1. Don’t blindly trust market research
Our pre-launch market research suggested there was no appetite for a new English language daily newspaper in the country - existing readers had no complaints! We were told these readers liked a newspaper that was a literal translation of its sister Urdu publication, with dozens of stories on the front page, full of lurid gossip, innuendo and political intrigue; others were apparently satisfied with a monotone, dull print design and deadened prose.
Even so, we felt - we knew - that there was a market for something better. Pakistanis become immune to the substandard, but give them something better and they flock to it. And this is exactly what happened.
2. A measure of true and lasting success? Redefining the very criteria by which your success is measured.
Today, I not only judge our paper’s success by how we have grown but also by the impact we have had on the industry. Newspapers that smugly looked down on us as an upstart began to copy us (and continue to do so). Our talented staff – many of whom were initially derided for their youth and lack of experience – are now prized possessions in the industry. Many have gone on to have successful careers in Pakistan and abroad. Their continued success is a source of great pride to me.
We credit the growth of digital media, the emphasis on design, and the demand for a highly educated workforce to the trail The Express Tribune has blazed. As a niche English language publication, The Express Tribune could only have truly succeeded if it raised the bar for the entire media industry.
3. It is easy to be brave when you’re not in the crosshairs
Almost two years ago, the scourge of militant ideology came straight to The Express Tribune’s door. We came under violent siege – our offices were repeatedly attacked, our colleagues were killed or injured and our morale took a hard hit. There are no easy lessons to draw from this experience except that for all its bluster, the media in Pakistan is always on tenterhooks, and a free media even more so. I am proud of our staff for coming to work day after day despite the challenges. The sacrifice of those colleagues who lost their lives will never be forgotten.
4. ‘Failure is an orphan while success has many fathers’
The Express Tribune’s success lies foremost with its staff, possibly the most talented workers to lead any media organisation in this country; but we also had the support of our sister media companies, Express News and our Urdu Daily Express, today the most widely read and watched news entities in the country.
Despite our Urdu audience comprising a significantly more conservative base, our group’s modern philosophy and global outlook has contributed to our paper’s influence in our country’s politics and cultural conversation. This totality has been captured in a case study conducted by our country’s most prestigious business school, IBA, on the disruptive success of our newspaper in the media market.
5. Shun the allure of hubris just as much as the secondhand vision of others
The complaint I hear most often is that The Express Tribune has become too low-brow. In some ways, we have become a victim of our own success. Whilst I pay heed to constructive criticism, I’ve learned to always keep our readers, not just journalists, in mind.
Our mission at the outset was to produce a newspaper that did not talk down to its readers but embraced them and their interests. This is why today you can turn to us for the latest on Zayn Malik as well as the Yemen crisis. This is not the newspaper where self-appointed tastemakers decide which topic is worthy of writing about and our prolific blogging section – now a mainstay of all other local media websites – illustrates this best. Here, any reader can find his or her voice on a major media platform, even if the paper is mocked for the content of some of the blogs. I believe we offer an umbrella that is wide enough to encompass multiple viewpoints and no story is too small for us. This continues to define my thinking as I look ahead to the next five years.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2015.
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