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[casi-analysis] Baghdad Bulletin - a reporter's response

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Dear Moderator,

I do not wish to engage in any debates about the relative merits of the various newspapers 
published in post-Saddam Iraq of which there now number significantly over 200. Nor do I wish to 
offer any views I may have on the three other privately funded newspapers published in English 
during the period in which the Baghdad Bulletin was published (Iraq Today, Baghdad Observer, 
Al-Muajaha -- none of which, to the best of my knowledge, is currently published). However, I wish 
to put forward some objective points, which I hope will clear up any lingering factual controversy 
surrounding the Baghdad Bulletin (hereafter BB.

- The Baghdad Bulletin at the time of its closure had an approximate staff of 27. Of these seven 
were foreign nationals, none of whom were paid. Extremely basic accommodation was provided in the 
office building in Zayouna district of Baghdad and one meal per day and bottled water. If foreign 
staff wished to generate an income they were expected to freelance in their spare time. Travel 
expenses to Baghdad were at one's own expense. Needless to say, between us we were several thousand 
pounds worse off by the time the BB closed down. This had been fully anticipated, none of us came 
to work for the BB for financial reward or even a salary, nor did journalistic staff have any stake 
in the company. Indeed shortly before the closure each foreign reporter had to contribute $200 per 
week to ensure that Iraqi staff was paid - this either came directly from our pockets or from 
articles we managed to sell elsewhere.
All Iraqi staff was paid (in one month full-time Iraqi staff earned around 2.7 times the current 
salary of an Iraqi civil servant).

- The initial start up capital for the BB came from a close friend of the founder who was happy to 
support the aims of the project. One further injection of capital was found two months into 
publication from a second private investor; in addition, some money was raised from contributions 
made via an anonymous on-line donation system. In total from all sources this amounted to around 
$25k. No money was at any point received from any government source, nor (other than quid pro quo 
advertising revenues) business. Impartiality was the primary objective of the BB.
The BB was committed to publishing on a regular basis (fortnightly, with the intention of becoming 
a weekly once revenues increased). This was achieved, but meant that a larger revenue inflow was 
necessary than needed by those who published only when they could afford to, as some other 
newspapers did.

- The primary revenue of the BB came from advertising. Due to the dedication of our Iraqi marketing 
manager the BB had more adverts than any other newspaper in Iraq (certainly the highest of the 
English Language papers). Needless to say, the cost of advertising for local businesses was 
extremely low and despite the large number of ads placed this generated only between 5--15% of 
total per issue costs. Although the BB secured several international advertisers this was an 
unsustainable source of income once the security situation began to deteriorate. At the height of 
foreign advertising the BB generated 50% costs through advertising. This was an upward trend and 
had the security situation not worsened and made most large advertisers take a 'wait and see' 
approach, it was hoped that the BB would, within 6 months, break even. This did not happen and it 
is easy to see why further fund raising became necessary - it was hoped that the security situation 
was a negative blip, not the
 trend that we have now seen -and why the BB was finally forced to shut down.

- The main cost - 50% of total - was printing. I have no knowledge of having shared a printer with 
the CPA, but if so it was only because in a free market the printer is entitled to take business 
from whomsoever he wishes. We based our printing decisions on cost and quality not on the client 
list of the printer. I do know, however, that UNESCO used the same press to print new schoolbooks.
The presses available in Baghdad are not computer based, but rely on older colour separation 
techniques that are far more costly (and slower). We obtained figures for printing the BB in Jordan 
on modern presses and having copy shipped into Baghdad. This would have been substantially cheaper. 
However, given the aims of the BB to be an Iraqi paper, it was decided that this would be 
antithetical to the BB's aims and printing remained in Baghdad despite additional costs we could 
ill afford.

- Richard Wilde was tragically shot on the day that he was due to come and live at the Baghdad 
Bulletin. He never turned up for the lunch engagement that had been arranged, because he was 
already dead. He had been in Iraq for around 3 weeks. I do not think it appropriate to wrangle over 
who was going to use his skills. He worked for al-Muajaha and he was also to work for the BB. He 
may well have continued working for both - I do not know. Certainly from the BB end, this would 
have presented no problems. Needless to say this was probably the worst day for all the staff of 
the BB. He was the only member of staff to have been injured, let alone killed, during the course 
of the BB - although our local shopkeeper was severely injured in a drive-by shooting, another 
bleak day.
The BB staff lived and worked in accommodation similar to that occupied by al-Muajaha, which I 
visited on several occasions. Both papers shared a common lack of funds (no generator, no satellite 
up-links, no telephones) and the desire for all foreign staff to live in the same style as that 
forced on their Iraqi counterparts.

- The BB was moving towards a 50:50 language split. By the final edition several pages were in 
Arabic (see PDF download

I believe that the above may go some way to clearing up any lingering factual issues. One point 
that has not been touched on is the future. Because I have no receipts/accounts/PDFs for the 
future, you will have to take this on trust.

The aim of the founder, Ralph Hassall, and his two co-founders the editor David Enders and business 
advisor Mark Gordon-James was to establish a newspaper in Baghdad, of international quality 
(thereby extending it's market beyond Iraq - issues were distributed in Jordan as well as 
throughout the country. Distribution outlets in Dubai had been established and European and US 
markets, primarily aimed at the expatriate Iraqi community, were being investigated at the time of 
closure). International quality: both in terms of impartiality, journalistic ethics, rigorous 
sourcing of articles and in terms of internationally acceptable printing standards. Both were 

In what was projected to be a 2-year time frame the BB was to pass into full Iraqi control, from 
the editor down, with no foreign presence.

I am deeply sorry if the aims and intentions of the Baghdad Bulletin and its founder have been 
variously misinterpreted and misunderstood. In any endeavour there will always be detractors. There 
are detractors of two sorts; those who have been potentially misinformed - and it is to those I 
have addressed this email, and those who, for whatever reason, will base their objection on a real 
or supposed ideological clash. To the latter I believe your objections to be misfounded, but you 
are, of course, entitled to your opinion. The only thing I do ask is that you formulate your 
criticism through well-argued opinion, not misinformation based on hearsay. You may also be 
interested to download the PDF copies of the BB and read the letters pages. We made a conscious 
effort to publish letters and editorial responses from our detractors rather than the many letters 
we received both from within and without Iraq praising our achievements. You may well find 
editorial responses to many of y
our criticisms of the BB. You do not have to agree with the editorial line (healthy argument and 
discussion was on-going amongst the entire staff of the BB) but as someone who cares passionately 
about the Iraqi people, you may be interested to read his replies.

Yours Sincerely,
Catherine Arnold
Journalist (and Iraqophile)

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