Gulf News’s editor at large Fran­cis Matthew re­flects on its ge­n­e­sis

Friday - - Anniversary Special -

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

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