ISLAMABAD: It was one more journey into the unknown. One more, because in my career, spread over 45 years, I had already had a taste of being associated with the launch of four new media ventures. The fifth one – The Express Tribune – was no exception to this rule. Equally risky, breathlessly thrilling, exceptionally exciting, but mostly enjoyable.
The first venture was an underground campus tabloid at the Karachi University. It did not last more than two issues but taught me how to test the limits of all kinds of freedoms.
The second venture was launched soon after we obtained our post-graduate degrees in journalism. This lasted no more than eight months. Lesson: It is a folly to believe that all it that is needed to launch a commercially viable media venture is a team of five-star journalists (we had presumed we were the cream of the class of 1965-66). The third venture, The Muslim, crashed on the rock of financial indiscipline after gaining national prominence in a matter of months. The fourth venture was the launch of Dawn’s Islamabad edition. It was a success from day one because the then editor of Dawn, the late Ahmed Ali Khan, who retired just about the time the Islamabad edition was being launched, had passed on to his successor a highly professional team of journalists. And in Hameed Haroon, the chief executive, the group had one of the finest media managers then available to the industry.
The Express Tribune
The fifth venture, the current one in more than one sense, was not exactly a journey into the unknown: I knew it would be a success within half an hour of meeting with the publishers. Still, I felt as if I was traveling from the old world, of which I thought myself to be a veteran, to a new world, of which I had only the theoretical knowledge – and that, too, only the basics. Indeed, the idea of working for a newspaper being planned in collaboration with the International Herald Tribune was too tempting for me to refuse.
To my complete surprise, the publishers had their feet on the ground as they talked about their idea of the reach of a new English daily in Pakistan. I felt they were talking my language. Their down-to-earth ambition on the face of it looked as if they just wanted to crown their three-vehicle strong media group with a fourth one – an English newspaper. But that was all that was down-to-earth about the venture.
The vision, as I understood from discussions with the publishers in the ensuing weeks, was fascinatingly grand and it was top quality all the way – nothing cheap or half hearted about it. The group’s biggest surprise was the new venture’s (The Express Tribune’s) publisher, Bilal Lakhani. He had on his young thirty-something shoulders a mature media head.
We agreed on the kind of Editor for this particular kind of newspaper. Young Kamal Siddiqi is one of the superstars of our media world today. And I found him to be equally at home in all branches of the profession as well as a good teacher. This is a rare combination in a good journalist. A teacher who had practiced the profession with great success was what was needed for a team that would have an average age of 25 to 30 years.
We (the Editor, the Executive Editor and the Publisher) agreed to pack the desk with fresh graduates from English medium institutions with language skills to match the standards of IHT. And for reporting we agreed to use the group’s entire network of Urdu reporters (running into the hundreds) spread all over the country as well as put together a core of already proven names to do our own exclusives and investigative reports.
We are still at it, trying to make the most of the reporting assets of the group, getting the youngsters on the desks to make smart value addition to edited versions of the reports and produce, on a daily basis, a pleasingly readable newspaper.
Policy and the look
Being ably edited by our Op-Ed editor Omar Quraishi, our opinion pages are bold and at times audaciously cheeky. We have evolved a robust left-of-centre editorial policy over the year with a strong bias against bigotry of all kinds and against the idea of the Army’s predominance in purely political affairs with equally strong bias in favor of democracy, rule of law, lasting regional peace and, of course, media freedom.
However, a new newspaper that was to be noticed had to be different not only in policy, but in terms of design. It was our considered opinion that the readership that we proposed to target – mostly the young professionals – would not go for a new newspaper which did not look different from Dawn and The News. So, the publisher spent weeks with a prize-winning Polish newspaper designer and the two came up with a product that has now become a favourite of our educated youth on the go. And our policy of keeping a lower word count both on the Op-Ed and the news pages has paid off hugely because the multiple demands of the waking hours of educated professionals today leaves very little time for newspaper reading.
The writer is Executive Editor, The Express Tribune.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2011.