Tuesday, December 15, 2009

ET Phone Home

There are a number of question marks hanging over Sultan Lakhani's latest venture into the media, his plans to launch a new English newspaper called the Express Tribune (ET), affiliated with the International Herald Tribune (IHT), and tentatively scheduled to hit the stands in February or March 2010.

Nobody doubts the depth of Mr. Lakhani's purse, which managed to attract many longtime Jang columnists to the Urdu Express and which, at least initially, gave his Express television channel a distinct edge in live coverage of breaking news. But it remains to be seen whether a) the ET can make any dent in the Karachi market which is dominated by the newspaper-of-habit Dawn or against The News which, because of its chatpata-stories-that-usually-have-some-basis-unlike-The Nation-under Mazari, has become a must-read paper for political animals and b) there is even a market for another English paper (see what happened to The Daily Times!). ET will apparently include a 20-page IHT every day but whether many people will be willing to switch their regular paper just for the sake of the IHT (without something special in the local paper) is questionable. The apparent reliance on wire services and the Express group's television channels and Urdu paper to feed stories to the English paper does not promise a remarkably unique publication.

More immediate problems also loom for the new venture. One of the biggest question marks is over the staffing policy. True to his corporate roots, Mr. Lakhani is relying heavily on recently graduated MBAs rather than journalists. While the stated rationale for this is to get in fresh blood that can read and write English well, the danger is that, like many MBA-types, the young blood may be using the paper mainly as a stepping stone towards other corporate careers rather than building a career as credible journalists. There are already murmurings by some of the under-training staff that their work assignments may not "look good on their CVs"!

But adding to the sense of unease within the organization is the style of 'governance' that seems far removed from that of a newspaper and more akin to a corporate firm. Among the "rules" that have been enforced are a strict policy of an eight-hour-day with pay cuts for those not in the office premises for at least seven hours (you might wonder what about field reporters? but apparently none have been hired!), and a strict dress code which stipulates that men's shirts must be tucked in and no shalwar kameezes except on Friday. A proposed ban on jeans was only narrowly averted. It leads one to wonder exactly what the management's priorities are. Wouldn't instilling concepts of good, solid journalism into the MBA recruits be more worthwhile than focusing on their fashion? Perhaps Mr. Lakhani should take a look round other local newspaper offices or even watch a few recent Hollywood films about journalists. Corporate looks are not exactly high on journalists' agendas in any part of the world and there's a reason journalism attracts social misfits. Or read Jawed Naqvi writing about the image of journalists in today's Dawn.

If all this was not enough to cause misgivings among the employees, the language being used by the management with respect to them certainly is. This is part of what Editor Kamal Siddiqi wrote in an internal memo to his sub-editors after he discovered some of them were coming late to training or skipping it altogether:

"Let me just say you have embarrassed me. Despite my request last week, it seems most of you still think this training is some sort of a joke. Yesterday John showed me how some of you were missing from his group without any intimation. This sort of attitude is shameful. Training starts at 9AM not 9.30AM.  If you cant make it, let me know and I will request the management to shift you to some other department, like selling detergents."

A valid issue for the editor, churlishly handled. Especially considering that Mr. Lakhani has often been accused by his critics of knowing how to sell detergents but not administer a media organization. Small wonder that some of the editorial staff are already desperate to make an exit.


Shaikh Rahman said...

I don't see anything wrong with a little professionalism, whether it relates to dress code or punctuality. And I certainly don't see it's relationship to good or bad journalism.

But then again, what do I know? I'm just an MBA type.

Anonymous said...

This is an OUTRAGE!!!!
Journalists should be smelly, should never have to shave until they want to, there should be a three-drink minimum before they file their stories and, damn it.......if they become suits then, well, damn it.....is this the end of an era? Is everybody to look like this now? :`(

Anonymous said...

It indeed is sad. It is the MBA types commenting above who can never 'get it' and they are joining newspapers just because they need a filler job before Nestle or Coke whistles.

You think suits have anything to do with professionalism? For your info, all over the world even corporations have relaxed their dress codes because (gasp) suits have nothing to do with efficiency or integrity.

Dani Kareem said...

Gasp! It's the end of the world if Express is trying to teach their progeny something akin to professionalism.

We love aping the west but forget a few things. They're beyond professional. In my experience of working with them for 3 years now, no ones has been even a minute late. Their work and reportings are top notch from the start and only gets better since they're trained that way... so even if they have an open culture it works for them.

Pakistan right now is so far below in Professional Integrity, it's shameful. Media in our culture means parties. There it's a serious biz. If Sultan wants to bring his organization to that level, than Kudos to him.

Dani Kareem said...

OH! yes! I'm an MBA type too. Head of Marketing.

Anonymous said...

The editor's office memo has a typo. It seems he doesn't believe in apostrophe.

Anonymous said...

Allegedly Sultan Lakhani pays off a company to bump up Express TV ratings. If true this isn't professional at all.

