First published in September-October 2014
Mamun M. Adil speaks to Rameeza Nizami on the challenges of running one of the oldest media groups of Pakistan, and how newspapers can stay relevant in the digital age.
MAMUN M. ADIL: How does it feel to be the chairperson of an influential media group at such a young age?
RAMEEZA NIZAMI: It often surprises people that despite being an archconservative, my late father Majid Nizami, left behind a thoroughly modern lady in-charge. I think that he did so because he always had a sense of humour about such things, and leaving me in-charge might have been his final laugh at the world, telling them: “You can deal with her now!”
MMA: What sort of challenges does being so relatively young pose?
RN: I wouldn’t say that my job has too many challenges; it is very exciting. And remember, this is not my first day at the job, I have been working at the Nawa-i-Waqt Group for five years and it doesn’t feel unnatural to me at all, although it may seem out of the ordinary for people on the outside.
MMA: How did you begin work at the Nawa-i-Waqt Group?
RN: I began at Waqt TV in 2007, before the channel launched and I worked on everything from figuring out the satellite costs to structuring the content of the shows. I then moved on to Nawai-i-Waqt’s editorial pages and then The Nation’s, so I have always been primarily involved on the editorial side, as well as the management side because that is the way our organisation works. Similarly, my father was a professional editor and journalist who also happened to own the business; and because we have been involved in the content and the business side of things, it means that the kind of work we deal with is varied.
MMA: What was your role at The Nation?
RN: For about a year and a half I ran The Nation’s editorial pages. When I began to work there, I was not happy with the kind of content that was being produced. I don’t mean this in terms of the editorial policy; I just thought we could do so much better in terms of quality. During my time there, I worked on everything from assigning, editing and writing editorials to looking after layouts.
MMA: Editorially, The Nation has shifted from a conservative stance to a more liberal one. What role did you play in bringing about this change?
RN: That was not what I intended to do, and this is where I have a problem with labels such as ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’. Usually, when people in Pakistan use these terms, they automatically assume that they have religious connotations, but they do not. I would still say that our editorial policies are of a politically conservative bent, because to be honest, I am of a politically conservative bent. I can’t say that I am very leftist, because I am not. I think you are perceived to be a liberal because you lead a certain kind of lifestyle.
MMA: Don’t you think that The Nation’s editorial approach has changed at all?
RN: I don’t think that the editorials have changed drastically; the quality of writing has improved and the editorials are more persuasive and have more personality now; they are lively and defiant and their tone is one that people can relate to. We have changed the way we use language, we have new writers (who are all on staff) and they come from different walks of life and are of different ages. They are blunt without trying to be terribly clever, although of course, that doesn’t mean that our editorials are superfluous or that they are not written by people who know what they are talking about; it’s just that our editorials now have a different kind of confidence – a voice that is younger, more forceful and less diplomatic.
MMA: Given the impact of the internet and television, what do newspapers need to do in order to remain relevant in terms of their treatment of the news?
RN: Newspapers in Pakistan are evolving; they will change more with time and it will not require some great epiphany to bring more changes, because newspapers realise that they are now competing with television as well as social media. But despite this, I still think there is nothing that can replace a newspaper; there is nothing like reading one in the morning. I still believe in the romance of the newspaper.
MMA: Why is that?
RN: Because newspapers can still give their readers what other media cannot. For instance, let’s say a bomb blast takes place. A few years ago, a simple account of what happened and how many people were affected was all that was covered in a newspaper, but that doesn’t cut it anymore because readers have already heard about the blast on television and social media. This is why newspapers are now doing more situational reporting, capturing the atmosphere, getting quotes from people; television cannot do that without seeming macabre; they cannot describe it as well as newspapers can. I think we are going to see a lot of styles of writing which newspapers are going to adapt to instinctively; they have started doing so already. That said, I don’t think anyone should expect too much too quickly because newspapers have limited resources; writers also need time to adjust to a new kind of writing and filing their stories; they have to provide more context and background now and while they are aware of it, changing decades old habits takes time.
MMA: How can newspapers use social media to their advantage?
RN: Facebook is the greatest marketing tool if you can figure out a way to market your writing, photos or features on it. But, can you monetise it? No, and that is the problem but at the same time you have to have a presence on it and this is frightening for some papers because they are still not clear as to what their ‘online personality’ is.
MMA: What is The Nation’s ‘online personality’?
RN: The Nation has an excitable personality; we are not of the opinion that Facebook and Twitter are small secret weapons run by nerdy Pakistanis sitting in dungeons – social media is a common platform and we have taken to it and have a lot of fun with it. In Lahore, we have three tickers the size of billboards. Until last year, we used to run news updates on them, but this year we started running our Twitter feeds with hashtags, so we are not at all shy on social media; we want people to adapt and we want to be there first, because newspapers cannot afford to ignore social media.
MMA: What, if any, changes will you be contemplating across your media platforms?
RN: I have not been waiting to change anything; for as long as I have been working, there has not been a day that I have been told by my father, or anyone else, that we should not do something or that we cannot do it; it has never been that way. There are definitely some changes we would like to bring about, like changing the style of writing in both newspapers, but the reason we have not brought about these changes is not because we have been stopped from doing so; we haven’t had the time to get to them. We need to remember that the Nawa-i-Waqt Group has been around for 74 years, and we have managed to do so by constantly being pushed to evolve. For example, my father was always at the forefront of change, and not second in line. And this is why we are still here 74 years later. So if there is anything that I wish to do, it is to remember that we have a vision of adapting and evolving and if I can do anything to add momentum to that, there is nothing like it.
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