Media By Country

One of the trends we've seen in investment banking over the last two or three years is what PWC calls the 'global war for talent'. Local banks in rich emerging market countries have more money to spend than their troubled rivals on Wall Street, so they're hiring the top talent from western banks to join them.

We're seeing a similar process slowly occurring in the media. Western media are in financial trouble. Sales at every American national newspaper except the Wall Street Journal and USA Today are on a long-term downwards trajectory. The same is true in the UK, with the exception of The Sun and The Observer, whose circulations are slightly rising.

Papers are being undercut by sites like Google News and Yahoo News, and by free rags like Metro and London Lite, which have skeleton editorial staffs and rely on recycling press releases and paparazzi photos.

However, in the emerging markets, the story is much rosier. The World Association of Newspapers says that in India, daily newspaper sales rose by 33% between 2001 and 2005, while in China, circulation rose by 28% between 2000 and 2004.

As the Guardian's media section noted last year:

The seemingly inexorable decline of the newspaper in Europe and, more dramatically, in North America sometimes makes the industry sound doomed, regardless of its heavy online presence.

Overall, however, global newspaper sales are on the increase, a fact which is all too often ignored by gloomy commentators in the West, who need only look eastwards when optimism is in short supply at home.

That means western media firms are now targeting markets like India and China. Journalists at The Times, for example, were told to keep the Indian market in mind while writing web stories (how does one do this exactly? Describe the new budget as 'pukka'?) The Sun, The Independent and The Daily Mail have all launched joint ventures in India in the last 12 months.

But it also means local media firms having the capital to attract western journalists onto their staff for English language ventures. This often involves quite serious culture clashes, and the results can be quite comic.

The Russian government, for example, spent some loose change from its oil fund on a new English language satellite TV channel called Russia Today. The aim of the channel was to counter-act what the Kremlin saw as the Russophobia of the western media, particularly the BBC and CNN.

It launched in 2005, and hired about 100 western journalists from London to join its staff. Right from the get-go, the channel was in trouble. The young western staff were often fresh out of journalism school, didn't speak Russian and had no knowledge of Russian culture, yet they were paid double what the Russian staff were paid, which immediately made morale terrible.

I remember going round the station on the day of its launch, and seeing one petrified-looking English girl, fresh out of university, timidly approach a Russian editor, talking to a colleague in Russian, and say 'er.hi .er.I saw on the wires've found the poison that poisoned president know, the president of Ukraine. that newsworthy?' The Russian editor looked at her with bottomless contempt, said 'OK', and carried on talking to her colleague in Russian.

Al-Jazeera's attempt to launch an English language sister-channel has also run into trouble. The Qatar-based station launched its English language service in November 2006, and spent alot of money hiring western talent like Sir David Frost. But since then, the channel has descended into chaos, with western journalists angry that their contracts have not been honoured and benefits like school fees have been cut, and local journalists angry that the foreign journalists don't understand the region and don't report from a Middle Eastern perspective.

The latest saga in this globalization of media is The National, a new English-language newspaper in the Gulf, which is being set up by Martin Newland, formerly editor of The Telegraph before he was booted out by the Barclay Brothers. The paper is being funded by a UAE sovereign wealth fund called Mubadala Development, which also recently bought a stake in the Carlyle Group.

Newland has assembled a formidable team, including alot of Telegraph journalists who smelled which way the wind was blowing in western media and smartly decided to head East. The paper launched in mid-April, and is apparently selling well.

But the same sort of culture clash issues that have hit Al-Jazeera and Russia Today are likely to affect The National, particularly the question of whether western standards of media freedom can be adhered to in local markets with very different political cultures.

Newland has said: "Understand now that we are not here to fight for press freedom-to get yarns about money laundering under the state radar. We are here to produce a professional, commercially viable newspaper. Press freedom is a by-product of this. The more we zero in on templated "red line" stories at the expense of human interest and the ordinary narrative of life in the UAE, the more we look like a foreign newspaper, peering into the goldfish bowl.

It's a good point - Newland is trying to set up a local product that sells to local consumers. But if they were really local, wouldn't they buy a local language product, written by locals? Isn't a paper run by expats inevitably going to have something of the goldfish bowl about it? Isn't the whole point of hiring westerners that they will introduce western standards, including western standards of press independence from companies and governments? Otherwise, why not just hire locals.

We can expect more of these issues to crop up in the future. Now, I have to go write my new blog for The Times: 'Curry Corner'.