TBY talks to Ekrem Dumanlı, CEO & Executive Editor-in-Chief of Zaman, on the evolution of the paper, press freedom, and his group’s international presence.
TBY How does your experience in journalism influence you today?
EKREM DUMANLI I graduated from Istanbul University in Turkish literature. I began working as a reporter in the arts sector, especially focused on plays and theater. Following that, I became an editor in the arts section of the newspaper. In 1996, I was a coordinator for the news company Zaman. In 1998, I left the company to study in the US, and I completed my MA at Amherst College in Boston; I came back in 2001 to begin my work as an Editor-in-Chief at the paper. Since then, I have been in a position of leadership. We print various newspapers, including Today’s Zaman daily, and Aksiyon weekly, under the Cihan News Agency. We also publish the new Turkish Review magazine in English.
How has Zaman evolved since its founding in 1986?
In 2001, our circulation was 174,000 copies. In 2012, our circulation hit around 1 million. When I joined the company in 2001, I proposed a change to the design and style, as well as a number of other issues. Since we were approaching our 15-year anniversary, we went for it. There wasn’t much time—just three or four months. I teamed up with my editors and designers, and we began discussing the new vision of the newspaper. We spent five days without leaving our hotel, just talking about how the newspaper should be. I have always believed that Turkish people deserved better than what they have had before. We had another meeting at a hotel in Istanbul, and we invited businessmen, politicians, and journalists. The Prime Minister congratulated us on our new paper and vision. At that time, some of our critics wrote that Zaman was too serious and boring, and that circulation was going down, and it wouldn’t be able to get advertising. But people liked it, and our circulation has been increasing. I’m very satisfied with our current circulation.
To what do you attribute this growth in a sector that is globally contracting?
I don’t believe that newspapers are dying. People are always claiming that the internet is coming, and print journalism is decreasing. Of course, some newspapers in the US and the UK have faced economic issues, but I don’t believe that the reason is the internet. If we focus on the journalism and attract advertisers, our position is better than TV and internet journalists. They don’t have a price for their channel, but we have the privilege of putting a price on the paper. In Turkey it may be as cheap as 45 or 25 cents, but it makes money. Our main sources of income include the price of the paper itself and advertisements. In 2011, our turnover was $45 million.
How does Zaman deal with the challenges of freedom of press in Turkey?
I’m optimistic. We have faced some issues, but on the whole we are writing articles about everything. We criticize the government and politicians, and we feel that there is a good standard of freedom of press here. Some journalists have run into trouble with the law and the government, and we have been no exception. In 2011, we covered more than 2,000 issues. We covered cases, and if the cases were secret, we had broken the law. I went to the courthouse 10 times to dispute the charges and say that we had not done anything wrong, and we have a right to write about what we choose. Most prosecutors, judges, generals, and politicians do not agree with censorship and would like the newspapers to continue expressing their opinions.
How has Zaman sought to increase its international presence?
In 2009, we began Zaman Weekly in the UK and France. They have been successful, and now we publish in many countries throughout Europe. We also distribute in the Balkans and the US. These editions were published in Turkish 10 years ago, but now we publish the paper in French and English, or in whatever language is widely spoken. We publish around 40,000 papers daily in Germany, and about the same number weekly in the UK and France. If we separated the circulation of the papers, 1,000 daily would be good enough for a country in Europe. We are growing in the UK and France. The spread of the paper is like franchising; we sit down with someone interested in distributing our paper, and they are aware of what is happening in the sector. We make an agreement specifying that they have to follow the policies of the paper. If they sign with us, they have to follow our guidelines. However, we cannot edit every article they publish, and we don’t need to, because there is an agreement that stipulates that the writers cannot discriminate or use hate speech. Our responsibility is selling the brand, and they are responsible for what they write.
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