Kamran Ullah: ‘I love working at De Telegraaf’
‘People talk at the coffee machine about what’s on the front page of De Telegraaf.’ Kamran Ullah took office as deputy editor-in-chief of De Telegraaf on 1 January this year. Ullah began studying Public Administration at Leiden in 2002.
Kamran Ullah (37) started working at De Telegraaf a mere eight years ago, and has already been promoted to deputy editor-in-chief. It’s safe to say his career has been rapid. Ullah will be focusing on digital development at ‘de krant van wakker Nederland’ (the newspaper for alert Dutch people), which with a distribution of 388,446 (in 2020) is the main newspaper in the Netherlands. It’s not so much that they are lagging behind, but it’s a race to keep up. ‘I’m going to be working on improving how it looks and making the digital side of things future proof. And since future proof doesn’t last very long these days, we are continually innovating.’ The Telegraaf readers are also happy to go along with digital developments, but the paper version remains important. ‘People talk at the coffee machine about what’s on the front page of De Telegraaf’.
When you were appointed, you received not only congratulations on Twitter but also comments such as ‘Not my newspaper – thankfully’, ‘Hopefully you have a bit more journalistic integrity’ and ‘De facto head of loud headlines’. Does that upset you?
I either shrug it off or respond. I love working at De Telegraaf. In a number of areas, as far as I’m concerned, we quite simply have the best journalists. John van de Heuvel and Mick van Wely on crime and Saskia Belleman on court reporting. Valentijn Driessen knows the most about football in the Netherlands and the same goes for the people we have for politics and macro-economics. There’s a reason why Telegraaf journalists are often on talk shows, at public broadcasters too. And with regard to our right-wing reputation: De Telegraaf lets multiple voices be heard.’
How did you end up going from Public Administration to the world of media?
‘Through my Public Administration studies, I discovered that I was really good at giving presentations. Sometimes, people literally said that although the content wasn’t great, the presentation was. I also enjoyed taking on committee work. I chaired the National Youth Council, for example. And I like sharing knowledge. As I always say, to share is to multiply. The ball started rolling of its own accord. I was invited more and more often to be a moderator or presenter, and was invited back too. And that’s how I became a presenter and moderator and later, a trainer. What also played a role was that often, when attending a presentation or training session, I would think: I can do that better. I suppose that’s my Amsterdam arrogance; I’ve always lived there.
‘I also landed in the media. It’s no coincidence that I started at a student channel. CampusTV kept students up to date with the news and also produced programmes for a number of universities and companies which focused on students.’
In an interview in De Volkskrant newspaper, you said: ‘I was first seen as a Muslim after 9/11.’
‘Yes, that was bizarre. I had never thought too much about my background or origins, not even at the “white” Barleus Gymnasium School I attended in Amsterdam. But after 9/11, I was asked for the first time how I, a Muslim, felt about such an attack. A little over six months later, Pim Fortuyn was murdered and a couple of months after that, I went to study at Leiden University. That was a tumultuous, but also formative time. I had the occasional remark thrown in my direction but, apart from that, neither my religion nor skin colour has ever got in my way. I look at people’s behaviour and ideas and in my experience that’s how people look at me too.’
How did your studies go?
‘I completed my Bachelor thesis: Wie zette uit? De minister of het parlement? (Who deported? The minister or parliament?). It was on how the House of Representatives influenced the implementation of immigration policy. I got a good grade for that. In fact, my supervisor even asked if I was interested in going into research. But I was given great opportunities outside the university and I took them. I also enjoyed comparing practice with theory. Sometimes I thought: here at the university, the answer is C but in practice, it’s A.’
‘All that work meant I was devoting less and less time to studying. I was still enrolled during the last two years, up till 2008, but I was hardly ever present at the faculty. In the end, I didn’t finish my degree. My hard-working parents were hugely disappointed. They have a Pakistani background and wanted a better education for me and my sister than they themselves had had. And then their son drops out... Now I’ve landed on my feet, they’ve more or less come to terms with it, but they would have liked to see me come home with a master’s degree in my pocket. I do still sometimes think about it. Couldn’t I have reached the point I’m at now after graduating, which at the time I saw as a roundabout way?
‘A lot of companies set great store by degrees. Up till now, I’ve always been given the third degree at job interviews, for my current one too: could I actually do everything I claimed to be able to do? But I’ve never been asked diplomas about my qualifications.
‘Still, I do think it’s a shame that the university wasn’t a bit more flexible. I had quite some promise, if I do say so myself, and talents should be nurtured. I remember clearly that there was an exam at the same time as I got the chance to travel to Denmark with Rita Verdonk, minister at the time, in connection with my thesis. She had organised a conference there with her Danish counterpart. I asked if I could take the exam a bit earlier or later, but they were intransigent. “You’ll just have to wait for the re-sit...” I wonder if that’s changed at all. I went to Denmark anyway.’
‘I still have a great fondness for Leiden University. There was never any doubt in my mind that I would go to Leiden after secondary school. And thankfully, Public Administration had not yet moved to The Hague, since studying at Leiden was also about studying in the town of Leiden. I learnt an awful lot there too. I’ve been back a few times to chair a meeting or give training. It was great. And what I also really like is meeting someone I used to study with. I sometimes came across them in my committee work. And now I see fellow students in our newspaper in coverage on COVID-19. My studies didn’t go as I’d hoped but that time was hugely worthwhile and formative nonetheless.’
Presenting and the media are a central theme in your life, as is compassion with young people. You have always had one or other position that had to do with that...
‘I’ve always had a soft spot for young people in difficulties, homeless young people in particular. It’s absolutely incredible that in these times, in the Netherlands, hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of young people are living on the street! I will never lose that commitment, even though I have now stopped all my other activities in order to concentrate fully on my new job. And I’ve just become a father. Our son, Faas, is eight months old now. I hope he takes after his mother; then at least he’ll be better looking than I am.’
2006 Presenter and freelance editor Camjo, CampusTV (three years)
2006 Moderator/trainer at own company Versterkt Geluid (14 years)2009 Editor-in-chief/Commercial Director, Campus Productions (three years)
2010 Chief editor and presenter WNL on Radio 1 (three years)
2011 Interim director Bureau Nationala Jeugdraad (National Youth Council), part-time (one year)
2012 Political editor WNL/Telegraaf Video Media (one year)
2013 Chief editor Telegraaf TV; in three steps to the position of deputy editor-in-chief (2021)
Voluntary work2001 Chair of the National Youth Council (chair for one year, volunteer for ten years)
2003/2004 Committee member of the B.I.L., Public Administration student association
2006 Member of VVD committee for Amsterdam-West (four years)
2011 National/international trainer at Haya van Somerenstichting (nine years)
2011 Member of committee of Zwerfjongeren Nederland (homeless young people) (three years)
2012 Member of the Commissie Toewijzing Fonds21 (for young people) (six years)
2018 Member of committee De Amsterdamsche Kring (two years)
Photo: Kamran at the B.I.L. study association, now located at The Hague Campus: ‘I return to the university regularly. I have trained multiple committees, presented meetings or taken part in discussions on current affairs.’
Text: Corine Hendriks
Portrait photos: Melissa Schriek
Mail the editor