Take it online

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When people ask about my experience as a web editor, their query always comes with the inevitable raised eyebrow: why would any journalist want to throw away their career to work for a Pakistani website?

Typically, aside from Dawn.com making some significant advances online, news websites in Pakistan have been considered the last stop of riff-raff copy-editors, and more often, teams of glorified translators and masters at Ctrl C+V. Local news websites had generally been treated as extensions of traditional media, both print and TV, and have served minor roles as disseminators of news. Instead, they focus more on public relations, representing the media group’s online presence. In general, there was, and still is confusion about whether news websites are to be handled by IT specialists or journalists, and whether such sites will do anything other than regurgitate the media group’s content.

This is the general perception and history of online journalism in Pakistan, and it is a narrative The Express Tribune website has thankfully been able to shatter, to the benefit of all. My decision to move from broadcast TV to print and finally to web was never easy, but it has been a seamless transition. Broadcast was too fleeting and vacuous, print had depth but lacked reach, interactivity and vitality; web provided for all the above and many new avenues of creating, presenting and channelling news.

Strategically, The Express Tribune website (tribune.com.pk) kept its goal clearly focused on keeping people informed with 24/7 real-time updates, done live if necessary, which was a first for Pakistani news sites. This also involved converging with the Express Media group’s vast resources, allowing for online journalism to flourish via the web desk’s access to TV and print reporters all across Pakistan.

The aim of the site was definitely to disseminate the print edition’s stories in an easy-to-use, easy-to-access manner, but simultaneously, it was also developed as a platform for building a community and becoming a playground for ideas and debate – the local watering hole for people to come and engage with the news, and others. To this end, the site’s open comment policy, open-blog policy and its flourishing Facebook community (over 21,000 strong) and Twitter following has unleashed the unexpected force of stories going ‘viral’ reaching hundreds of thousands and developing into massive online debates in the comments section. The value of such a community cannot be measured, its positive impact on the print edition is indisputable.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th,  2011.

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