Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

A woman of many elegant hats

Published in Jan-Feb 2016

Samina Ibrahim – journalist, marketer and fashion editor – in profile.

One of the first things that struck me about Samina Ibrahim on entering her room in her gorgeously appointed home was the smell of cardamom mingled with her perfume. I’m not sure whether the aroma was actually present or if I just imagined it, but it was very pleasant. On to the lady in question, she was immaculately dressed, her hair beautifully coiffed and her hands and neck adorned with the most alluring pieces of jewellery. The net effect was of pure elegance. Beyond the visual and olfactory stimuli, Ibrahim was warm, welcoming and extremely upbeat. An unfortunate medical condition that left her paralysed from the waist down seven years ago has done nothing to diminish her zest for life.

It did, however, force her to quit her job at Newsline where she worked as Senior Assistant Editor ever since its inception. “I don’t know why I didn’t go back to work afterwards, but I think it bothered me that I couldn’t just up and go after stories or get a fashion shoot done,” she says by way of explanation.

Chasing stories and organising fashion shoots didn’t come naturally to Ibrahim. In fact, when she started her first job in the media as Assistant Editor at Herald, she had no journalism experience, nor was she particularly interested in gaining any. She had previously worked as a copywriter at Asiatic (now JWT Pakistan) and it was only at Hameed Haroon’s (CEO, The Dawn Media Group) insistence that she met Razia Bhatti, the then editor of the Herald.

“When I met Razia for the first time, I was hooked on to her more than on journalism. People who have worked with her will know what I mean. To have worked and learned with someone of her calibre... there is nobody to touch her skill and patience.”

Under Bhatti’s eagle eye, Ibrahim, along with Rehana Hakim (now Editor of Newsline), Saira Irshad and Tehmina Ahmed (Senior Editor at Newsline), worked together to re-launch the Herald from “a tired looking, slightly better version of MAG” into a proper news magazine. The process, while extremely exhilarating, was also tedious. Bhatti, Ibrahim explains, was a perfectionist and would “nitpick on a headline – forget about the article – until you got it right. It didn’t matter if it took six hours or six days. And the rewriting, oh man the rewriting… like you just wouldn’t believe. Like you just would not believe,” she exclaims, almost as if reliving those initial heady months in journalism all over again.

Along with chasing stories, which included controversial pieces, Bhatti also tasked Ibrahim with the responsibility of putting together the six-page fashion section of the Herald. These pages, it would appear, gave Ibrahim, more sleepless nights than her articles because there were “no photographers, models, stylists or designers – apart from Maheen Khan – in those early years.”

However, as Ibrahim used her own accessories, sometimes made up the models and worked with a photographer called Moosa, Pakistan’s fashion industry was slowly taking shape. Ibrahim recounts a wonderful incident involving photographer Rooha Ghaznavi, who once hesitantly mentioned to her that she had a sister who designed beautiful clothing.

“We went together to look at her stuff and it was breathtaking. We did what was her first shoot and that is how the world got to see Faiza Samee,” she finishes triumphantly, clearly relishing my surprise at the punch line which she delivers almost as if she were writing an article.

The years that followed had plenty of fashions firsts (at both Herald and Newsline) including working with Tariq Amin, Rizwan Beyg, Tapu Javeri, Arif Mahmood, Nabila, Shamyal and countless others who at that point were just starting out. For her contributions to fashion journalism, Ibrahim was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Lux Style Awards in 2011. However, before all this took place, there was upheaval. Following differences of opinion with the Pakistan Herald Publications in 1988, the entire Herald team led by Bhatti resigned and went on to launch a totally new news magazine from scratch. That magazine was of course Newsline.

Ibrahim says that the decision to leave the Herald was not difficult because “we would have gone anywhere Razia would take us; one just had so much faith in her.”

“There was always a conscious and very healthy competition between Herald and Newsline to see who would get the scoop and print it first, and during those early years we swept the APNS Awards.”

Working out of a small one room office at the Hotel Metropole, the tiny Newsline team which had no budget at all – let alone a shoestring one – worked night and day to compete with the “might of Haroon House” where Sherry Rehman had now taken over as the editor of the Herald.

“There was always a conscious and very healthy competition between Herald and Newsline to see who would get the scoop and print it first, and during those early years we swept the APNS Awards.”

Ibrahim herself won an award for investigative journalism for uncovering corruption at PIA. “We were a good team at the Herald, but we had a great team at Newsline.”

Not only was Ibrahim a journalist and fashion editor at Newsline, she had the added responsibility of taking care of the business side of the magazine. All of this required time so she would often work until 4:00 a.m., come home for a few hours sleep and then repeat the process all over again. Although she says that those early years were “exciting” and “we were all on a high”, her son bore the brunt of her punishing hours at work and she very forthrightly says, “he still tells me that I wasn’t there for him and that is true to a certain extent. I can’t get away from that one.”

In the midst of her mad Newsline schedule, Ibrahim found time to start a small jewellery design business called Mandarin, little knowing that this is what she would stick to with even after she quit journalism. The business was a result of a trip to Hong Kong, where Ibrahim along with her husband, attended a jewellery exhibition and returned with a stash of beads and stones which she then designed into unique pieces and sold at exhibitions held at home and in various galleries. Seventeen years later, says Ibrahim, that business is becoming stronger and better each year.

Back at Newsline things were about to get difficult and about nine years after the magazine was established, the team received a huge personal and professional blow: Bhatti’s sudden death due to a brain haemorrhage.

Talking about the impact of her death, Ibrahim says, “Razia had always been the last word for us and always the right word. Suddenly we were without that ‘last word’ and it was terrible to cope with; but Rehana took over so smoothly and took us along extremely well.”

Looking back now, Ibrahim is quite nostalgic about the days before the advent of the electronic media when people gleaned their information from newspapers and news magazine, and even the political parties trusted journalists and columnists enough to give them information secure in the knowledge that the source would never be made known. But she is also aware that those days are long gone.

“A monthly news magazine is now a strange kind of animal because the information is on your screen all the time and everything is a scoop. News magazines need to do a lot of analysis and they should also consider weekly publication in order to maintain that edge. However, there is such a dearth of writers because everyone wants the instant gratification of being on television. At the end of the day we have to see whether a weekly would make financial sense because even your ads are going to the electronic media, because look at the reach there!”

Clearly Ibrahim’s incisiveness and razor sharp observation skills are still very much intact. She has worn many hats during the course of her career and although she is not actively involved in journalism anymore, it’s obvious that you cannot take the journalist, the marketer and the fashion editor out of Samina Ibrahim.