MUSCAT, Feb 25 – “Thank you for being late,” written by Thomas Friedman, the guest author at the 24th edition of Muscat International Book Fair 2019, was sold out on the fourth day of the event, now considered one of the major annual events in the Sultanate. “I was here 40 years ago and it has changed a lot. There was no amazing convention centre like this, and I am impressed with the book fair. I did not know what to expect. The book fair committee invited me to come and talk about my book and I thought it is nice because I have not been in the open for a long time, and it is good to see a small festival. When I came here I saw a giant hall which has 1.6 million visitors. That is almost like half the country came to the book fair. I am so impressed with the quality, energy and participation. It is really impressive,” said Thomas Friedman in an exclusive interview with the Oman Observer.
When asked about the future of writing, while being part of cyberspace today, he said: “In a way everything has changed and at the same time nothing has changed. The technology you are using to do this interview was unimaginable 10 years ago. At the end of the day, good journalism is a combination of good reporting and good writing that brings journalism alive. Great journalism is a product of great reporting and great writing. It does not matter whether it is on a cell phone, typewriter, a laptop, desk computer or even sky writing. It is still about writing. It is still about that. You only go as far as where your reporting takes you. What platform it is on really does not matter.”
Regarding the future of the newspapers, Friedman said for newspapers that are print alone, there is no future and added: “For a newspaper like The New York Times that made the transition to online, we still print newspaper everyday and we still sell about a million copies. But your audience is online too. Maybe about 20 million people read online every day. And it turns out that there is a market for quality news and journalism because we are going to make a billion dollar this year at The New York Times just from online subscription. That has enabled us to make the transition to the digital.”
There are so many changes taking place including ethics and value, “The biggest change is that there are so many people with a voice. I think it is fantastic. Anyone who has a cell phone can be a paparazzi, there are film-makers, television studios, newspapers. This is a golden age for having your views shared especially in the social media. To have a Twitter and share your view has never been this easy.
“At the same time when everyone is out there to be noticed is also increasingly difficult. I still believe that to stand out it is still good reporting and analysis.”
Friedman won the Pulitzer first time for reporting from Beirut, the second time from Israel and then on 9/11.
“It feels great to know that your colleagues thought that your reporting was good. To be a good journalist you ought to have two things — first you have to like people and if you like people they like you in turn. They actually share the music of their life. They tell you about their fears, hopes and desires. If you cannot hear the music you can never play that music.
“Number two, most importantly you have to be a good listener and it is for two reasons — and the second reason is more important than the first. The first reason is what you are hearing. You learn things which you did not know when you listen. But the second reason is what you say when you listen because listening is a sign of respect. And if you listen deeply to what you have to say and not just to wait for you to stop talking, there might be a very good chance that I might say something to you, may be even critical and even tough at times.
“I am a tough columnist and I do not go around Middle East and say you are wonderful, but people at the end of the day want to hear what I have to say, I hope, because they know rightly that I respect them. I have high expectations for this region. And I am not here to put anybody down. I think men and women of this region, young people in particular, are capable of competing in any field if they have the opportunity, and if they are given the ability to reach their full potential.
Tips to be a good writer? Write, write and write, because the only way to learn to do this job is by doing it. There is no other way no one can teach you. Practice, deal with situations and even being criticised. I am criticised all the time. Your colleagues will ask you tough questions, answer those questions, but the only way you get experience is by writing. It does not matter where you write, what is important is to be engaging with people and ideas and when you do right people notice.
Would Friedman think of writing fiction? And the answer was no, “Because I find reality is so much more interesting than fiction. The stuff I have encountered in 40 years of reporting — I could not make up even half of it.”