On August 14, 2012, The Dawn Media Group formally launched Dawn Urdu, an Urdu news website. According to Musadiq Sanwal, Editor, Dawn.com and Dawn Urdu, the response to the website has been promising; since its test phase (which began on June 1st), an average of 32,000 unique users have visited the website every month.
Dawn Urdu was launched via a campaign that celebrated diversity; it comprised teasers published in DAWN newspaper on August 13, saying ‘welcome’ in Urdu, Sindhi, Balochi and Pashto, and were followed by advertisements that focused on the website’s features on August 14, 15 and 16.
So what was the primary reason behind the launch?
According to Sanwal, “We realised that in the last few years a sizeable young audience has emerged in Pakistan. It may not belong to SEC A, but it is educated, young and computer literate; they want quality content in Urdu and we are giving it to them.”
He adds that Dawn Urdu’s secondary audience comprises Pakistanis in North America and the Gulf.
“Ultimately, our target audience is one that is educated and liberal.”
The content of Dawn Urdu includes articles and editorials from DAWN newspaper (30%), videos and wire stories from DawnNews and updates from Dawn.com (30%), as well as exclusive online content such as blogs and feature stories (40%).
“Our most important content is our blogs; we have found bilingual bloggers like Mohammed Hanif and Masood Alam whose Urdu and English are equally good; their work can be viewed in both languages on Dawn.com and Dawn Urdu.”
Sanwal adds that DAWN’s editorials (which are available in Urdu on Dawn Urdu) have also proved to be a major attraction for visitors because they are balanced and credible; this, he says, is a rarity because most editorials found in Urdu newspapers and websites tend to be “sensationalist and hyped up”.
This is all the more important today, says Sanwal.
“In the last four years, a lot of interesting developments have taken place; there has been a lot of emphasis on media monitoring; questions have been raised about sensationalism in the mainstream media (which is in Urdu) and on blogs such as Cafe Pyala. We want to bring the hallmarks of DAWN, which include ethical, objective and impartial reportage, to an Urdu audience.”
Another issue that Dawn Urdu plans to address is the misuse of certain words that are used on most Urdu websites and television channels.
“Urdu is usually used in a male-dominated manner and can therefore be discriminating. For example, if a woman is raped it is called abroo raizee or ismat daree, which means the victim’s honour has been taken away, and does not mention the perpetrators. We will use the word ‘rape’ instead. Another example is when a Muslim is killed, the Urdu media uses words such as shaheed or jabahaq which means dying in the way of God; but if a Hindu dies, the word halaaq is used. We do not want to discriminate, so we will not use words such as shaheed.”
Dawn Urdu will also use contemporary Urdu that is simple and used by most people in order to represent and reach younger audiences.
In addition to the language, what also differentiates Dawn Urdu from most of its competitors is a feature that allows users to type in Urdu (to comment or search for articles) without having to use an Urdu-English keyboard or installing additional software. This interface is easy to use, and at this point in time, no other Urdu website offers this.
Another differentiating feature is an easy to use interface that displays articles in a text format, rather than an image format which most other Urdu websites do. This means that not only can the articles on Dawn Urdu be read easily, but they can also be searched for.
Does Sanwal feel that the audiences of Dawn.com may be cannibalised with the introduction of Dawn Urdu?
He replies that there is no chance of this happening, because according to statistics from both websites, Dawn.com’s traffic is very high on weekdays, while Dawn Urdu’s traffic is highest on weekends. He points out that Dawn.com is accessed primarily from the workplace, while Dawn Urdu’s audience visits the website on weekends from their homes, and reads the content at leisure, indicating that the two websites are catering to very different audience segments.
As far as plans for the future are concerned, Sanwal says that in order to expand the visitor base of the website, Dawn Urdu will provide additional features. One of these will allow users to view the content in Roman Urdu because an increasing number of people use Roman Urdu especially when they are texting. Additionally, this will also attract users from India, who cannot read Urdu but can speak and understand it verbally.