And then, of course, we have you, our loyal readers who mostly don't seem to care about anything else either and insist on bringing up the topic in random discussions. Shoaib and Sania? Yeah, but how much is the Express Tribune going to cost? Wasim Akram may have buckled under legal pressure to retract his wild allegations against Lahore doctors while dating Sushmita Sen but did you know Ayesha Siddiqa is now writing for ET? Seven people died in Hazara protesting the name Pakhtunkhwa but will ET have the full International Herald Tribune? (Answers: Rs.
If the comments on this blog are anything to go by (and I have no reason to believe they are), ET has certainly captured its market's imagination.
Now, here is the real reason why we haven't blogged about ET on its first day: it's much too early to make a considered evaluation. I mean, it's the first day, for crying out loud. What I can offer, however, is first impressions (sorry Ahsan, was forced to fish outside off stump):
1. The paper looks very good. And by that I mean its design, its paper quality, its clean font (though the older lot may find it too small to read) and its liberal use of big pictures and highlights.
2. It will almost surely appeal to the young, upper middle-class, English-speaking market who like the USA Today type of soundbite news (the numbers, the random quotes, the cool graphics), who follow European football (main story in 'Sport' is about the Barca - Real Madrid match) and would like to read international news directly from the IHT . And it is obviously consciously targeting that demographic - hell, its main story in the city pages is about the Gulf Shopping Centre in Clifton, it highlights the number of books in the Sind Club library and it has a story about Karachi Grammar School admissions.
3. Its news content is fairly standard, its headings often pedestrian (the main heading "Gilani calls for paradigm shift in government policies" begs the question who the prime minister is calling on to do this!) and it had almost no hard-hitting exclusives. In fact, most of the stories were either Pakistani wire-agency-ish ('Fake liquor business flourishing in Islamabad') or featurish ('A window into what was Peshawar'). This was sort of expected given the lack of a strong reporting squad. But after the novelty of the new paper and its design wears off, this may become a serious issue: what exactly is the paper offering in terms of local content that is not available in other (cheaper) papers, on television or the net?
4. The front page and back page are a bit of a disaster: a total of three (count them, THREE) stories on the front page (none of which really grab your attention) and only one (ONE!) tired feature-ish story about blood transfusions on the back page. Incidentally, the back page is titled 'Rear Mirror'. One of the newspaper's staffers, recently tweeted "I'm embarrassed working for a paper that calls its back page 'Rear Mirror'". He should probably be more embarrassed by the content. The point is, if you're going to slash the number of stories on the two most important pages of a newspaper, at least make sure the stories you do carry are something to talk about.
5. There is a distinct lack of news analysis. The one piece dubbed 'Analysis' ("The politics of language and ethnicity" by a Zia M. Khan) on the 'National' pages is a singularly uninformed piece of speculative waffle. It even manages to mis-label the Hazarawals "an ethnic community different from Pakhtuns."
6. The most engaging pages seem to be the 'Life & Style' pages, which at least have a couple of exclusive pieces on the fashion sense of the Bhuttos (admittedly more of a blog post) and the policy regarding Indian films in Pakistani cinemas.
7. The editorial pages again look good and they have managed to rope in ace-cartoonist Zahoor, though the editorials themselves seem lost in the clutter of the opeds. The opeds themselves today are nothing much to write home about though Ayesha Siddiqa's piece and Indian writer Farzana Versey's were quite readable and interesting.
In general, we need to see more to make a proper judgement. We still have to have a dekko at their magazines and what advertising does to their layout and design over time also remains to be seen (obviously the first day's paper has only minimal advertising). ET should make inroads into a niche elite market (and pretty much wipe out the miniscule readership of The Daily Times) but without some must-read news stories, it is going to find that very few regular readers of Dawn and The News (or even The Nation, when the paper eventually launches in Lahore) are going to jump ship. And it is worth remembering that fewer and fewer people are subscribing to more than one paper because of the rising costs of newspapers (to which ET has added).
Of course, that may all be irrelevant, since as we all know, English newspapers (or newspapers in general) are not published for their wide readership in Pakistan. Political and media leverage is, more than ever, the name of the game. Even Arif Nizami has been heard confirming that he too is planning to bring out yet another English paper.
Here's the paper's editorial which will be printed tomorrow. I know nobody buys a paper for the editorials but now why would you put it on the net the day before?
A new name for a provinceEditorial -- Express Tribune -- April 13
"The deaths of at least five people in Abbotabad on Monday after protests against the NWFP’s name-change turned violent are most tragic and serve to remind us just how emotional this whole issue is. The lives were lost after police tried to break up protests which had been continuing in the city since the passage of the 18th amendment in the National Assembly late last week. The protesters are part of a movement that seeks to create a new province from NWFP’s Hazara district on linguistic grounds and bases its argument along the same lines as the one that enabled the province to get a new name Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. That said, it is worth pointing out that living in a democracy often means having to accept the views of the majority and this is precisely what has happened in the case of the people of Hazara vis-a-vis the ANP’s successful challenge to the province’s existing – colonial – name. It also means that one can express divergent views but within the boundaries of the constitution and preferably through one’s elected representatives. In that context, one may ask that why wasn’t this disagreement or dissension channelled through Hazara’s MNAs and MPAs when discussions were going on to draw up the draft of the 18th amendment?
We would like to counsel caution and restraint on all sides for now given that the political and administrative centre of the province happens to be in a Pashto speaking area. The police action – which the ANP will inevitably say was unavoidable – is only going to inflame passions further and for that very reason the onus lies on the provincial government to direct the law-enforcement agencies and the local administration in Abbotabad to proactively take steps to defuse the tension. As for the protesters, they need to understand that it would be best if they were to make their point through parliament not in the street."
Post Script 2:
'The newspaper's already turning up the heat in media circles across the nation... If this was war, the Express Tribune team are ready for their turn." Enjoy!