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  21 February 2006
 
Balancing Finances in Iraq

The Iraqi independent daily Assabah Al Jadeed fights to build a strong business while waiting for better times to come. In an environment where difficulties are the rule, its Editor-In-Chief, Ismael Zayer, has managed to balance the paper’s expenditures and income and has just signed and agreement with the Danish media group Politiken to develop his newspaper.

APN met Zayer in Cairo during a Newspaper in Education workshop held on 14-16 February organized by the World Association of Newspaper's Young Reader Development project, in collaboration with UNESCO and with the support of the paper manufacturer Norske Skog.

Waiting for better moments to come, Zayer is focusing on maintaining balanced finances, rather than expanding the newspaper, after having made money during the electoral campaigns.

Controlling finances
In December 2005, the third of three elections, designed to rebuild national institutions after the collapse caused by the war, took place. It was a major source of advertising.

“We are a big national newspaper and that is why all of the parties would need us for their campaign. And because there are a lot of entities and groups, we sold a lot of advertising. Sometimes we obtained seven pages of advertising in one issue. That gave us a lot of money,” Zayer says.

“But we knew that elections would not last forever. We currently have two or two and a half pages of advertising. According to our planning, we need three and a half pages to cover our expenses,” Zayer says.

Having its own printing presses has been of great help for revenue.

“To compensate for the advertising drop, we now have the income from the printing machine that we rent to other papers. It gives us good money but, of course, we cannot depend on it for a long time. We have to get new income elsewhere” says Zayer.

Limiting expenditure is another measure to control the paper’s finances.

“Despite the demand, we have reduced the printing-run,” Zayer says.

Assabah Al Jadeed is one of the few Iraqi papers to reach the whole country. To avoid security problems, the paper is using a particular distribution system: public transportation.

“Another independent newspaper decided to create their own network and bought six trucks for it. At the end of the first month, just two remained because they had been shot or stolen. We do not have any illusions. We use the most basic and simplest system. We have agents in every city and we get the newspaper in the first public car from Baghdad to those cities at about one or two in the morning,” Zayer says.

Assabah Al Jadeed
also gets some revenue through the Iraqi News Agency Aswat Al Iraq that was launched in 2004 with the editorial support of Reuters Foundation and the financial support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECI). “We sell them about ten items a day and get paid in a monthly basis.”

The Agency could play a role in securing more revenue for the newspaper. “We are trying to develop the agency and making it produce English dispatches. If people start buying them, we can make good money,” Zayer says.

The newspaper previously had an English version of its website but decided to close it because it was “very costly.” Zayer is seeking ways to make money with the site. To attract more visits, the site has been renewed recently and includes new features such as a translation engine and a dictionary of Arabic names to offer readers services they would not find in the printed version.

“We try to increase advertising in the website as well as, at the same time, trying to attract people advertising in both the printed and the internet editions, for some additional money,” Zayer says. “We think the web has a great potential and we are studying it.”

The newspaper also publishes some supplements on general interest issues -- such as the environment -- whose editorial costs are covered by international organizations like UNESCO or UNDP. Although those initiatives do not give remarkable commercial benefits, they help improve the paper, Zayer says.

“It gave us a little bit of money but it also improves the quality of the newspaper and makes us stronger, something that we need. And it does not cost us money.”

Getting ready
Ismael Zayer concentrates his efforts on the financial situation and does not consider expanding the newspaper until Iraq enjoys better conditions. Nevertheless, he works for the day it will happen.

“We have a growth plan that we will implement once conditions are better,” he says.

“We still need to improve our administration, planning, layout and printing quality in order to prepare for the future. When the time comes, you have to be ready to step forward,” he says.

To do so, he has signed an agreement with the leading Danish media group Politiken.

“Our trip to Denmark was very productive. We shaped the results of the meeting to our needs. We would like to concentrate on how to build companies, how to do planning for marketing, advertising, how to improve the layout. We do not need people to train on journalism skills because we can do that in our newsrooms. We need to go further: developing companies,” he says.

The deal with Politiken includes exchanging stories, daily contact and staff exchanges. Zayer said his paper expects to receive a delegation from Politiken in May. In addition, four groups of Iraqi journalists will spend three weeks in Denmark studying the layout, business planning, business reporting, the website and advertising sales. “We were also very frank with them. If the situation is better we will ask for funds. I need two or three million US dollars to develop my company,” Zayer says.

Facts about the Newspaper
Assabah Al Jadeed was established in 2004 after Zayer left Assabah Newspaper along with the majority of its journalists. They accused the Americans of threatening the independence of the newspaper by including it in the public Iraqi Media Network without previous consulting.

The paper has a print run of between 15,000 and 18,000 and a staff of over fifty journalists.

It is a seven-columns broadsheet with 16 pages of which the cover and the back page are full-color.