Faisal Abbas is an award-winning journalist, author and social commentator – and has now been named as the new editor-in-chief of Arab News, the Middle East’s leading English-language daily newspaper.
After graduating from Westminster Business School at the University in Westminster in 2010 with a Masters in Marketing Communications, Faisal has gone on to forge a highly successful career in journalism. His decade of experience in the industry has seen him as media editor at SRMG’s London-based Pan-Arab daily, a senior Middle East correspondent for the International Resource Journal, a blogger with the Huffington Post, and editor-in-chief of Al-Arabiya New Channels’ digital English service.
We asked him a few questions as he takes on this important role.
What is the most exciting aspect of becoming the new editor-in-chief of Arab News?
I have been granted a chance to go back home and be a part of perhaps the most exciting time the country has gone through in decades; for a journalist like me there could no better time to be in Saudi Arabia than now to witness and report on the massive transformation that the country is undergoing.
Furthermore, I have been granted an opportunity to work on a project which I am truly passionate about, which is helping to nurture and bring more understanding between the Arab world and English-speaking countries. Essentially, this what Arab News has always been about but what is also exciting is the mandate to take it global and make it more digital, which by default has more reach, more quality content and hopefully encourage a better understanding.
What are the challenges that journalism faces today?
We – as professional journalists – are facing tremendous competition from UGC (user generated content), which could sometimes be useful but as we are seeing recently, and thanks to the wide reach of social media, has allowed for the spread of fake news stories.
The problem is that people will always go for a more sensational headline; this means that populist and even racist rhetoric now has a platform. However, we must look at this as a challenge which makes our role as professional, ethical journalists more important than ever. Now, will everyone read a quality publication like The Economist? Probably not, but that certainly doesn’t mean that we forget the moral dimension in what we do.
Of course, shrinking budgets makes this all more challenging, as with more sensational headlines comes higher revenues. However, if we allow our souls to be sold then the outcome might be more tabloid copies sold, but at the same time you end up with a whole nation misled to think that Brexit – for instance – is a good thing.
Why did you choose to study a Marketing Communications MA at the University of Westminster?
I was originally looking for Masters degree in journalism and I actually got two offers from other universities. However, I am glad I went for a business degree at Westminster. This is, of course, not an argument – at all – against undergoing further studies in journalism, but that will only make you a better journalist or pave the way for you to become an academic in the field of journalist; which is ideal if that is what you want.
However, having suffered from bad management decisions in newsrooms, I always wanted to manage a media operation and hoped for an opportunity so I was looking for a course which would essentially help me become a manager; which is something I ended up doing at both Al Arabiya English between 2012-2016 and most recently at Arab News which I have just joined with a mandate of not just to edit, but to ‘manage’ a transformation process which will see it become more international and much more digital.
Looking back, the MAMC course was ideal – it included elements of management which were essential for me, such as managing creative teams, managing PR and advertisement campaigns, ability to put together a good sales offer, principles of market research… these are all things which came in very handy in my job later.
What did you find most advantageous about being a student in London?
Plenty! Look, if you are just after a degree to hang on the wall, you can just do that online these days and it is much cheaper and quicker. However, if you want – and can afford – a fully-fledged student experience, then there is nothing that matches traveling to a city known for its academic institutions.
London, in particular is a great example. You don’t just learn in the class room there, you learn from your daily interaction with your colleagues, with your lecturers, with passers-by in the street and you begin comparing what you learn with what you see in your daily life. In my job today, I apply lots of I have seen the British papers do. I used to read most dailies religiously while I was in London.
What advice do you have for other young people who are hoping to make a positive impact on the world?
First, you must find out what you are passionate about and pursue it at any cost; don’t let anyone convince you that it can’t or shouldn’t be done. Second, believe in yourself. This sounds silly, but it is true. To be able to create an impact, you must be able to make people believe in you and you simply can’t achieve that if you don’t believe in yourself first. Finally, everything has a price and nothing comes easy… so if you want something badly, you have to be willing to do what is required to get it.