KARACHI: Saleemi Asmi, a former editor of Dawn who passed away on Friday night, seemed keen to transfer his skills down to the next generation. I was among those who had the opportunity to work with him.

When he formally took over as News Editor at Dawn in the late 1980s, after quitting the same position in the Khaleej Times in Dubai, he called a meeting of the colleagues in Newsroom. Following a brief, informal introduction, he bluntly declared that he knew more about newspaper production and related matters than any other person around – apparently meaning that he did not need anybody’s ‘tutoring’. Yes, his claim was not unfounded as we gradually discovered marvelled at. For instance, nobody here had taught us how to measure a photo to fit it into a certain number of columns during those days of nascent computerisation when most things were done manually before they were sent out to the computer section for composing on a celluloid film. He even knew how the printing and other machines in a newspaper set-up worked and what brands were more in demand in the industry.

He impressed on us that subbing and editing was not a boring job as many of us might have considered it to be. It was not like ‘Why should I waste my energies on improving a report that would bear someone else’s name in the byline?’ He inspired us to do our best to make a news story look better as he himself demonstrated while editing and that will give us a sense of fulfilment.

His first task in Newsroom was to see the day’s paper and neatly mark it to make it look and feel better. He would redo the printed headlines to make them crispy and edit some of the reports on the paper for the colleagues to see at their convenience and learn from.

After a brief trip to the Karachi Press Club in the evening, he would work quietly on a few stories before leaving for home at midnight but was accessible on the telephone till the last pages were sent to press. The late Iqbal Mujahid, a senior colleague, used to remark: “When he returns from the club, he works (very hard) like a jinn.’

He was eager to help us if we had any problem in our work. The City Desk, where I have been working, was till then housed in Newsroom.

Once I showed Asmi sahab a news item and asked him to help me with the headline as I could not think of any. “First you attempt one and then I’ll do what I’ve to do.” Indeed that was a very good way of teaching it.

Another time I was embarrassed to see a story subbed by me and mercilessly redone by him. Seeing me sweating, he reassured me: “This I do for education of you people and not to discourage you.”

He gave me his prize book on editing called Newsman’s English to copy from for everyone who was interested in it. The several rounds of handling had left the carefully preserved book battered and he was not happy to see it.

Experts in the profession used to say that Asmi sahab had transformed Dawn under the patronage of its Editor-in-Chief Ahmad Ali Khan into a ‘national newspaper’. They said the newspaper which mostly printed international news on the front and back pages, for the first time had started publishing national political news as its lead and second lead.

And then it was the competition time and he helped Dawn stay ahead of its competitors through innovations and additions to the newspaper.

Dear Asmi sahab, deeply saddened by your departure, like many of your disciples and admirers. Adieu!

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2020

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