How this newspaper proved me wrong

At the time, I didn’t think there was any serious comparison between Tribune and Dawn. Now I am not so sure.

George Fulton April 12, 2011

I didn’t have much faith in The Express Tribune. My first column alluded to this scepticism. This is what I wrote: “The Express Tribune has finally arrived and enters a crowded and insecure English-language newspaper market. Does Pakistan have the need and capacity for another English broadsheet? Has the publisher been canny or foolhardy in investing in this old form of media? Time will tell. However, he is certainly betting against global trends. The perceived wisdom is that newspapers are going the way of the Dodo, Tehrik-i-Insaf and the VHS machine.”

But it wasn’t just the medium that was a cause for concern; the language was problematic too. The Express Tribune launched at a time when others were losing their mojo. A month after the launch of The Express Tribune, and despite a strong English media brand, Dawn News, the first private Englishlanguage channel in Pakistan, switched to Urdu in an attempt to revive flagging ratings. The English media clearly has a very niche market in Pakistan and even a venerable brand name such as Dawn was not always capable of finding an English audience.

My first piece also ended with a warning to old media: “Don’t think we in Pakistan are immune to the global changes the internet is bringing. With an estimated 18 million online and growing, it is only a matter of time before marketing and advertising rupees follow. ….(Publisher) short-sightedness at realising the power and potential of the Internet will be their loss. The first organisation that sows heavily today will reap the benefits tomorrow. The next Jang/ Express/ Dawn group may come from some entrepreneurial Pakistani who is willing to do just that.”

Thankfully, a year on, I have been proved wrong on both counts. Not only has The Express Tribune found a voice and created a unique space in the crowded English newspaper market but also it has done this whilst embracing the Internet. ET has invested in the online user experience like no other media organisation in Pakistan. And a significant part of The Express Tribune’s success must be placed at that decision. They are leading the charge and other newspapers are

having to play catch up. Whilst The Express Tribune may still lack the circulation of Dawn or The News, within a year they are comparable to these older papers in terms of editorial influence. They understood very early on the way we now connect with each other in this hyper mobile, interconnected world.

Their website remains the most vibrant, user friendly and interactive news site in Pakistan. As a result it has built a strong online community - a community that is well-informed, articulate and opinionated.

Something, we columnists are only too aware of when we are provocative or when we get it just plain wrong. The masochist in me loves reading the negative comments to pieces. I enjoy hearing the other side even if I continue to disagree with its arguments.

But sometimes a well-argued comment does challenge your own opinions and make you re-evaluate stated prejudices. For a ferment

of ideas, this is very healthy. No opinions go unchallenged - and that can only be a good thing for Pakistan.

The Express Tribune also opened the curtains and let the sun in on Pakistan’s traditionally stuffy op-ed pages. Young, often green, writers were hired. No longer were the opeds the preserve of retired faujis, bureaucrats and ministers. Instead, we had writers who represented three quarters of the nation’s population – that is, those under the age of thirty. Yes, at times their greenness and naivety shown through, but over time some have developed into exceptional writers with distinct voices.

My sceptical first piece was titled ‘A new dawn?’ It was a mischievous play on words alluding to Pakistan’s great English paper of record. Realistically, at the time, I didn’t think there was any serious comparison between the two papers. Now I am not so sure.

If The Express Tribune continues as strongly in subsequent years as it has done in its first, who knows, we may have to remove that question mark.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th,  2011.


Ayesha | 13 years ago | Reply George, come back please?
Zahid Hussain | 13 years ago | Reply The only Pakistani english paper I go through online daily is ET.
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