Goodbye, Mister Michael: You Cannot Be Replaced

Not many people outside the Arab world and the Indian Subcontinent may have heard of Patrick Michael, let alone worked with him. But Mr. Michael is one of the greatest editors of his generation. And to the dismay of his fans, he will soon retire from Khaleej Times in Dubai -- after four decades of dedicated service to one of the most widely read English-language newspapers in the Middle East.

Pushed out is more like it. Mr. Michael is a product of the age of hot type; perhaps he's not perceived as a man to lead Khaleej Times deeper into the digital age, even though under his stewardship the paper's online editions have prospered. Perhaps Mr. Michael is too old-fashioned, too much of a stickler for inconvenient details like accuracy, fairness and deadline discipline. Or perhaps Mr. Michael prefers to err on the side of caution. Or is it that, in this era of self-indulgence and excess, he tends to downplay rather than hype stories that don't need to scream at the reader?

Whatever the reason, a much younger, and largely Indian and Pakistani, management team not necessarily familiar with the seven sheikhdoms of the United Arab Emirates is replacing Mr. Michael.

Although he's of Indian origin himself, his successors are reported to have gotten their jobs through a tacit agreement between the Emirati owners of Khaleej Times and the Indian government.

What does the Indian government have anything to do with Dubai's media? Well, for one, some 75 percent of this emirate's population of 1.5 million hails from South Asia. They constitute the most loyal of Khaleej Times' daily readership of 77,000. Local Indian companies advertise heavily, keeping the newspaper afloat. The paper's management often lobbies for bold displays of the doings of even the most inconsequential Indian businessmen -- something that Mr. Michael has long resisted. For him, the news mattered, and not ethnicity.

And so, after four decades, it was time for Mr. Michael to go.

He's leaving without complaints, without grumbling, and without rancor. It's simply not Mr. Michael's style to groan about the vicissitudes of life, of which he's experienced many. In a society where Western criteria of free expression do not always apply, Mr. Michael has carefully toed the official line without compromising on strict professionalism, integrity and fair play.

He has helped hundreds of journalists develop their careers, all the while insisting that -- however cumbersome the journalistic environment in the Middle East may be -- it's very good training to observe societies as they develop their infrastructure, advance critical issues such as women's empowerment, and take steps -- however tentative -- toward the ballot box.

This sort of training cannot be bought at communications schools. Which may explain the fact that a great many of Mr. Michael's protégés have moved on to major publications and broadcast outlets in the West and elsewhere.

I will miss Patrick Michael as an editor, but our friendship will continue -- for Patrick is the epitome of loyalty and camaraderie. In the ebb and flow that's journalism, other fine journalists will surely follow him in top management positions. But Patrick Michael is sui generis, one of a kind. It will be impossible to imitate him, let alone clone Patrick.

While one phase of Patrick's long and distinguished career at Khaleej Times ends, another one will begin soon: Patrick Michael is writing a book for a major publisher, Aleph Book Company in New Delhi. True to form, it's a book intended to help -- who else? -- aspiring journalists.

Bravo, Patrick, bravo! You have shown the world what it means to be a great professional, one with a very sharp mind and a very large heart. I have never heard you gossip or tell tales out of school. I have never heard you denigrate your employers, however insensitive they may have been toward you, and however unappreciative of your limitless talents and your willingness to share your vast experience.

I feel humbled knowing you.