Front page, Berliner-style
The reason is simple. Maybe it's just me, but I need to either love something passionately to feel motivated enough to gush about it in print or to feel it's so bad that I can't wait to tear it to pieces. In the present case, I felt no such overpowering emotion. No adulation or loathing or anything so strong. Just a vague grey reaction. Competent, I thought. Pretty decent. Promising. Not too bad really. A solid, worthy venture. But nothing exciting. Or too awful.
The paper certainly looks different though. Mainly because it doesn't look like your average broadsheet Pakistani daily due to its 'Berliner' (not tabloid, they insist) format. Now I do realise that most upmarket British dailies like the Independent, Times and Guardian also opted for this format some years ago (while giving readers a choice of both formats). But while I could understand their logic for doing so in a country where everyone reads during their long bus, train or underground commutes, why a Pakistani paper should go the same route is puzzling. Try reading anything on your coach or train commute from Lahore to Gujranwala or on a Karachi mini-bus and you will see what I mean.
Page 2 and 3: Clean spread
Once you get over the shock of holding a daily that looks like a weekly, things get pleasant enough. For example, the 32 pages are all colour and the paper quality seems to be on the expensive side. The pictures are pretty decent too and it looks like someone has put some thought into the layout rather than thrown endless, unbroken text at the reader like The News does or thrown a paintbox all over its pages, as is The Nation's preferred design choice. Still, I couldn't help but thinking the overall look was reminiscent of the Express Tribune, albeit in a once-poor relative-with-some-new-money type of way. But still, it is neat, clean and tidy. And it has none of the editorial bloopers and immaturity that initially characterised ET.
Meanwhile, like everything else, the quality of material is, well okay. Not exciting, exactly, but decent enough. Just like the editing. There are scoops but not earth-shattering ones, and a fairly intelligent selection of stories. 'Good effort' is the biggest compliment I could muster.
Business looks appealing, entertainment ho-hum
City pages will give the competition a run for their money
The sports pages are all right, the business section looks pretty decent and the entertainment pages break absolutely no new ground. The city pages, at least in Lahore, seem pretty good and will give the competition a run for the money. Similarly, the editorial pages are all right but not spectacular. There's nothing there I would kill to read but nothing much to rant or rave against either, unless you are allergic to Humayun Gauhar. The biggest draw is the induction of The Friday Times' superb Sabir Nazir as cartoonist. The editorials are solid and take a pretty even-handed, fairly liberal line without making your pulse race. I mean, there is little, if any, of the crazy, conspiratorial hysteria that characterised The Nation after the younger Nizami stormed out to give way to (the now-departed) Shireen Mazari.
Interestingly, the editorial policy seems not to treat the Sharif brothers like the sacred cows they have become for large sections of the media. Does that in any way reflect Arif Nizami's sense of betrayal over being ditched by the Raiwind brothers during his falling out with Majid Nizami? We will never really know.
The refreshing thing is that this is not, thankfully, another Nawa-i-Waqt-type super patriotic, flag-waving, rag. Nor is it The Nation in its recent utterly hysterical and conspiratorial Mazari mode. If anything, it's like The Nation when it was a fairly decent paper many years ago. In fact, what is the most courageous feature of Pakistan Today is that it is resolutely serious and eschews sensationalism. That in itself is a relief in a media environment that is becoming increasingly hysterical.
How a sober and solid (bordering on dull) paper fares in an over-crowded market is anybody's guess. Initial reports from Lahore suggest a fairly positive response. My hunch is that for a new paper trying to make its presence felt in this cut-throat, crisis-ridden market, Pakistan Today will need to do more than just be competent to take its place at the top.
I would be very curious to know if anyone violently agrees or disagrees with me on this. Or whether everyone is too lulled by indifference to offer a view on Pakistan Today, one way or the other...