Bolshevik said...

Great post. The yuppie comments provided as much entertainment as the post itself. Hats off, guys. :-D

PS: Where on earth didju get these emails and memos from? :-P

Anonymous said...

BTW can the writer of this blog (self proclaimed expert on how to run Media organizations)suggest a better way on how to make an upcoming publication like that of Mr. Lakhani unique?

Hmmmm..It's easier to criticize isn't it????

Bolshevik said...

Apropos the "anonymous" comment above:

1) One way would be to not hide behind anonymity;

2) Refrain from awkward sentence constructions;

3) Not use phrases such as "a better way on how to make" and "like that of Mr Lakhani" etc. *shudders*

Have you learnt NOTHING during the training sessions? :-P

Anonymous said...

your point no 1 is irrelevant to the discussion. btw Do we know the identity of Mr. Payala?

point 2 and 3 are the same but valid.My mistake!

pld don't take any offence but you did not really give any real suggestion.

awaiting...if you have something i.e and plz take ur time on this one

Bolshevik said...

Sweetheart, I'm not going to waste my time "thinking" of "suggestions". The powers-that-be at ET get paid [more than enough] to do that.

As for me, in the immortal words of Raj Koothrapali (from The Big Bang Theory): "I didn't come to help; I came to mock." :-D

Anonymous said...

I thought so...

Maryam said...

Lol. Well done, cafe pyala. As for the express tribune, in the words of an RJ on FM 107: "bharam tight, pateela khaali." Kamal siddiqui and sultan lakhani, are you listening?

Anonymous said...

Lol. Well done, cafe pyala. As for the express tribune, in the words of an RJ on FM 107: "bharam tight, pateela khaali." Kamal siddiqui and sultan lakhani, are you listening?

Anonymous said...


Diversity and competition is a good thing. Professionalism is much needed in this backward country of ours.

Yours is a common problem among journalists and "experts" alike. You derive your conviction from being a competent journalist and often find yourself stretching into domains where you have little or no expertise. Do tell, what sort of expertise and qualifications you possess in organizational dynamics, business models or operations?

Tucked shirts and 8 hour days too much for you? Maybe you should build your next company (in Pakistan) with a flat hierarchy, open workspace, no scheduled office hours or a need for punctuality or discipline.

You can be among the two-thirds that come in to work late (or training sessions if you have them) and complain about the 10AM rush hour while the other one-third either suffer at your behest or succumb to your nonchalant demeanour.

Your one-dimensional views do serve you well in writing some decent trash though.

- JK

Ahsan said...

I'm sympathetic to the idea that it's foolish to expect the MBA types to know anything about journalism, and as such, they should not be hired as journalists (in my experience, journalism is less about reading and writing well and more about having a nose for a story and doing good hard investigative work).


A little professionalism never hurt anybody. It's sad to say, but many Pakistani firms, irrespective of the industry they operate in, are very lackadaisical (two hour lunch breaks, coming in late etc). If you're getting paid by someone, then the least you can do is show up on time.

Though you're right, the internal memo was a bit pissy.

Anonymous said...

Where is your sense of humor? I found the mail quite funny.

Ooooh he said he will send his employers to the detergent department. Oh he is so pissy and uncouth and just look that email and how it reflects on his personality. Say "no" to "management" and yuppie MBAs.

PS: Why do you write 'governance' in quotes?

PPS: Lack of a career and ambition will only worsen your complex. Giddy up girl!

"God" said...

If we can step away from hating or loving Mr Lakhani, my two cents on policy making in a media house:

1. Building a successful media organisation has nothing to do with business dynamics.

2. You cannot tell a print journalist what to wear - this has nothing to do with professionalism. (The concept of 'image' is only for the visual medium. The historical romanticism that comes with the print profession has unique considerations.)

3. Journalism is about the deadline, not the start time. Timings in a news room are tentative guidelines - not infallible rules.

4. Marketing knows as much about editorial as editorial knows about how to operate a printing press.

5. Marketing and management cater to editorial, and organisational rules should be shaped according to the latter's peculiarities.

6. ET needs to take a long look at this sort of policy - who ever is pushing it. If it is management, they need to be told to sod-off and stay on their own turf.

"God" said...

PS: I heard a couple of the trainees got scolded (in that same e-mail) for coming in between one and two minutes late.
Now if that's not pissy, I don't know what is. Calm down. Jeez.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, I'll hook you up with a job at ET.

CPM said...

Oh boy, this is going to take a while...

@Shaikh Rahman: I agree that good or bad journalism has nothing to do with dress codes or swipe-card punctuality. See? Even MBA types can have common sense.

@Anon1139: :) That was quite funny.

@Dani Kareem: "Media in our culture means parties"??? Where? How come I've never been invited! Hummmph!

@Anon859: Yeah, well, we've heard that about the Jang group and others too. And ALL major newspapers do it with regards to their circulation figures. But putting an allegation such as this out there without any proof doesn't really serve any purpose.

