From top articles to worst mistakes: an evaluation of 2018 for the Daily Sabah

SINAN ÖZTÜRK @sinan_ozturk
ISTANBUL
Published 01.01.2019 20:45
Updated 03.01.2019 12:51
From top articles to worst mistakes: an evaluation of 2018 for the Daily Sabah

At the Daily Sabah, our primary mission is to bring stories from Turkey and transmit a Turkish perspective on global affairs before a global audience as defined in our slogan: "local perspective, global vision." Although our brand and publishing policy cover a wide range of issues, our priority has always been to explain events and their future outcomes for a foreign audience. In that sense, it wouldn't be unfair to say 2018 was a relatively calm year for Turkey, especially for the editors of the Daily Sabah, despite a general election, a cross-border operation into Syria, a national switch to an executive presidency for the first time and economic concerns. One should think about earlier years, especially between 2015 and 2017, when Turkey faced serious security threats, terror attacks, a coup attempt and political instability. It was without a doubt a tough period for Turkey, and for a group of young editors who were trying to understand what was going on in their country, concerned about the well-being of their families and loved ones, while doing their best to keep up with objective and fast reporting, the task was not easy. In that sense, I think my colleagues at the Daily Sabah, which will celebrate its fifth anniversary this February, would agree that this year was better than its predecessors.

For the Daily Sabah itself, 2018 was a year of change. Experienced journalists which have played essential roles in the establishment of this brand, our former editor-in-chief Serdar Karagöz and managing editor Nejat Başar, Ankara representative Ali Ünal and Washington D.C. representative Ragıp Soylu have left to pursue their careers elsewhere. Our longtime reader's representative Ibrahim Altay has taken over Mr. Karagöz' helm, while our politics editor Mehmet Çelik, a former member of the Daily Sabah digital team, has taken over for Mr. Başar. Another experienced journalist, Nur Özkan Erbay, joined the Daily Sabah to run the Ankara office. For the digital side, our experienced editors Zeyneb Varol and Meltem Tezir left the team, while we welcomed Can Kazancıoğlu on board. In addition, we had a couple of other editors and correspondents leaving or joining the Daily Sabah's digital and print editions, as well as colleagues who were promoted to new positions. We wish all our former colleagues and new team members a successful career.

For the Turkish media in general, 2018 was a year of changes and challenges. The rise in the price of printing paper, which relies heavily on imports amid the 40 percent loss in Turkish lira against the U.S. dollar, forced some important newspapers to shut down or go entirely digital. Many others were forced to reduce the number of pages in their print editions, while others merged their weekend editions to a single copy. In addition to changes in reader habits and economic challenges, this trend was also the result of Turkish media outlets' heavy reliance on content provided by news agencies, lack of in-depth articles, failure to adopt digital publishing and columns on issues that don't touch the everyday lives of the public. Since its launch, the Daily Sabah has tried to maintain a hybrid newsroom that would help efficiency in costs and produce unique content needed and appreciated by our audience. In that regard, the digital team of the Daily Sabah heavily relies on the content from the print edition, and 2019 will be a key year for Daily Sabah in taking steps to become a pioneering newsroom in Turkish media to achieve a digital newsroom.

Here, before mentioning standout articles that grabbed the attention of our audience, we should mention two categories regularly followed by our visitors. The 'Business' category was the top category in 2018 amongst our visitors, and this was mainly due to the state of the Turkish economy during the year – the slump of the lira, high unemployment and inflation, U.S. sanctions accompanying the tensions in diplomatic relations on one hand, and the government's efforts to curb the negative effects of these developments while trying to carry out structural reforms and establish the economic administration model of the newly-introduced executive presidency on the other. However, all these important developments should not cast a shadow on the efforts of our Business editor Elif Erşen and correspondent Alen Lepan from print, who tried to produce unique and rich content on the Turkish economy supported by visual material along with web-friendly titles. Business remains one of the most well-balanced categories on dailysabah.com in terms of featuring both local and global content, and this was surely appreciated by our readers. The second most-visited category was Turkey, which features a wide range of issues from heart-warming local stories to head-busting investigation and lawsuits, aided by the fact that Daily Sabah is one of the key publications providing an insight into the country. The efforts of our experienced print editor Yusuf Ziya Durmuş, who relentlessly addresses complicated legal processes dragging on several fronts, were also crucial for this category.

As far as 2018 is concerned, the issues followed by our readers the most can be summed up under four different titles: Turkey's June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections, journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the rising Islamophobia and xenophobia trend in Europe aided by the rise of the far-right, and the first year of Donald Trump's presidency.

