I started writing for The Express Tribune for personal reasons. The opinions editor, Omar R Quraishi, who gave me my first chance after seeking me out and encouraging me at The News, shifted to this paper. Out of loyalty I did too.
It was an uneasy decision for a newspaper that was untested. And frankly there were times in the beginning when I regretted it. Often in those early times I would see pieces of questionable quality, columns I thought should have been elsewhere in the paper than in the opinion section.
In retrospect, I was wrong to have that feeling. It is precisely that sort of openness and experimentation that has made the paper surpass expectations with increasing relevance and strength. The blips were teething pains that have square-jawed into excellent content over time.
Not that this paper is perfect, it never will be nor should that be expected of it. But, it has given many new voices in the print media spectrum, like Sami Shah and George Fulton, a chance to command a strong readership of fans and antagonists alike.
That’s the other thing. The Express Tribune has an extremely strong level of interactivity which is often very critical as readers take the writers up on their foibles. I know that all too well. But, the beauty of it is the conversation it allows to take place, eating into the didactic ethos of old media.
While readers may be bored of the inflated egos of the columnists of this paper, I find it healthy this paper does not discourage or edit out the war of words between columnists who share space. It can be snarky for sure, but the truth of the matter is that it serves discourse better than the hypocrisy of veiled innuendo or semi-academic writing. Having been on the receiving end of that several times, mostly for my “Cockroaches” piece, I can tell you it’s not easy but it’s important to have.
For me personally, there is one thing I credit this paper for that I feel is of tremendous importance. For a long time, the English press in Pakistan had one very poor habit, an unwillingness to credit other papers for stories they broke, or even acknowledge them. That’s why you have headline stories elsewhere that read “A private channel said…” By not following that erroneous standard, there has been a slight push for more openness. In addition, being allowed to critique full-time journalists within the publishing family of this paper once again allows for strengthening over time.
While all of this sounds hunky-dory, and some of it is, there are still some tests for this paper to go through for it to establish itself in the pantheon of our greats. The most notable, will be how The Express Tribune reports the business interests of the group that owns this paper. It has, in my opinion failed that standard once, based on a McDonald’s story regarding Dawn’s coverage of legal troubles of the fast food chain.
When it comes to the paper’s position via its editorials, I must say it is pushing the bar higher. It has shown several times that it is capable of promoting unwelcome truths that sway away from the popular sentiment. In times like these, that’s an increasingly rare phenomenon.
So, at this time, when the paper has gone through its first 365-day cycle, I feel proud its part of the media in this country. Happy birthday The Express Tribune, just remember as most parents would know, the terrible twos are particularly painful.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2011.