June 18, 2010

Mr Jinnah's Dawn in danger

Mr. Khurshid Aizid
(Manager Human Resources)
Pakistan Herald Publication (Private) Limited
Haroon House, Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed Road,
Karachi, Pakistan.

Dear Sir,

I’ve a dream to see daily Dawn, the newspaper of Mr Jinnah, among the global media leaders in this century. And, I've the same dream about Mr Jinnah's Pakistan. Therefore, despite the direct and indirect persecution, I always remained positive at workplace. I've sacrificed a lot for the reputation of this great organisation!

Here are some of my many mails to the editorial management of Dawn, which would explain that I’m not an ordinary employee of this organisation. I had given some suggestions in these mails in a time when, my colleagues were suspicious of Mr Abbas Nasir’s reform agenda (I respect him a lot but am surprised at his silence) and they were making fun of Mr Zaffar Abbas, saying that “a magazine reporter, who doesn’t know even the basics of editing, has become Resident Editor of Dawn in Islamabad”.

I tried to help the editorial management in positive and creative ways. I’ve never taken part in any kind of politics. I always tried to bring the best out of those colleagues who had criminal intentions. But, unfortunately, my efforts proved a futile attempt—it was like washing a piece of coal for years in the hope to bring out the assumed milky colour! Many former employees, trainees and interns, especially women, have horrific stories. The editorial management has become a criminal cult... Dawn needs a change of the cult culture for its survival.

Yours faithfully,

Habib R. Sulemani
(Sub Editor)
Daily Dawn Islamabad,
Pakistan

June 16, 2010

***

Mr Abbas Nasir
Editor
Dawn Pakistan

Dear Sir,

I hope this e-mail would find you in the best of health and high spirit. During the recent visit to Dawn Islamabad, your thought-provoking speech, at the newsroom, was really encouraging. It shed light on your vision of journalism in the Cyber-age, the position of Dawn among the contemporary media, the reforms, the conservative resistance to the reforms, ("Dawn main aiysa nahi hota"), welfare of the organisation and employees, the working environment and the art of subbing. We learnt many things during the 15-minute unconventional lecture and hope this would continue in the future as well.

No doubt, after your takeover as Editor Dawn, the newspaper has witnessed many groundbreaking changes. Quality of the product – from coverage to display – has improved and Dawn is shaping the course of history in Pakistan. The unprecedented increase in the salaries of the staff has brought smiles on faces. I hope, in the future, no one would dare to say: "bhokay sahfi" (starving journalists). The wordsmiths' faith in words and their meanings has been restored.

I think the owners of Dawn Group, being the most educated and civilised employers in the media industry, had realised demands of the Cyber-age. That is why they choose a young leadership that thinks globally and acts locally, to organise M. A. Jinnah's newspaper, which has served the public for six long decades, for the future.

Some say: "Until and unless the 'Baba Group' (a group of elderly journalists that has monopoly at Dawn Media Group) and its 'Baghal-bacha Brigade' (the near and dear ones of the elderly journalists) are active with their tested tactics, the reforms cannot be a success story." I think the change at Dawn is inevitable, because, there is a lot to learn from the history of the defunct newspapers – The Pakistan Times, The Muslim and Star.

I hope those conservatives, who are afraid of changes and want to maintain the status quo, may realise the needs of the new age and would be rehabilitated in the new system. We at Dawn, from top to bottom, are just like members of a family; I would call it the
'D-family.' Difficulties are part of a normal family life but I am sure that under your leadership, Dawn would step forward as "A trusted global source of news and views."

During your visit, you had asked for suggestions and here I am presenting some random thoughts from my factory of ideas (brain). I don't know if they are really worth consideration, but they are based on my over a decade experience in the mainstream newspapers in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. But, before writing them honestly here, I want to say: thank you for providing me the opportunity to work with this great organisation under Mr Zaffer Abbas, a young and the most respected resident editor in the federal capital.

1- Serious organisational steps should be taken to increase the intellectual and professional capabilities of the editorial staff. Workshops, seminars, study tours and refresher courses should be organised to make sub-editors, reporters, correspondents and feature writers updated, active and productive to meet the demands of the rapidly changing media scenario. The services of experts, professors, media analysts, linguists and senior journalists, especially from the West, should be invited in this regard. This would be a fruitful investment in the human resources, which would benefit Dawn Group's newspapers, radio and TV channels, and websites equally. If a workshop is organised in Islamabad, the people in Karachi and Lahore offices can also take advantage of it live through the cyberspace or CDs.

