Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Technology Is More Loyal to Journalists than Ink

I chose a corner in a café to write my article. The power cuts in Beirut prevent me from writing at home. I have no problem with that; I am not tied down to superstitions when it comes to writing. The profession does not allow such luxuries. One must write at home, a hotel, the airport or on the train.

I started writing about Iraq, where changes can be sparked through heated tweets even as its state institutions remain obstructed. Suddenly, a reader of Asharq Al-Awsat approached me and asked me if I had a few minutes to spare. I always have more than minutes because this is the only profession I have and am good at.

I expected the reader to point out an error in language or in addressing a thorny issue or development. The truth is, I believe the judgement of the reader is harsher than any judge. I find no fault in admitting a mistake or shortcoming. Experience has proven that nothing kills journalism and the journalist like arrogance that stands in the way of righting a wrong.

I was wrong in predicting what questions he was going to ask me.

He asked if I believed that journalism was dying, noting that readers are swamped with websites, many of which lack credibility and strict professionalism.

I replied that journalism, just like songs, never dies, but it does change. I said those who remain alive are the ones who deserve to, meaning those who do not fall hostage to the sanctity of the past and accept changes to the spirit and fashion that are introduced by the era.

I noted that he does not trust what he reads on social media, where intolerance and hatred flow freely. I replied that development is rapid like the flowing waves and that experience alone will eventually impose certain professional guidelines and find modern legal rules that protect individuals and societies from the petty interests and the goal of expanding at any price, even if it means publishing harmful or sleazy articles.

The old reader said he felt lost in the sea of the current media. He said he missed the joy of leafing through a newspaper while sipping his coffee in the morning. He remarked that reading the news through a telephone screen lacks the warmth and personal trust that comes with a newspaper.

He noticed that I did not defend the prestigious past, saying he laments the loss of the smell of ink that tied the reader to the writer.

I have deep appreciation for the inker and those who yearn for the smell of ink. But after working for three newspapers – An Nahar, Al Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat – experience has shown that technology is more loyal to the writer and journalists than the smell of ink.

Technology has taken the articles and topics to places that ink could not reach. It has saved their articles and protected them from growing old and yellow on paper.

The same experience shows that sitting by the flowing river only brings tears over the past. One must plunge into the river – the river of the era, of change, transformation and innovation, and gaining new skills and techniques. Death is the punishment of those who don’t change, whether they are individuals or institutions.

One cannot deny the role played by prestigious institutions in preparing generations of journalists. I have learned that successful work is the product of teamwork and the accurate designation of tasks and that the time of the sole player is over. You need a striker, defender, midfielder, goalkeeper and coach. Above all, you need cohesion and teamwork.

I learned that a plethora of stars enriches the spirit and place. It attracts new generations and pushes them to passionately pursue their ambitions and rise up the ladder. A new journalist at an institution used to find himself before senior colleague and brilliant names. This would instill in them a pressing need to read, listen and expand their contacts. Institutions were attractive, which is why journalists would spend their lives there, withstanding the hardships of the profession at the office and on the ground.

As I wrote about the media, I recalled that on this very day in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat was born in London. It chose to be the “Arabic international newspaper”, to be present in several continents, to bring the world to its Arab readers and to bring the issues of the Arab world to the international readers.

Since its inception, its publisher and successive chief editors have upheld indispensable values: moderation, openness, professionalism, respecting the mind of the reader and accepting them as an interlocutor, partner and observer.

Asharq Al-Awsat transformed into a memory of the Middle East. It was there at major turns experienced by the region and at the impact world events and changes had on it. It was there through daily political, economic, cultural and arts articles. It has been loyal in reporting the news and provided a window to journalists from different countries, making Asharq Al-Awsat a home to its readers, who can find in it a platform for their concerns and questions.

Since the birth of Asharq Al-Awsat, the region and world have gone through rich and tumultuous experiences. The archives of the newspaper are a mine of articles about the incredible decades in which the world changed on more than one occasion and was bombarded by technological and scientific revolutions that transformed the lives of its people.

On the anniversary of its establishment, you sense that Asharq Al-Awsat boasts the will, expertise, passion of youth and wisdom of experience. In its forties, it is trying from its position, platform and pages to go beyond the digital transformation and keep abreast of a changing world and profession.

In its forties, it is confident and stubborn, takes initiative and is proud of its past. It is also confident that the best is yet to come, as declared by Joumana Al-Rashed, CEO of the Saudi Research and Media Group (SRMG).

Journalists and the institutions they spend their lives at share a bond akin to those that tie them to their homes. Asharq Al-Awsat and its readers share bonds of trust and friendship that are consolidated with time and challenges.