Before assessing the most-read content on our website one by one, I'd like to wish all of our readers a peaceful, healthy and prosperous 2019 on behalf of my esteemed colleagues at dailysabah.com.

Here are the 10 most read articles on dailysabah.com in 2018:

1) Footage shows Saudis burning documents day after Khashoggi's disappearance - Emre Başaran

This article featuring footage initially published by Turkish broadcaster A Haber, a news channel of Daily Sabah's parent Turkuvaz Media Group, claimed the top spot in 2018. The footage, captured in the aftermath of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi's brutal murder on Oct. 2, shows officials burning documents at the consulate premises on Oct. 3. It also became available at a time when the murder was making headlines throughout the world, and our web editor Emre Başaran managed to obtain the video right before its publication, quickly sharing it with the Daily Sabah's international audience.

2) Man commits suicide inside Grand Mosque of Mecca next to Kaaba - Sinan Öztürk

This article features a viral, short and low-quality video showing a man's suicide in the Kaaba, the holiest place in Islam, which helped it claim the runner-up spot. However, it also received a fair amount of criticism from our audience for showing the act itself at a holy place and encouraging it.

3) Insulting Prophet Muhammad not 'free speech,' ECtHR rules - Yasemin Sakay

This article reporting a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which finalized that insulting Prophet Muhammad cannot be considered within the context of free speech, came at a time when Muslims in Europe were suffering from increasing discriminative acts and attacks.

4) Astronomers find the first and only known galaxy without dark matter - Yasemin Sakay

This astronomy article on the discovery of the first galaxy without dark matter quickly went viral and attracted readers from Reddit.

5) US President Trump tops terrorism as Germans' greatest fear, survey says - Meltem Tezir

Following the surprise outcome of the elections in November 2017, 2018 was the first year of Donald Trump's presidency, which created more complications for the U.S.' allies than its rivals. A survey in Germany, which came at a time when the U.S. and Europe were involved in an undeclared trade war and Trump was stepping up his rhetoric against European allies claiming that they should contribute more to the continent's defense, placed Mr. Trump at the top of the list of Germans' greatest fears.

6) Trump colors US national flag wrong during visit to Ohio children's hospital - Yasemin Sakay

In addition to changes in international politics and internal political strife, the Trump administration also received significant interest thanks to unusual methods of communication, never-ending resignations and subsequent appointments, and of course, gaffes. President Trump's wrong coloring of the U.S. flag was the sixth most-read article on dailysabah.com.

7) 11 killed after private Turkish jet carrying bride and friends from bachelorette party in Dubai crashes in Iran - Zeyneb Varol

This article featuring the tragic plane crash that killed bride-to-be Mina Başaran, the heir of one of Turkey's leading companies, and seven of her friends accompanying her for a bachelorette party in Dubai and three crew members of Başaran's private jet, was one of the most read stories from Turkey in 2018.

8) Calls for France to end xenophobia, Islamophobia as migrant, Muslim players clinch World Cup win - Gabriela Garver

France was not left untouched by the rise of the far-right in Europe in the last decade, with the ultranationalist National Front (FN) positioning itself as the main opposition against conventional center-right and center-left parties. The French victory in July in the 2018 World Cup in Russia with a squad overwhelmingly made up of players with Central African, North African or French overseas backgrounds was an important opportunity to bring up issues of racism and discrimination not only in football but also on the continent.

9) Khashoggi was beaten to death in front of Saudi consul general, then dismembered: sources - Can Kazancıoğlu

This article, published before Saudi authorities had admitted their guilt in the murder of Khashoggi, features some gruesome details regarding the killing that made headlines in 2018.

10) Ship crashes into waterfront mansion in Istanbul's Bosporus after rudder gets stuck - Web Team

In another example showing the significance of visual content in today's media, the documented crash of a ship into a waterfront mansion in Istanbul's Bosporus, one of the most strategic and busiest waterways in the world, became of one the most-read articles in 2018.

Honorable mentions:

1) Khashoggi murder one step closer to resolution with striking new findings - Şeyma Nazlı Gürbüz

This latecomer published on Dec. 29 managed to reach to the brink of the top 10 articles in 2018 despite only three days in publication. Compiled by the print edition's Politics correspondent Şeyma Nazlı Gürbüz, the article summarizes important details on Khashoggi's murder featured in the book "Diplomatic Atrocity: The dark secrets of the Khashoggi murder" written by Ferhat Ünlü, Abdurrahman Şimşek and Nazif Karaman from the Daily Sabah's sister publication the Sabah newspaper and published by Turkuvaz Books on the same day.

