On December 16, 2014, 147 people – including over 120 schoolchildren – lost their lives when Taliban militants launched a brazen attack on the Peshawar Army Public School.
This was the worst massacre in the country’s turbulent history. Millions of hearts were broken as the world grieved collectively and attempted to comprehend what had happened: children were killed for getting up in the morning, grabbing their backpacks and going off to school. Many termed it Pakistan’s 9/11, as politicians got together in a rare show of unity and even the most hardened detractors found it hard to argue against a more aggressive military operation in the northern parts of the country. The event changed the security landscape of the country.
Looking back, covering the attack on that day was the most harrowing newsroom experience, one few will forget. Journalists in Pakistan are somewhat desensitised to attacks. The unspoken rule, unfortunately, is that if casualties don’t reach double figures, the story does not belong on the front page. So, as the death toll of the Peshawar attack started creeping up that day at the Army Public School, we looked on helplessly in the newsroom but knew this wasn’t just any terrorist attack. One of our reporters in Peshawar lost his cousin in the attack, but that didn’t stop him from working. There wasn’t a dry eye in the newsroom as we tried to report on the attack and provide viewers a comprehensive and responsible coverage of the devastating attack. It was overwhelming, to say the least.
As months went by, we knew we wanted to cover the one year anniversary of the attack to honour the victims (hence, the title) and to make a memorial but to also establish and report hard facts: Was the APS attack a ‘watershed moment’ for the country? Or was it among the countless other self-inflicted tragedies in Pakistan’s 67-year history that have vanished from the memories of both the nation and of relevant institutions? We aimed to provide an extensive overview of what happened on the day and what has happened since, without overwhelming our readers.
We started planning the story in mid-2015. But at that time, all we decided was that it would be published on Tribune Labs – which is The Express Tribune’s digital interactive desk which works on special projects – in collaboration with reporters from print. It was important to create an online memorial for all 147 victims of the attack, to revisit the events of the day and to review the government’s progress since the attacks and whether the state stepped up to its promises of taking action.
In October, we signed a contract with ICFJ to work with a Knight fellow on Labs project, and For Peshawar became part of the collaboration. ICFJ, thus, helped with the development of For Peshawar. The developer who worked on the story made an entire Content Management System (CMS) just for this story. Editorial and design of the story was managed by The Express Tribune.
By this time reporters had started working on their respective stories. This time, we told them to not just report keeping the newspaper in mind but to think digital: This meant they provided us with videos, voiceovers, images and figures and data for infographics.
The design of the project was handled by a one-man design section of our digital desk. The next month went by and suddenly it was December and we were looking at a 2-week deadline with just a skeleton of the project. In the next two weeks, we managed to edit all 17 stories most of them over 1,000 words, compile and edit videos and pictures, coordinate with reporters, make an infographic and come up with a social media plan.
We divided all stories into four categories: an year-book style online memoriam for all victims; a section on how families of the victims are coping a year on (Living with loss); a section relaying the details of the events of the day of the attack (Inside APS), and finally, a section which examined and analyzed changes in policy and security and the government’s progress.
The landing page of the story opens with a minute long video with footage from the day of the attack and a voiceover by a victim’s father who is says in Urdu: “Not even a day has passed that we have not wiped our tears. Since the day of the attack till this day, we have never let the memory of all the children, especially my son, who were killed day slip away. And this feeling will never fade away; this is how it will be, this is how we will live and this is how we will breathe till the day we get justice.” We wanted to start with something that would have an impact. We also chose black and white and a hint of an emerald green (the colour of APS’ uniforms) as a theme. The design is user friendly and easy to navigate and share on social media. Each section has at least four or more than four stories, which can be selected from a bar on top of the page so that readers do not have to keep scrolling to look for the story they wish to read. The last section (A year on) has an infographic, which was hard coded.
Four of the 17 stories we carried appeared in the newspaper on December 16, 2015. They were spread out on two pages. Of course, images, videos and an interactive infographic could not be accommodated. The scale of this project would not be justified in print. The project, in fact, was made keeping ‘Digital First’ in mind. With stories like For Peshawar, we are doing something no other publication in Pakistan is: exploring the endless possibilities that digital journalism presents. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
After weeks of sleepless nights, the story was published on The Express Tribune on December 16, 2015, exactly a year after the devastating attack. We were proud of our online memorial for the Peshawar attack — which became a personal responsibility rather than just a professional one and one we feel deserves recognition.