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Pakistan News Service - Combining Community and Technology

NCM Profile

NCM, Catherine Black Posted: Apr 02, 2003

When Asim Mughal, founder and publisher of Pakistan News Service, came to the United States as a student in 1986, the last thing he anticipated was a career in media. But in the small Ohio town of Delaware, Mughal, a native of Karachi, was hungry for news from his country. There was nothing, he says in his Oakland, California office. No news from Pakistannot even at the library. I could only get a report that came in maybe every two weeks. I felt totally cut off from my home.

Asim Mughal, founder and publisher of Pakistan News Service
Three years later, at CalTech University, Mughal persuaded a friend in Turkey to transcribe news from a Pakistani radio program and send it to him by email. A small group of Pakistanis living abroad quickly signed on for this precious trickle of information. What was originally a list of 30 email recipients soon swelled to the hundreds.

Building on this, Mughal and four of his tech-savvy student friends created a news clipping site called Pakistan News Service in 1991. The demand for information from Pakistan was so high that their all-volunteer project soon formed relationships with major newspapers in Pakistan to bring up-to-date news to their growing subscribers. Using high-tech resources readily available in California, Mughal helped many of these newspapers go online -- in some cases even paying for their initial email accounts.

Things went so well that we became casualties of our own success, he remembers. When the Pakistani newspapers got their own websites, everyone said there was no longer a need for us, that we had accomplished our goal of bringing news outside Pakistan, and it was time to wrap up. My original partners moved on and it was assumed our time had come and gone.

But I had a fundamental problem with that assumption, Mughal says. The news being presented by these media was not only relevant to Pakistanis living in Pakistan. I knew that there was still a huge information gap to be filled for those outside the country.

So in 1998, Mughal formalized Pakistan News Service as an English and Urdu online news source at www.paknews.com. Noticing that the Pakistani media sites were only being updated once a day, Mughal created the technical infrastructure to update his website in real time, 24 hours a day. Over the next five years, he built a global network of more than 170 reporters to submit articles from all the worlds major Pakistani populations.

Software created specifically for Pakistan News Service enables a complex hierarchy of regional bureaus and editors to update the website without going through a middle person. Senior reporters covering breaking news even have the ability to update the site by sending an email in the correct format. News is also distributed through multiple channels, including a newsletter, real-time news tickers and even a mobile edition designed specifically for PDAs and handheld electronic devices.

Weve developed so much technology that the site practically runs itself, says Mughal.
The company maintains its production and distribution base in Pakistan, where it also co-manages the countrys domain address.pkand invests back into Pakistans high-tech infrastructure. Today the service has bureaus in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.

Mughal emphasizes that Pakistan News Service publishes real news, straight from the field. Our reporters are on the ground in Pakistan long before the mainstream media is, and while Western reporters are sitting in their five star hotels with their laptops, our writers are out discovering what real Pakistanis are saying and thinking, getting information that no one else can.

Mughal says that this direct connection to people and events on the ground enabled Pakistan News Service to predict the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan before Western media did, because its writers were the first to report telltale signs like the closing of commercial airstrips in Pakistan, and the appearance of U.S. ships in the Arabian sea. The company was also quick to shift its production to California when Pakistans media were shut down during the military coup of October 1999, making paknews.com the only source of direct, local coverage during that crisis.

Sept. 11 affected the site too, boosting its daily visitors to a whopping 2.9 million (its current daily rate is 180,000). Though the company received its share of hate mail, including a personal threat to Mughals wife and children, Sept. 11 also brought many non-Pakistanis to the site searching for hard news and diverse viewpoints that couldnt be found elsewhere. Pakistan News Service commentaries were featured on MSNBC, Fox News and the Drudge Report, and Mughal estimates that over half of his readership now is not even Pakistani.

In addition to news, Paknews.com hosts two online radio shows, a popular entertainment section (spotlighting Lollywood), an immense message board and interactive reader feedback section, and a personals section for international dating and marriage-making. While the sites services are free, corporate sponsorships and advertising enabled the company to remain financially sound despite the Internet crash.

Any Pakistani you talk to will know who we are. What were doing is far beyond what any newspaper in Pakistan can do, because were truly global and speak to an international audience, says Mughal with pride.

Unbelievably, overseeing the international phenomenon he has created is only this entrepreneurs night job. By day, he is the Chief Technology Officer for Bay Systems Consulting in Silicon Valley. At about 9pm, when its morning in Pakistan, Mughal settles into what he admits is more of a passion than anything else. Luckily I have a very understanding family.

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