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The Final Day at a Newsroom I Knew

June 30th, 2017 · No Comments · Journalism, The National

Of all the melancholy aspects of newspapers shrinking, or failing, or shutting down, it is the abandonment of a newsroom that makes me most wistful.

Today is the final day in the original home of The National, the first English-language newspaper in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.

We spent six years there and left barely a year and a half ago.

Since then, oil prices have remained depressed, which limits the cash flowing to the government, which owns Abu Dhabi Media, publisher of The National. At least, until tomorrow, when the newspaper becomes property of the International Media Investments, beginning with editions of July 2 …

Operations will cease in the sprawling newsroom on the ground floor of the ADM building, and The National moves to more intimate digs in the twofour54 free zone on the southern tip of Abu Dhabi Island.

So, that is “– 30 –” for The National on the edge of downtown after a bit more than nine years since the newspaper began publication, in May of 2008.

I am grateful that Hussain, a former colleague, has posted to Instagram a photo gallery of the old newsroom on its last day.

I concede I get attached to spaces. Rooms, houses, offices, buildings. And especially places where I worked.

I can describe, four decades later, the layout of the newsroom at The Daily Forty-Niner at Long Beach State. My college newspaper office was at one end of the Liberal Arts 4 building, second floor. I can see the U-shaped copy desk, in my mind’s eye, in the main workroom, and the little alcove where section editors had desks and two journalism faculty professors had their offices. I worked there for two years and left knowing exactly what I wanted to do in my career — work in newspapers.

My final stretch in the business was spent in the offices of The National and I remember it well, even considering some of the changes made inside the room over the past year, as the staff shrank.

Click on the “photo gallery” link above, and I will give you a guided tour of the place.

–The first photo shows the mail slots for everyone in the newsroom. Remember, the paper launched in 2008, and people still received some important missives via (snail) mail, way back then. The mail slots were on a wall on the left of one of the main, sliding-door entrances, off the courtyard of the six-story building.

The number of mail slots in the photo gives an indication of how big the staff was, at the launch. More than 200 people worked in the multinational newsroom, and another 15 or so were based in Dubai. Here at the end, not many slots are still being used and not much mail has been placed in there by the room’s “tea boys”.

Note also the five-gallon water bottles; we went through a lot of water in hot and humid Abu Dhabi, and the dispensers had hot and cold settings. Heated water for making your own tea, cold for cooling off.

–The second photo gives an idea of how cluttered the place was, in its heyday. It also shows the relics of an exotic collection — a reference library! Back in the day, reporters and editors sometimes got out of their chairs and paged through one of the volumes. Yes, hard to imagine. On the left of the photo is one of the news editors, a Scot.

–Photo 3 shows one of the distinctive features of The National’s office, that big, round table. The two daily news meetings were held there, with representatives of various sections (local news, world news, business, sports, features, photo, etc.) going over their budgets.

When things were going good and staffing was high not every editor could get a chair at the table. I often stood behind a couple of people who were sitting — just to spend 20 or so minutes on my feet. (Also, it seemed less formal, standing on the periphery; it was easier to walk away to check on something before reading the sports budget.)

The round table was in the middle of the newsroom. Rows of desks with chairs and work stations radiated from the circle. Because of its central location, staffers often could hear conversations at the news meeting, and could see/hear when someone got angry or loud or insulted someone else, which happens in newsrooms from time to time.

I know most of the people at the table. At the top of the photo is Steve, with whom I worked in sports; he is representing the department at the news meeting. Behind him is some empty space where work stations and a couple of tables stood, a year ago. Some of the emptiness has been filled by a foosball table atop a red carpet.

–Photo 4 is shot diagonally across the newsroom. Of note here is another notable feature of the newsroom — the pillars supporting five more levels of the building. Back at the start, someone (and I’m pretty sure I know who, Laura) thought it would be clever/neat to wrap the pillars with enormous versions of the newspaper’s masthead. It was a great idea. For our first Christmas in Abu Dhabi, we posed for a photo in front of one of those mast/pillars.

–Photo 5 shows a fellow American, April, who is peeking between boxes presumably filled with computer towers and monitors. The round table is behind the little train of stuff, and the foosball table is to the left. In this one, you can see one of the four big-screen TVs that hung over the meeting table.

–Photo 6 is a nice image of Leah’s friend Joanna, a native of Singapore. She is working at the foreign desk. Foosball table and meeting table in the background, again.

–Photo 7 shows a box with the name of an Emirati colleague on the top, and an idea of what a work station looked like — when everything else was taken away. Or maybe she was just tidy; I never was.

–Photo 8 shows the nearly empty business-section sector. The unusual, dual monitors there are receiving business statistics and updates from Bloomberg news. Biz people look at those things; no one else does.

–Photo 9 has a cartoon superhero who is meant to represent the man who took these photos, Hussain, a graphics artist. We lived down the hall from him in an apartment tower in Abu Dhabi.

–Photo 10, the last, shows one of the interesting views of the newsroom, a photo taken from a garden-like area between the main building and the cafeteria. This photo shows the west end of the newsroom; the work stations in the foreground belonged to the multi-media department; sports was behind and business over by the far wall.

Doesn’t it look bright and interesting, in there? It was, nearly always.

I miss the place and, I suppose, it’s actually the people and what they did inside those walls, that interests me most.

A good newspaper is one of the great examples of what a few hundred (or even a few dozen) people can accomplish.


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