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 not . 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.