Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Solid Staid

First of all an apology and an excuse. I have been meaning to write about Arif Nizami's long-awaited Pakistan Today ever since it hit the newstands but have found myself contracting a severe case of writer's block every time I sat down to do just that.

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.

Op-ed: So far so solid and Sabir

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...


Anonymous said...

First there was the old Pakistan Times (PT) and now we have another PT (Pakistan Today).

Much later, we had the Daily Times (DT), then the Express Tribune (ET). Will the DT beat off the combined challenge of ET and PT? That is the question

Anonymous said...

I completely disagree,

I read an issue of PT - one in the first week. their headline about nato tankers was incorrect. besides that the paper has no spark. it is very boring and straight out of the wire agencies. I dont see a serious reader reading it at all, and its sales must mostly be to mcb...

Nawab said...

Fair review of PT, Cafe. It does look like a decent paper - a far cry from the hysterics of The News and The Nation.

Surprized to see Sabir (ex-TFT and Daily Times cartoonist) in PT. A great addition he is to PT.

Also heard something about PT managing to lure some Dawn columnists like Irfan Hussain, Kamran Shafi and Nadeem F. Paracha, but so far havn't seen anything by them on PT. I doubt they will leave Dawn though. They're too engrained there.

Indeed, the paper looks promising.

Farooq Tirmizi said...

I disagree with your assessment of their business pages. They are about as pathetic as the rest of the country's business pages. The Wall Street Journal it is not nor does it have anything that would interest the typical entrepreneur or member of Corporate Pakistan.

In this, the Pakistan Times seems to be following the old rule: any news story with money in it must be a business story.

There is no such thing as a good business page in a Pakistani newspaper because there is no such thing as a good business journalist.

balaach said...

the best thing about the paper is the stuff they get from foreign news agencies or magazines/paper. the format is indeed convenient to read. i think PT must try to woo some exciting writers like Jawed Naqvi to write regular columns for it.

Jahanzeb Khan

Anonymous said...

Serious, vaguely professional, self-important, smug and dull. That description seems to fit Arif Nizami perfectly. So why is everyone surprised that his paper is like him?

Arisf Rasheed said...

Javed Naqvi? Exciting?
Gimme a break!

Ali Sadeem said...

Thanks for this review. I agree to the point that it is not a ground breaking newspaper in some ways but in some ways, it might just achieve what The Nation and The News have never been able to do. That is to compete with the leader of English daily newspapers in Pakistan - the Dawn.
Let me explain; it has a non-Pakistani standard size, full color pages, 32 pages, easy to the eyes font, content not too crowded with enough white spaces to give it a pleasant read, good choice of images, sufficient pages for every section, excellent editorial pages with some of the best writers, one of the best cartoonists in Pakistan, good work on Sports and City pages and top class choice in international news and views.
This pretty much explains all the qualities of a good newspaper. The PT is following the same path.
On the negative side, the paper can be said to have unusual size for Pakistani market, some not too good editing, less number of articles, no investigative reporting as yet (as it is just a month or so since the paper launched, its unfair to judge on this point), sometimes low quality printing, lack of magazines for every section of the society, no literary circles' coverage, badly managed website with highly non-user friendly layout and no proper business news coverage.
I am also of the view that these drawbacks can be easily corrected.
Critically, the readership of a newspaper can be divided into three categories:
1) Serious readers: readers who want to not just read the newspaper but gain something from it. They won't be disappointed from the paper as it has some of the best non-biased, non-hysteric, editorials, articles, foreign news and views and proper commentary.
2) News readers: These are the readers with interest in the stories, issues and current hot topics. Most of our population falls in this category. The paper has just enough oomph for them too.
3) Casual readers: These are the readers with no interest in anything other than fun, entertainment and sports news. They mostly go through the headlines only. The paper has more than enough juice for them.
So, I do believe that the paper will surely leave a mark on the Pakistani English readership as it is "Aimed at setting the bar higher for journalistic standards and unbiased news - as explained on its Facebook page".
I would even appreciate the PT team more vehemently, especially its editorial team, if it grows up "Embodying the core values of independence, authenticity and credibility - again the reference is their FB page at".

This is what I think of the paper though anyone can disagree...

Bilal Siddiqi said...

I think the Op-ed pages of PT are definitely comparable to the best in Pakistan. The edits are particularly slick. But it is the refreshingly candid columns of journalists like Kamran Rehmat, Shirin Sadeghi and Mayank Soofi that make the pages eminently readable.

Nadia Shaheen said...

Kamran Rehmat writing for Pakistan Today is a mini scoop. Given his liberal views and a known left-of-centre leaning, it is a stellar statement in a presumably rightist paper. Looks good on PT.

Anonymous said...

Pardon me, but I think Kamran Rehmat is a goof who wrote some cringe-making stuff in Dawn. Wasn't he at The News before that? But I suppose he deserves to be in the lacklustre PT and PT deserves him

Anonymous said...

hi, but hey has anyone thought of holding a paper that has everything they'd hope for on thirty-two pages? everyday? its better than all the rest i think. the others are all a mess, for this daily paper, you can go through it in 5 minutes and still get a good five minute read. Its all colored, great english, fine images, nice feel of the quality of paper used for printing. A great competitor indeed. dawn, news and pakistantoday? hey, for the reader in pakistan i think this is a great substitute. Its new, handy and it can get better. i love the format. it made me read a newspaper on a regular basis. it covers all news everyday. thankyou pakistantoday.

jay said...

great stuff pakstntday!

Anonymous said...

Do i detect a troll attack from Mr Nizami's fanboys and girls on Cafe Pyala?
One question: do you guys have to do this as part of your PT job? I agree it's not awful but is it REALLY that good?

Anonymous said...

Raza Rumi writes really well, but this article was very lukewarm... losing the drama, khabardrama?

Bilal Siddiqi said...

Do I detect the green monster at work here? Sure as the day. The attack on Kamran is in atrociously bad taste but then that's why people hide behind anonymity to vent their base sentiment. Shame on you.

Anonymous said...

Why are people here praising and attacking some writer most of us have never even heard of? Has no one anything to say about the paper? I am curious.

Shaista Mehmood said...

I have read a few of Kamran's columns in Pakistan Today and to be honest, the content is both solid and stylish BUT I totally agree that people should be talking about the paper, not personalities.

Anonymous said...

certainly beats the heck out of that garbage bag sunday toting salman taseer doting daily bloody times.....