2- Dawn is the only newspaper in Pakistan, which has a stylebook – the Bible of a journalist. But, unfortunately, it is less fallowed. A common example is the distinction between the spellings of 'Muhammad' – the prophet (peace be upon him) and 'Mohammad' – a common part of Muslim names. Moreover, the stylebook needs to be updated as many things have changed since it was compiled: for example use of the words 'female' and 'especially' in news-copy, similarly the use of 'S' and 'Z' etc also needed to be revived. The update of the stylebook will help reporters and sub-editors to consolidate their efforts to further improve the quality of the newspaper.

3- After the advancement of the TV and internet, the print media needs an extraordinary narration style to get new readers attracted, which is going to be very difficult with the passage of time, because a newspaper reaches the doorsteps of a reader 24 hours late. Our traditional news-copy needs a new style having qualities of 'feature' and 'creative writing'. Also, the 'first person' narration should be allowed to get readers deeply involved.

4- An attractive layout could not be ignored at all. The sub-editors should be trained to make their own pages, which would save time and make the layout quality better.

5- The deskwork is really a challenging job in journalism. And it is very hard to withstand the stresses and strains of this kind of lifestyle. However, in general, sub-editors are considered "people doing a clerical job" and some desk-guys also say in despair: "There is nothing at the desk; the charm of journalism is outside in reporting." This attitude makes a sub-editor disheartened and, unfortunately, makes him/her think: "No matter how hard I work on a story, the credit will go to the reporter only." Thus the sub-editor may correct the story grammatically but he/she may not edit it properly. This behaviour directly affects the quality of the product, and most of Pakistani newspapers are victim of this behaviour. If the sub-editors are also given seldom assignments outside their domain, it would make the 'lazy creatures' active and there can be a positive change in the professional behaviour. Although journalism is considered 'literature in haste' where errors cannot be eliminated completely but they could be reduced with the provision a hygienic professional environment. Similarly, reporters should also be given some time to work at the desk so that they can understand the affairs of the desk.

6- Indeed, journalism is no more a literary way of self-catharsis or a 'mission' as it used to be in the twentieth century. Now it is a profession based on objectivity. To improve the professional skills of the staff, the study and research allowance should be increased from the present pitiable level to a dignified state. (I am paid Rs200 per month, which has left the subject open to mockery and ridicule, because with this amount one could not buy a book even).

7- Until there is a solid system to judge the performance of workers (for pay-raise and promotion), the minimum salary of an editorial staff should be Rs40,000 per month. (During the last six months, all of my colleagues got pay-raise on two occasions while I got just one, which has brought a huge difference of five digits between me and their salaries.)

8- There is no culture of speaking English at the offices and colleagues mostly speak local languages thus making Dawn virtually a vernacular newspaper 'laboured' in English language. Those who dare to speak English are bullied. Officially steps should be taken to encourage English during working hours. (Although, a positive social change is taking place with the arrival of Pakistan's first English language TV channel, DawnNews, and people like Moulana Fazalur Rehman have even started speaking English on TV, which is an indication of a silent cultural revolution.)

9- For sustainable development, meritocracy and youth culture should be declared the norms at Dawn. Instead of the 'traditional way' of offering a job, there should be a scientific strategy for talent-hunt. Only those people, who have an aptitude for the profession, should be recruited. In this way those people would be discouraged who want a traditional 'noukary' (no service but a job to earn salary only) without any creativity. Meanwhile, new staff members should be given proper training before giving them assignments.

10- Women should be provided maximum opportunity, at the desk and in reporting, it would bring a positive change in the collective behaviour of employees, and that would create a hygienic and dignified working environment.

11- E-mail communication should be encouraged at the offices, as now almost all editorial staff members have their official e-mail accounts at dawn dot com. (I have got one but I am still not using it because my name has been misspelled. A request for correction has been made in this regard.) Suggestions and comments through e-mail should be sought from the staff so that every employee is on board.

12- A media monitoring section should be created so that its reports are used for the group's print and electronic media. If The New York Times or Guardian publishes a report about Pakistan, it becomes available on the Internet and the monitoring section can provide it to the newsroom easily then waiting for Dawn's correspondent in New York or
London. However, a correspondent can do additional reporting, news analysis or write comments on the story, which would give the readers a local perspective.

13- A central digital photo library should be developed having exclusive and general photos with complete details so that different sections of the Dawn Media Group use them whenever needed.

14- Dawn's web edition needs to be developed as a real 'global' portal. City journalism, blogs, interactive programs etc should be given proper place in this regard. No doubt, the web edition has the brightest future.

