In late 2009, I got an SMS from Kamal Siddiqi, who identified himself as editor of the yet-to-be-launched The Express Tribune, asking for a meeting. At the time I considered myself thoroughly unemployable so I messaged back telling Kamal I thought he’d contacted the wrong person. It took a certain amount of back-and-forth to establish that he did indeed want to meet me, a person who had the same transitory relationship with jobs that Elizabeth Taylor had with her husbands.
On the day of the interview, I thought of wearing a full-sleeved shirt and shoes, but since I’d already sacrificed enough by waking up a full two hours earlier than normal, I opted for my normal uniform of a T-shirt and flip-flops. The interview was surreal. Kamal explained his vision for the newspaper, while I kept giving him reasons why he really didn’t want me there. As it happened, I made one of my biannual job changes a few months later and The Express Tribune somehow agreed to hire me. I barely lasted six months. I can safely say that the only time Kamal and publisher Bilal Lakhani have shown poor judgment was in giving me a job.
On its one-year anniversary, tempting though it may be to write about the newspaper as a former employee, I pen these words as a consumer. When I was working there, The Express Tribune was just another newspaper that paid me a salary at the beginning of every month. Only as a reader of just about every English language newspaper that exists, did I appreciate its worth. Among the pile of newspapers that is thrown at my doorstep, it is the one I start my day with.
If there is one problem newspapers have faced recently, it is that they have not been able to figure out their role. There is no longer such a thing as a newspaper of record. The media is too fragmented, with far too many sources of information at our disposal. From a mess of television channels to breaking news on the internet, all the information we never even knew we needed, is now instantly available. Newspaper readers no longer need to know what has happened; they need to be told why it has happened and what is being done about it.
That is where The Express Tribune has stepped in. It is far more than a regurgitation of news that anyone with a television set or modem already knows. Whenever we run out of topics to cover, columnists like me have a foolproof plan of filling up our word count — we demand follow-ups on long forgotten stories. This newspaper actually does the legwork and obsesses over stories long after everyone else has deemed them irrelevant. That might not be as sexy as the newspaper’s groundbreaking design but it is a true act of public service.
Being eternally cynical, I had initially written off The Express Tribune as just another English-language newspaper in a country that already has a lot of them. That in itself is a good thing, since one can never have too many newspapers. In the last few months, however, I have increasingly seen other newspapers in the country, and even foreign newspapers, all but steal original reporting that has first appeared in this paper. More than anything else, that is proof of how much of an impact it has had in just one year.
Now, if they could just use their talented design team to make the floating head that appears with this column look less ugly, The Express Tribune truly will be the best newspaper in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2011.