2) Old man in tears hugs beloved cat as his house burns down - Meltem Tezir

This article once again proves the power of photographs in media. Albeit a very local story from Turkey's northwestern Bolu province, the plight of 83-year-old Ali Meşe and his cat after a fire burned down their modest house in Jan. 17, 2018 quickly garnered international attention. The photo quickly became a sensation on social media, prompting calls from not only Turkey but from throughout the world to help Meşe and the cat. Captured by Ilhami Çetin, this photograph was recently chosen as the winner of Anadolu Agency's Photos of the Year contest in the 'Life' category.

3) Legendary Turkish photographer Ara Güler loses battle for life at 90 - Emre Başaran

The passing of Turkish-Armenian doyen photographer Ara Güler at the age of 90 was without a doubt an irreplaceable loss for Turkey, Turkish media and photography circles and the international photography scene. Hence, the article reporting his death was among the most-read articles of 2018.

4) Elections webpage & coverage

The Daily Sabah elections webpage for the June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections and our coverage throughout the election day was by far the most detailed English source for the event. Despite being online only for the last five years, the Daily Sabah, in line with Turkey's tumultuous political scene during that period, has covered two presidential and three parliamentary elections in addition to a crucial referendum on the switch to an executive presidency. We will try our best to convey this experience in the 2019 local elections slated for March 31.

Worst mistakes:

At the Daily Sabah, I am happy and proud to say that I am working with a team that cares about fact-based reporting, genuinely dislikes click-baits and carefully evaluates all feedback given by its audience. Having said this, we also make mistakes and the feedback we receive from our audience — how sophisticated or crude it might be — helps us improve ourselves and not repeat these mistakes in the future. Here are two examples of such incidents:

1) Report after Çorlu train crash

On July 24, a train bound from Istanbul's Halkalı station to Edirne's Uzunköprü district derailed in the Çorlu district of northwestern Tekirdağ province, which killed 24 passengers and injured more than 300 others. The incident was no doubt a string of mistakes on behalf of the Turkish State Railways (TCDD) as an institution since the train derailed while passing through tracks on a culvert bent as the earth filling was washed away during heavy rainfall. To make matters worse for the TCDD, such a grave problem on the tracks went unnoticed as the TCDD had been facing a decrease in inspection staff for its network and failed to implement electronic signalization systems. The latter proved right once again months later in the heart of capital Ankara when a high-speed train was involved in a head-on crash with a controller locomotive on Dec. 13, 2018, killing three engineers and six passengers and injuring nearly 50 others. An early investigation into the incident showed that the two vehicles were being operated on commands transmitted to engineers through radio and their cellphones. In both incidents, dailysabah.com tried to inform its audience as fast and objectively as it could.

However, soon after the Çorlu incident, our website featured an article on recent train crashes in Europe. Given its timing and content, and the gravity of the incident, I must admit that the article was unnecessary, rude and was indeed objected by the staff. It was not surprising that we soon faced the heaviest-ever criticism by our audience and retracted the story. It also pointed at the hazards of the increasing habit of shifting the blame in Turkish media and politics. This case was also thoroughly assessed in the Reader's Corner article titled "Daily Sabah's coverage of train crash sparks criticism."

2) Failure in fact-checking alleged video of Israelis cheering Palestinian deaths in border protests

Mirroring the overall public opinion and political spectrum in Turkey, it would be fair to say that the Daily Sabah is indeed a pro-Palestinian but definitely not an anti-Israeli publication. We support the Palestinian people in their cause for freedom in line with international law, and draw a clear distinction between the people of Israel and their well-being with the country's aggressive policies violating international law and stripping millions of their basic rights, forcing them to live in poverty. We altogether reject anti-Semitism, both in the region as well as in other parts of the world, and we try our best to cover terrorist and far-right attacks targeting Israeli civilians and Jewish people. Our policy is a clear reflection of these values.

Unfortunately, 2018 saw the worst increase in violence in the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis sparked by the ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip over a decade, and the Trump administration's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the U.S. embassy there in a blatant violation of international law. Nearly 200 Palestinians were killed and more than 15,000 were injured due to the excessive use of force by the Israeli military to counter the mainly peaceful border protests in Gaza before the eyes of the international community.

During that unfortunate period on April 7, we failed to confirm the authenticity of a video, allegedly showing Israeli civilians cheering as Israeli forces used live fire on Palestinian protesters, before publishing it. This mistake came at a time when another video of Israeli soldiers cheering the shooting of a Palestinian man went viral and prompted a probe by the Israeli military. Our readers and staff later warned us that the video was not related to the protests, but before we retracted the story, it became one of the top-read articles on our website.

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