15- A section should be created to check quality of Dawn – pointing out errors, missing news items and doing a comparative study of the contemporary newspapers on day-to-day basis to give an input to the Editor. In this way a system of self-accountability would evolve and it would also help in judging the performance of the staff. Through this section those reporters and sub-editors should be informed about their errors/mistakes and must be given a three-day period to clear their positions in written. Better the process should be through e-mail, which would make the staff effective and vigilant in the cyber age.

16- An ombudsman should be appointed to deal with the complaints of the readers.

17- If a worker is not availing his/her weekly-offs and holydays, or spends unwanted hours at the offices, or does double job, that would bring a negative change in his/her behaviour, which would ultimately affect the collective behaviour of the workers. Such malpractices should be stopped to protect the energy of the workers. Workers should be allowed to utilise their holidays and daily dinner-break to remain healthy and energetic.

18- If a section, intentionally or unintentionally, becomes sick and gets divided into pressure groups, it becomes a 'torture cell'. In such a situation negativism – suspicion, falsehood, character assassination, shenanigans, conspiracies and unholy alliances – becomes a norm. The sadistic nature of some makes life a burning hell for others. The environment of fear, insecurity and harassment badly affects the life of that worker who wants to remain 'non-aligned' and committed to his/her job. Due to pathetic jealousy, he/she is irritated and frustrated, and then 'labelled' in a certain way so that he/she gets fired. This is the assassination of professionalism. Steps should be taken to avoid such a disgusting working environment.

Yours truly,

Habib R. Sulemani
(Sub-Editor)
Dawn Islamabad.

August 19, 2007

***

My Dear Habib Sulemani,

Many thanks for making so much time to write your detailed email and offering exhaustive suggestions. Zaffar Sahab and other senior colleagues are meeting in Karachi later in the week and will definitely look at your proposals.

Many thanks and Regards

Abbas (Nasir)

Aug 20, 2007

***

Mr Zaffar Abbas
Resident Editor
Dawn Islamabad

Sir,

I hope your journey to Karachi was fine. I'm so sorry for not being able to give any suggestion during your meeting with the newsroom staff and senior reporters. Actually, I can express myself better in the written form. I wanted to email my random thoughts to you, but I could not do so immediately. Because, my PC is out of order for a long time now and my plan to buy a laptop is yet a dream. In the newsroom, one can do only editing no writing. However, I managed to go to a net café today to do this email.
Please, allow me to say something from my personal experience in different newspapers. I don't think it would be something new for you due to your vast experience in national and international media (print, radio, TV and internet). If they seem rude then forgive me for writing them here. But, as matter of fact, I think it is my duty to share them with you honestly, because they have a direct relation with the traditional 'newsroom culture.'

Until your arrival, my experience with previous resident editors was not really a pleasant one. They used to be the traditional 'bosses' using the 'conventional wisdom' to run newspapers! They had no experience in global media and were not aware of the demands of the cyber-age. They acted like bureaucrats (CSP Babu) – remained at a distance from their subordinates, totally depending on section heads and people known as 'fake characters' to run the affairs of the newspapers. They would make their opinions about a worker or a situation on the basis of the 'biased opinions' of others. They didn't believed in hygienic working environment but thought that creating 'conflicts' would only allow them to reign longer. (May be they had read Niccolò Machiavelli's book: The Prince.)

The polarised working environment made different sections of the newspaper 'cults' and the section heads and the so-called fake characters took full advantage of the situation. They were equally capable of awarding a worker with the 'fury' or 'delight' of the big boss. And they enjoyed it very much.

However, I could not believe my eyes when, after taking over, you came to the office canteen and started Iftari (it was Ramadan) with the newspaper workers (from security guards to reporters and sub-editors). My colleagues were stunned that an editor can be that much normal to mix with his subordinates. When you took the editorial staff to the Margalla Hills for lunch, for me, it was the beginning of comeback from a long period of depression (longer than the Great Depression of the 1930s). I really don't know, in which way I can say a thank you.

Sir, here are my random thought about the Metropolitan newsroom. My colleagues had pointed out the 'fault-lines' and had proposed solutions, my points may sound trivial but they may support their suggestions.

1- With the physical change of the newsroom, a behavioural change is also needed.

2- The newsroom needs to be consolidated. The news gathering sources – reporters, correspondents and agencies (APP, PPI and Online) – should be organised according to the needs of the Metro pages. News items should be gathered at earliest and if the story of an agency is doubtful or is just the 'tip of an iceberg' then a reporter should be given an assignment to file a story or news feature in this regard.

