IT is amazing how lessons taught by one’s teacher remain in a student’s memory till old age. “When you review a film or a play, do not reveal the end. Leave the reader guessing”, she said. “Never place a box item in column one or eight; it must be elsewhere, preferably in the middle”, and “never put a picture close to an ad”. Those were days of black and white pictures and ads, but, in today’s gaudy world of colours, the rule holds good.
Naushaba (nee Hussain) Burney was one of my teachers at Karachi University’s newly founded department of journalism. (The word ‘media’ wasn’t yet in vogue.) Many people doubted whether the department was really needed. Pakistan then had only three English dailies, Karachi having two — Dawn and Morning News. The other paper was of course The Pakistan Times, Lahore. But many of those now occupying key positions in today’s vibrant and unwieldy media are the product of that department.
Also read: Journalist Naushaba Burney passes away
They include first and foremost M. Ziauddin, former resident-editor of Dawn, Islamabad, later resident editor of a Lahore English daily and still later founder and executive editor of another English newspaper. Also among them are Shahida Kazi and Nisar Zuberi.
It is the quality of teachers that mattered. There were two others — Sharif Al Mujahid, the department’s founder, and Qayyum Malik. They made a thorough job of us. Malik taught us fonts and headline writing in a given space: left-flush, centre and step headlines, which NYT practised but later discarded it. Burney taught us how to write a well-structured story by giving us points in chronological order so we could craft a news item like an inverted pyramid. The corrections made by her and the mistakes she pointed out would help me throughout my career as a journalist.
About page-making, some of her instructions still resonate with me, and God alone knows how many times I have repeated it to my juniors at Dawn. The fundamental principle of page make-up, she said, was that “every page must be like yesterday’s page, but it must be different”. So this oxymoron is the fundamental principle of page making — “every page must be like yesterday’s, but it must be different”.
Mujahid is an institution. Gradually he veered off into what it seems he was born for — an icon in writing the history of the Pakistan movement. But as our teacher his focus was on telling us about the intricacies of writing English and avoiding the mistakes typical of South Asians, with an overdose of ‘ing’ — “I am living in Karachi”.
The most terrible moment for me came decades later when Burney became editor of Dawn magazine, overseeing which was one of my duties. We both managed it with tact, without spoiling our relationship. I must also mention here her husband, I. H. Burney, who was my senior in the profession and one of the founder-members of the Karachi Press Club. His weekly, Outlook, was closed down by the government of the day because, as he put it, “it was the only voice of nonconformism”.
Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2016