Gulf News’s editor at large Francis Matthew reflects on its genesis
Twenty years ago this week, Friday transformed the UAE’s magazine scene when Gulf News launched the country’s first large-circulation glossy weekly targeted at residents’ interests and lifestyles. At the time, Gulf News had been relaunched for more than 10 years and was drawing ahead of the competition, but was struggling to get the market and readers to accept it was way ahead. It needed a powerful differentiator, so we looked at what we could change in our weekend offering. Our magazine at that time was Gulf Weekly, which was an unhappy mix of world events and local lifestyle. That meant famine and floods jarred against Dubai fashion and beauty.
So we decided to go for a completely new start and in total secrecy prepared a dummy magazine with a new identity focused on family life in the UAE, talking in a relaxed and natural way about lifestyle activities and issues that we all shared. It was important that the new magazine had a large dose of local content, so that UAE residents could describe their own lives and interests – quite revolutionary at the time.
Malavika Kamaraju had been the very successful editor of Gulf News’ tabloid! and she joined the launch team as editor. The team worked in a miserable ‘secret room’, where they developed the look and feel of the new magazine without the benefit of any fresh air or daylight.
Right from its start on May 16, 1997, Friday captured readers’ attention as they identified with the places, people and activities that they recognised from their own lives. Advertisers also welcomed it as it gave them the relaxed editorial environment in which they could talk to the audiences they wanted. Twenty years on, it is a real pleasure to see Friday still leading the market and remaining true to its identity as the definitive lifestyle magazine of the UAE.
My most memorable issue was after Princess Diana died on August 31, 1997. I rushed to the office to organise a special edition of the paper, which was a vital part of the news business in those pre-internet days. We had just enough time to change enough pages to make a pictorial homage to such an icon, and print the magazine to be ready for distribution on Friday. My main contribution was to change the image on the cover from a ball gown and tiara to one of Diana mine-clearing in Bosnia (left), which allowed us to reflect the human being under all the glamour.
1,464,145 Each year, kilos of recycled newsprint are
used for Friday’s pages