3- The news distribution system should be improved by making it quick and clear. The person who holds the shift should instantly give stories to the sub-editors so that they take their time to edit them properly. If a news item gets field at 7pm and reaches a sub-editor at 12am, it is very hard for the sub-editor to do justice with editing. (Last night, after near about 1am, I got the over 600-word-story "Aini Apa – Urdu literature lost a gem" for editing. Though I managed to make a catchy headline but I regret the errors in the text because the page was just waiting for the story.)

4- The sub-editor, who after editing stories makes a page, should be allowed to go home. This would make him/her more responsible.

5- Sub-editors should be, preferably, given stories according to their expertise and interest (no matter it is a lead or just a single column story). If a sub-editor is taking interest in certain type of stories (crime, feature etc), he/she should be given that as a top priority. This would catalyse professionalism and would increase quality of the product. (Among us at the newsroom, Adeel Sab has got the sharpest eyes and mind to detect and replace 'sick words' in a news-copy.)

6- The traditional 'newsroom tricks' should not be applied as it used in the good old days when some sub-editors were given lead stories and others only those items known as 'kachra' or 'fillers.' Everyone should be given equal opportunity to nourish him/her skills.

7- Meritocracy should be the norm. If a headline or caption of a sub-editor is very imaginative, it should not be changed with a 'grammatically' correct but 'unimaginative' stuff just to discourage the sub-editor. It is dishonesty with the profession and organisation.

8- If a story, edited by some sub-editor, has an error and those who find it before going to press, should correct it, thinking an error a source of embarrassment not only for the sub-editor but also for the organisation.

9- Difference of opinion is a democratic beauty but this beauty should not be replaced with enmity. No one should be allowed to 'hack' any other's tray and 'plant' a mistake to bring him/her humiliation.

10- The timetable for the Metropolitan pages should be strictly fallowed: page-2 should be completed by 11pm, page-3 by 11:30pm and page-1 by 12am.

11- If needed, when a page is completed and okayed, the A-4 size printout can be faxed to the Resident Editor (at home) for final approval so that any change if needed (in headlines, text, photographs, captions or layout) is made. This can be done on special occasions if not regularly.

12- Dawn Islamabad (North) covers a huge and divorced area: four geographical parts of Pakistan – the federal capital, parts of Punjab, NWFP, AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan. The proposed NWFP Metro can be prepared in Islamabad and transferred by electronic means for print in Peshawer (arranged at any local press), in this way readers can get the newspaper in time particularly in the far-flung areas of NWFP.

13- A person who leads a shift must not burden him/herself with stories. Preferably, he/she should not edit but manage editing and page making, plus the 'final-touch.' It is a very hard job and if he/she starts editing the whole affair could be a mess. (Some people do so strategically to make his/her subordinates parasites depending on him/her skills only. This is an unhealthy practice.)

14- The newsroom should be a conflict-free area. Quality editing is possible only in a cool, calm, composed and hygienic environment.

15- A sub-editor should not be humiliated if he/she is a bit late or unable to come to office due to sickness, an emergency or any other genuine reason. Unfortunately, it is a common norm of traditional bosses to frustrate a subordinate despite the fact that he/she had informed the office about his/her situation. Such behaviour is not against professional ethics but also denial of the laws of the land, which must be avoided.

16- Sub-editors should be given dinner-break so that their mind becomes fresh, otherwise an early go-home, so that they remain healthy.

17- No one should be allowed to use the office premises or resources to be used for any outsider (person or organisation).

18- At least there should be a monthly meeting of the resident editor and the editorial staff, so that they could share their professional issues and get the editor's direct guidelines.

19- If the Resident Editor spends at least a day with the production team – newsroom, page-making section, communication sections and press – the workers may get rid of their traditional 'hesitation' and that would help them to get the editor's direct feedback to improve their working style.

Yours sincerely,

Habib R. Sulemani
Islamabad.

August 23, 2007

***

To Mr Zaffar Abbas

Dear Sir,

I’ve downloaded some e-books from the internet (saved on my desktop folder name: e-books). They include famous classics, books on art, literature, politics, religion and journalism. I think they should be accessible to all of my colleagues in the Newsroom and Reporting Room. If the Communication Department creates a new common folder, I think, in free time, these e-books can be a great help to us, especially filing and editing reports on art and culture. Plus those colleagues, who find high-quality e-texts, they can download. In this way a digital in-house library can evolve which will benefit our organization.

Yours truly,

Habib Sulemani

August 30, 2009

1 comment:

  1. In one of my blogs I have described Dawn as "an insult to Quaid-e-Azam's memory and the haunt of westernised fascists". I wasn't too far off the mark, it seems!

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