains crucial in capturing the nuances that define impactful storytelling in conveying depth and empathy.

“The idea that AI can somehow replace a journalist is fanciful. I want authenticity, a sense of the moment, the emotion, and the visceral sense of a story from reporting. Yes, AI can help refine some of that. Still, it will not be able to look in the eyes of an exhausted soldier on the battlefield, smell the smoke from a forest fire, or hear the relief of a mother who has found her son alive under the rubble of a building destroyed by an earthquake,” says Anderson.

AI filling in for a journalist is risky, from the validity and authenticity of information to the inherent biases and political leanings. “Humans need to discern between AI-generated text versus stories told by humans in the larger context,” says Nalloor. 


Regarding successful paywall models, Nalloor says it’s important if readers want quality content – political, market, and business insight stories. “The need for well-researched, quality and authentic information still exists.” 

He explains the logic of why people pay for Netflix, as opposed to streaming content free on Torrents, applies to quality journalism. When Youtube has all the free music, why are people paying for premium music streaming platforms? “If you have quality and give the right product, people will pay for it,” he adds.

Covering live events such as natural disasters, war, crime, terrorism, international relations, and political topics requires on-site reporting and developing “trust” among people in gathering news and stories. According to Dr. Vaidya, journalists will remain in demand and will be “highly valued as the gatekeepers of information.” 

Overall, Anderson is optimistic about the future: “All great stories are human stories, and we will always need human beings to tell them.” 

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Rachel Clare McGrath Dawson is a Senior Correspondent at Fast Company Middle East. More