Update – 22 April 2019: The Doha News website is finally accessible from within Qatar, although its new owners seem to have left it dormant for now.
Today we’ll take a look back at Doha News– which used to be a staple of the characteristically anemic media scene in Qatar, and provided coverage of events and topics that local media wouldn’t dare touch with an 2 meter stick. Now however, it has become a mockery of its former self, after being bought out by a faceless Indian “media” company who are apparently totally unaware of what is needed to run a website of any kind, promptly led it to its grave. If you’ve lived in Doha since 2009, then you know Doha News well. Oh and if you’re reading this in Qatar the link to Doha News isn’t broken – the website is banned in Qatar (more on that later).
But first, let’s take a look at the rise of Doha News so we can truly understand its fall to disappointing depths. So – how did it all begin?
The Rise of Doha News
Founded by two Muslim American Journalists from Illinois, Shabina Khatri and Omar Chatriwala in March 2009, Doha News was initially a Twitter account that served as a feed for Doha-related news. Khatri and Chatriwala soon gained a massive following – for good reason – and eventually started their own stand-alone website. While the regular print media were sloppily writing junk article after junk article, and blindly issuing government-approved press releases (which they continue to do today), Doha News managed to somehow be the only media outlet in the country that at least attempted journalism.
The ill-fated site’s rise in popularity is largely credited to their coverage of the May 2012 Villagio Mall fire. The fire, despite claiming the lives of 19 people (including 13 children) and causing a frenzy on social media, was barely covered by traditional media – who were slow to react and vague with any information they did have. Doha News stood in total contrast to this – they managed to respond to their users’ inquires on-the-spot and actually investigate an incident as it happened. Almost as though they had somehow found the secret, hidden portal to the 21st century, while the rest of the media remained behind. While Doha News provided live-coverage of the developments, releasing verified info to an info-starved and worried public, Qatari TV, print and radio kept their mouths shut.
Naturally this led to an incredible ascent in the number of visitors to and fans of the site – allegedly seeing their daily visitor rates spike from 10,000 per day, to 100,000 a day during the time of the fire. Khatri and co. doubled down on their commitment to journalism and continued providing coverage of events and topics that the public have never been exposed to in Doha, ones that the government certainly wouldn’t want anyone to say anything about. This included the murder of Lauren Patterson in October 2013 which included providing updates and follow ups to the case, as well as articles on being gay and Qatari, having a child out of wedlock, and other, incredibly controversial topics that no one in the entire country was talking about.
For a while things seemed rosy and the future of Doha News was bright. Finally. Out of the darkness in Doha there rose a light of some kind. Khatri’s stature in the media industry grew and she was invited to speak at various conferences, and the site’s visitors continued to grow too.
But alas, the daring attitude that differentiated Doha News from the rest of the drooling, lobotomized media would be the very reason for its demise.
Playing with Fire
The website was blocked by the Qatari government on November 3 2016 with no apparent reason or warning given by ISPs or the government – truly Doha-style. The official reason eventually given by the Government Communication Office being that Doha News has been operating as a media outlet without the proper licensing. Despite the Qatari government taking almost 7 years to realize this, it does seem quite odd that this block came soon after a litany of particularly edgy articles were published, including this one. Despite the block being covered by major international media outlets like the BBC, local media of course stayed quiet – god forbid they actually report on anything relevant – besides, they’re too busy producing gems like these. Even Human Rights Watch reported on the block.
Our guess, and this is just an educated guess, the Qatari government grew increasingly annoyed at the perpetual thorn in their side that was Doha News and finally managed to find grounds to block it. With no oversight or laws governing digital media outlets, what was to stop them?
The Doha News team put up a good fight, moving their new articles to Medium.com which remained unblocked and operated from outside of the country hoping to side-step the licensing issue, but eventually, there was nowhere to go but down.
One year after the Qatari government blocked Doha News, Khatri announced that costs of maintaining the website were becoming unmanageable, especially after losing ad revenue following its ban. Thus, instead of shutting it down, they decided to sell it to Star Reputation Consulting, LTD, which despite being described as an “online media company” – lacks any presence online whatsoever. Which, if you think about it, is almost impressive in its level of incompetence.
At first, the new management did nothing. No posts. No Tweets. Nothing. In retrospect that probably would have been preferable to the litany of unmitigated rubbish that would soon fill the Doha News 2.0 website. Headlines filled with typos, terrible grammar, and nonsensical sentence structure abound:
The faithful, and extremely vocal readers of Doha News have not taken this change lying down. In fact, the only thing Doha News is now good for is the entertaining outrage in the comments of their posts.
Doha News 2.0 now posts infrequently, and when they do, as you can see above the reaction to their “work” is less than stellar. Our prediction is that eventually they’ll stop posting at all and the site will just wither away, a mercy killing at this point.
Meanwhile the media scene in Doha continues to regress. Every year more publications go out of business (I’m looking at you BQ Magazine) and anything other than state-owned, state-sponsored content will continue to be non-existent. This will keep Doha as a hollow echo chamber, with the same press releases posted on every website every day.
What a shame.