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Friday, February 27, 2009

Once upon a time in Dubai: when the fairy tale doesn't unfold (or get told) the way they wanted it to, Or, Why the media needs to grow up

"A couple of years ago when I first started reading travel articles about all the new develop- ments in Dubai, I could never have guessed that this would happen," Erica from Blissful Travel wrote in response to my post on Dubai yesterday, which was actually a pointer to Terry's post on Dubai's Global Reporting Meltdown over at Wide angles, wine and wanderlust, so read that first. I spontaneously began my response to Erica this morning with "I couldn't have imagined it either... unless perhaps I'd given it some serious thought..." So I did give it some thought...

This should probably begin with "Once upon a time..." Because I'm thinking this is a bit of a fairytale, a rags-to-riches story. Well, that's how The Media likes to make it out. Or rather have it play out. You see, in the beginning Dubai was a media darling. She was Cinderella after her makeover at the ball. Or - because I should use a more contemporary analogy - she was like the beautiful young starlet who suddenly appears on the Hollywood scene. She gives an okay performance in an indie film, but she's attractive and has charisma. She wears the glammest dress and most gorgeous gems to the ball, or rather, the Oscars, and all of a sudden she's in the spotlight. Everyone's talking about her. And The Media starts writing about her. Everybody catches on and suddenly she's everywhere. She's on every talk show, every gossip site, in every magazine. Life couldn't be more perfect for this rising star. Who wouldn't want this much attention? Everyone wants to be her, to be with her, to live her glamorous lifestyle, to feel part of her 'in' crowd. But then she makes a mistake or two... a bad dress choice or movie role, a bad boyfriend? And then she really messes-up in their eyes... perhaps a racial slur? Filmed taking drugs? Or worse, in a none-too-flattering position in a park (or at a beach?) without clothes on? But the starlet doesn't care. She was an indie film goddess to begin with after all. She fascinated and intrigued long ago - even if it was just her friends and family. So then, The Media turns on her, her fans (who never really knew her anyway) turn on her. They're all against her now and are gleefully showing her at her worse, and printing all those bad hair days. The thing is... there's a career and a livelihood at stake here. So what will the starlet do next? Is an image makeover in order? Or does she need to prove that she can really perform? (Because her family and friends know she can shine.) Should she even care? SohHow do you think this story is going to play out? Because we know we're nowhere near an ending yet...


Mark H said...

In Australia, we are renown for chopping down "tall poppies". I think the western world wants Dubai to do pretty well but not TOO well. When the west hurts, they want others to hurt a little too. The Australian press has a fair few stories of financial issues in Dubai but I've also seen similar on China, Japan, Brazil and more. Print journalism in traditionally good papers does seem to be getting worse and worse as they reduce their staff with plummeting ad revenues.

Lara Dunston said...

Don't I know it! As a former filmmaker and Sydneysider, I had personal experience with the tall poppy syndrome long ago - one of the many reasons I left Australia in the late 90s. (But what was heartening was the support and encouragement I'd find in the most unexpected places.) So I think you've hit the nail on the head there.

You're right too about the quality of the media here. The quality of the Australian press has noticeably declined since we left - the Sydney Morning Herald, for one, once so highly regarded, is just trash now. Especially the travel section - it's as if the writers haven't been to half the places, or were drunk or asleep while they were there. Do you remember The National Times? Now that was a great paper.

Tamara said...

Lara I loved this post. A country's PR presence and strategy globally is so important and often handled by people who don't know what they are doing. I have seen some terrible campaigns by countries that shall remain nameless and I'm sure it does them more harm than good.
Have those in charge of Global PR for Dubai acknowledged it has a problem and what are they doing about it?

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Tamara

Thanks! I totally agree with you that it's important that a destination (be that country or city) develop a marketing/PR/Comm strategy to brand itself and have good people working for them who do their best to communicate those messages.

I think Dubai has done a brilliant job over the years of marketing itself as a safe luxurious Arabian destination... if it hadn't then you wouldn't known about. I remember when we moved to the UAE in 1998 and not a single person we told that we were moving there knew where it was and nor did people we'd meet on our travels through Europe, Asia, etc, know where it was. There were lots of reasons to go there then - in some ways I preferred Abu Dhabi and Dubai then - however, tourism was under-developed, there were two tourism operators, and I could count the number of quality 5-star properties on two hands...

Now that's saying something. Think on the other hand how terribly Australia is marketing itself, and what a woeful job it's done over the last few years, particularly this year and 2008 and the outrageous sums of money they've put into one campaign focused on a film that has flopped.

But no matter how well you market a destination, you simply can't control the media. And while the Travel Media does seem to have turned upon Dubai to a large extent, we're not even talking about the travel media in these examples, but the News Media, and publications that should know better.

You can make spokespeople available for comment and you can provide facts and figures on websites (as Dubai does monthly with its passenger arrivals and hotel occupancy figures for example) but you can't force journalists to contact those spokespeople to check the facts before they publish a story.

And I think in some cases the writers don't want the truth - they don't want to write that only 11 cars were abandoned at the airport in the last 12 months, because 3000 cars sounds so much more dramatic, doesn't it? In that case, nobody attempt to even contact the police spokesperson to confirm the figures.

Dubai has acknowledged it has a problem, and in fact the Police Chief came out a week or so ago and said the media needs to act more responsibly, hence my last comment... it's not just a destination's reputation on the line, but it's an economy that's at stake. From what I hear, they are considering legal action and they are also considering legislation that will make writers more responsible for writing accurate content.

think no matter