How to write an article on Pakistan (for the foreign press)

Published: November 8, 2013
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Dear journalist, blogger, columnist or on-again, off-again writer, congratulations! You have chosen to cover Pakistan in an article aimed at a global audience and (fingers crossed) paid for by a foreign news service/agency.

Your guide awaits you below – check off your game plan and repeat ad nauseum.

STEP 1: Choose your topic

A: I want to write on terrorism, the impact of the US exit from Afghanistan, drone attacks, the tribal badlands, ‘Nuclear-armed’ dangers and Pakistan’s foreign policy in general.

Pros: I can be an expert on all the above thanks to Google and many hours of spare time.

Cons: There is an average of 100 articles per day on the above (damn).

B: I want to write on the restive Balochistan province, the separatist insurgency, Gwadar, China, secret wars, missing persons, government neglect, the plight of the common folk and foreign policy in general.

Pros: Way more ‘hip’ than covering terrorism in the tribal badlands.

Cons: I can’t Google my way through this. Too little information (making copy-paste and rewording hard), and too many dodgy sources. Also fewer analysts available.

C: I want to write a positive Pakistan story, grounded in the people, civil society, fashion, music, art, innovation, business. All of this couched in the context of ‘terrorism in the tribal badlands’ and ‘conservative Islamic culture’ of course, else it won’t sell.

Pros: I can probably roam around the streets and find something or the other. Maybe attend a party. Maybe a fashion show. Maybe a restaurant launch. It’s essentially a non-time bound one-note wonder.

Cons: The story is only as interesting as it can be juxtaposed against terrorism, Islam etc. Can’t write too many of these, or do follow-ups.

D: I can wait till disaster strikes someone important or somewhere significant and write on that! If the disaster can be framed in the context of terrorism and religion, I score double. Triple if I get a photograph.

Pros: It might actually count as a real story and give me some reporting cred.

Cons: I might actually have to get out and cover something, probably on a deadline.

STEP 2: Gather information

A: I can exit my house. Some leg work may be required for some topics. Alternately, I could pay real reporters to do the leg work for me! Yeah, that works.

B: I can Google it all! Seriously, there is a lot of good content online that no one has read yet and can be rehashed. Also, Twitter and a couple of online analytics tools can help me drill down which articles are trending online. Then it’s just a matter of reproducing them, commenting on their merits/demerits, or even better, taking two of them and mashing them together!

C: I can read Pakistani newspapers every day and redo (read: steal) their exclusives! All I need to do to ‘own’ the story is to insert new quotes from a couple of sources (hopefully already mentioned in the story) and maybe a few analysts I have on speed-dial (Hassan Askari Rizvi, Ayesha Siddiqa and so on).

D: I can just listen to all the drawing room gossip around me and filter it into an article. I can spin the hearsay into ‘some analysts’, named or unnamed ‘sources’, ‘the talk in X city’ or just call the whole damn thing ‘zeitgeist’.

STEP 3: Write the article

A: My introduction needs to have a killer hook that establishes the subject matter in the context a foreign reader enjoys i.e. the above-mentioned terrorism, religious conservatism, dangers, threats etc. The more extreme the contrast of subject matter, the better!

B: My quotes from various sources should fit the pre-written context and overall theme of disaster, gloom or positive-story-despite-the-madness. If they do not fit the overall theme, I should go back and get some new quotes that fit my preconceived article, or try to reshape and rewrite the quotes so they work the way I want them to.

C: If I have Googled my way through writing most of the article, I should probably run it through anti-plagiarism software. I can further rewrite bits that are being highlighted as plagiarized, or I can write a preemptive clever defense of the stolen bits, to be emailed out if anyone catches on.

STEP 4: Send it off for publishing

A: I can send the article to NYT, The Guardian, Christian Science Monitor and other top tier foreign press that pay well and have space for Pakistan-based content!

B: If that fails, I can send it to second tier foreign press and blogs like Foreign Policy or Huffington Post. I might not get paid, but my next article can say I write for the foreign press and that should give me some clout with the top tier.

C: I can always spam the article to the local English press and blogs and hope for the best. Koi to challa dey ga.

Jahanzaib Haque

Jahanzaib Haque

News buff and Web Editor, The Express Tribune. Jahanzaib tweets @Jhaque_ twitter.com/jhaque_

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.