@Bolshevik: "Where on earth didju get these emails and memos from?"...
Don't you know that journalists are not supposed to reveal their sources?

@Anon1102: "can the writer of this blog (self proclaimed expert on how to run Media organizations)suggest a better way on how to make an upcoming publication like that of Mr. Lakhani unique?"...
Far be it from me to assume the role of the editorial team, but I do know one thing: it's not going to be unique because its staff spends 8 hours in the office tucking their shirts in.


1. "Do tell, what sort of expertise and qualifications you possess in organizational dynamics, business models or operations"...
You want my CV?!? But seriously, all I was arguing for was a little common sense.

2. Hey, what's wrong with open workspaces?

3. "You can be among the two-thirds that come in to work late"...
I actually pride myself on being on time where I am needed, even if it's at 8 in the a.m., so I'm a little hurt by this. Sniff.

@Ahsan: You are absolutely right. Professionalism should be mandatory and is direly needed in all spheres of Pakistani life. Now, I'm only going to say it once for all of you people who seem to have read into the post things completely unintended: I sympathise with the ET editor's gripe about the lack of punctuality and it is his responsibility and right to haul up his staff on the matter. My only contention was that TONE and LANGUAGE of his memo was not terribly well put.

That, and the stupid dress and pay cut rules. Here's a thought experiment for you: who should a media organization value more? A suited-and-tied, well groomed staffer who is always on time and spends a full 8-hour day in the office but is rather sloppy on the desk or clueless about journalism... or a bit of an eyesore staffer who's not putting in her hours but always completes her assigned work on time and does it well, and suggests and adds creative input into stories?

Obviously, it would be great to get the best of both worlds but really, if you had to choose...

Phew! Enough for now.

Anonymous said...

I know they are better than you but they aren't Extra Terrestrial (ET) :)

Looking forward to Express Tribune.

Anonymous said...

"....it's not going to be unique because its staff spends 8 hours in the office tucking their shirts in."

It takes you 8 hours to tuck your shirt in? Jesus, are you slow!

Detergent Seller said...

Fun Fact: The e-mail was sent during PMA training week. The staff was working 10 hour days. They got scolded for working 2 minutes less of their 3 hour (unpaid) overtime :P

Question: Haven't the Lakhanis made loads of money selling detergents?

Follow up Question: What the F did we poor detergent sellers do?

Anonymous said...

Hi Titto.

SM said...

Vot the storm in a teacup! Take it on the chin ET hatchlings, like proper journalists should, and move on. It's just a gently mocking blogpost innit? How're you going to react if you file a controversial story and someone decides to threaten/stone/fire upon/bomb you?

As for the cups and saucers of pyala, personally, i think they're fulfilling a useful service by keeping us entertained and informed. Any malice spewed on this blog tends to be in the responses, not in the posts, and the stories they feature are obviously meant to be starting points for important debates like How Long Should It Take A Journalist To Tuck His Shirt In and Is There An Apostrophe In Idiots. Cleary, any actual/would be media proffesional wishing to have a rational discussion about things like how to balance business and journalistic interests or corporatising a naturally chaotic environment would be better of talking to himself.

Now, who wants to fix all the typos in my post?

Mohsin Meer said...

I will buy ET as my second paper if they give me 20 pages of IHT in their 15 Rs. price.

Appreciate Cafe Pyala once again for inside Update on ET story. Quite interesting arguments by all.

Great work to debate on.

Anonymous said...

thing is, most journalists i know, including myself, became hacks precisely *because* they couldn't stand the stiff-collared environment of the corporate world. if you mba types want to run a factory, go run a factory. :P

Anonymous said...

What does wearing a suit have anything to do with professionalism? Punctuality is not something to be argued about but I think when required, journalists put in far more hours (of unpaid work) than MBAs do at their jobs. It is all about the commitment, and that can be made by somebody who is in a suit or in jeans!

Anonymous said...

What a shock ! Corporations are evil! Bosses enforce ridiculous rules that you may not agree with! If you don't go to work on time people will think you are unprofessional.

Being a journalist is not an excuse to be adolescent. If ET staff are being asked to come in to work wearing something other than their pajamas and work full shifts - maybe thats not the end of newsroom culture as we know it.
Maybe its journalism boot camp for a bunch of spoiled MBA-types who need to understand that news is as much a business as selling detergents.

Anonymous said...

I find this blog quite pointless.

Let the paper get off the damn ground and see whether it sinks or swims.

One point though about training, I do empathize with the detergent selling Lakhanis... We paid Rs 2MN for foreign trainers for a project we were working on and waited for 3 months for trainers from abroad to finally take the trip to Pakistan. And even then there were people in our training class 30 minutes late. Forget the firms sponsors, my colleagues and I were so embarrassed to see these churlish straddlers.

Frankly I don't there's any excuse for tardiness or even unkemptness. Next thing we're going to say its acceptable for journalists to fart loudly in public because they're not MBAs...