In The Hot Seat – Rob Chilton
Team TMN catch up with Rob Chilton, Editor at Edgar Middle East who talks about his role and what he thinks of the media industry in the Middle East…
Name: Rob Chilton
Current Job Title: Editor, Edgar Middle East
When did you first arrive in Dubai?
April 2013. Which feels like five minutes ago.
Where did you work prior?
I had two and a half fantastic years at What’s On Dubai. Before that I worked for entertainment magazines in London and New York. It was an endless whirl of celebrities, parties, red carpets and gossip – tough gig.
What were your first impressions of the media industry in the Middle East?
Everyone knew everyone, everyone had worked with each other and everyone was dating someone in the media. Not so much six degrees of separation, more like two. Plus, after working in London and New York, Dubai magazine teams felt small and stretched.
Has your opinion changed much?
Not really, only many of these media people have now married each other and had babies.
Tell us about your current role.
I write stories and interview people for Edgar in print and online. I also have an hour-long slot on Dubai Eye radio waffling about manly things. The pace is relentless and momentum is key in keeping the magazine ticking over. Turning a page from white to green on my flatplan is a huge, nerdy pleasure.
What challenges do you face?
I like that old quote from Rebecca West: “Journalism is the ability to meet the challenge of filling space.” It’s just me on the Edgar staff so I feel pressure to fill space, like any other magazine editor. Time evaporates and my heart rate speeds up as the end of the month nears, which is an addictive feeling. I quite like pressure, but I don’t enjoy chaos.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
1. Stop looking at my screen and gaze out the window. 2. Type any old rubbish, just to get my fingers moving – sometimes knowing what does not work helps me to know what does. 3. If I’m really stuck, which, thankfully, is rare, I go for a brisk walk around the block.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Sniffing out a story. That’s been my number one pleasure of being a journalist since I started out as a reporter on TV Times magazine in London in 1997. Interviewing someone, probing and prodding, steering them to say a good line and then pouncing on it – I still find that exciting. Although with my knees it’s not so much of a pounce anymore, but more of a creaky lunge.
How would you rather be contacted at work?
A succinct email please.
What do you think of publications in the region?
Pretty good, considering the size of the teams and the time constraints. There are some excellent writers in Dubai media.
What role has digital media played when it comes to reader engagement in the magazine industry?
Attention spans have shrunk to a matter of seconds. People don’t actually sit and concentrate and read. It’s just picture, video, caption, picture, video, caption… To engage readers I feel stories must be interesting, clearly written and instantly accessible.
Has the region’s culture and diverse audience posed as a limitation or advantage in producing editorial content?
I welcome it. I know a lot more about the Middle East than I did before working here. I don’t see the region’s diversity as limiting editorial content unless I’m doing a story for Edgar about bars, when I must tread carefully, but there’s always a way round it.
What’s your pet PR peeve?
Phoning me two minutes after I receive an email invitation to chase me on it. If I can make it to the event and it’s relevant to Edgar I promise I will RSVP.
What do you think of media ethics in the region?
UAE media is a happy environment where nobody wants to rock the boat so I think everyone plays by the rules. When I worked in entertainment magazines we sailed close to the wind on many occasions because competition for sales was fierce and we had to beat our rivals. But in today’s media world selling copies isn’t so crucial anymore which means, by and large, nobody cuts corners or does anything naughty.
Describe yourself in five words…
Tall. Chatty. Happy. Always hungry.
Who inspires you?
Writers and broadcasters like Adam Buxton, Giles Coren, James Richardson, Amy Lawrence, William Boyd, David Dimbleby, PG Wodehouse, Henry Winter, Sathnam Sanghera, Claudia Winkelman, Barney Ronay. Away from writing, the majestic Patrick Vieira.
What’s your most overused saying?
“Yeah, sure.” And “Excuse me [insert name of art director here], do you have a second?”
Five things you can’t live without?
Tea. Travel. Swimming. Afternoon naps. My wife’s freckles.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was a little kid I once went into the bathroom of a fancy hotel in Dublin with my Dad and saw the attendant in a white dinner jacket, handing out towels, soap and mints. I came out of the bathroom and told my parents that was the job I wanted when I grew up. True story.
If you weren’t in your current role, what would you be doing?
Maybe an English teacher, sports photographer perhaps. Or bossing the midfield for Arsenal.
What’s your favourite form of media (i.e TV, radio, print)?
I miss UK radio a lot. I love most magazines and newspapers, and the smell of the ink. Sadly it’s getting more and more of a nostalgic experience for me now. Reading the news on an iPad is ok and I think The Times online edition is brilliant, but I believe we all need to spend less time with tech and more time talking to people. Nobody just sits still, stares into the distance and thinks anymore. We all scuttle around, head down, mindlessly scrolling – and I think that’s sad.
What advice would you offer to someone looking to start a career in the media industry in the UAE?
Dive in, folks. Meet people, make friends, be polite, work hard and when you see an opportunity, grab it. There is lots of freedom and movement in UAE media so you’ll find an opening. If I can forge a media career in the UAE, anybody can.