An Xpressly parochial delivery

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Swanky new newspaper stands - well, about as swanky as such a thing can get - were last night placed in apartment blocks and public spaces across the UAE.

Today, they were stacked full of the country's long-awaited freebie newspaper, Xpress.

As reported yesterday, it will be a 'people's paper' full of stories about the community.

‘Beware! Dangerous animals' read a headline on the front page. It referred to the lead story, about the fact that it might not be such a good idea to touch any of the incredibly scrawny wild cats you see around town.

It might as well have read ‘cat-up-a-tree', the archetypal local news story for anyone familiar with the UK's regional press.

But while it's easy to mock stories like this, Al Nisr Media's launch of this newspaper should be applauded.

Its addition marks a much-needed expansion of the UAE media, to reflect the increasing population and a desire for locally-produced news.

Existing titles 7Days and Emirates Today both have a focus on local community issues, and both occasionally devote their front pages to human-interest stories.

But existing newspapers in the UAE generally rely too heavily on syndicated and news wire copy from Reuters, Associated Press and the like. Sometimes it's hard to fathom the relevance of such stories to the region.

The strength of Xpress lies in its dedication to producing original stories. This is easily done given that it is a weekly title and has a team of ten local reporters. The test will come when - as the publisher hopes - the paper starts to publish more frequently.

The newspaper is certainly not perfect. Someone I spoke to called the colourful design - by the respected Mario Garcia - a ‘headache on every page '.

And given that the newspaper took two years to launch - with staff often left with little to do other than play pool on a table thoughtfully provided by Al Nisr - the stories could have been better researched.

Still, the newspaper should be given time to grow, because there is certainly space for it in the market.

But the UAE also needs an outlet for more serious local journalism. The impetus for this is, I think, coming from Abu Dhabi. Rumours abound of a new media empire in formation in the emirate.

The new UAE National Media Council will be integral to providing guidance in this field. It will lead the way in establishing how the local media can grow. News of its operations has been trickling out for some time, but - hopefully - a more comprehensive announcement is on its way.

How long the cat will remain stuck up the tree, however, we don't yet know.

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