Ranjona Banerji: Collapse of Traditional Media?

25 Jun,2020

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The collapse of the traditional media in India continues, especially print. Salary cuts, job losses, entire bureau and offices being shut down, these are daily occurrences. Times of India, Hindustan Times, Telegraph, Indian Express and now the venerable Hindu. Which has shut down, or so it seems, its entire Mumbai office. The edition was launched with much fanfare in 2015. And after three months of Covid-19 and it’s all gone.

The Hindu is seen in media circles as a long-term employer and possibly more honourable than the rest. For the staff of the Mumbai edition, the pain was amplified by the rumours swirling around which were at odds with the assurances of the HR department. As many across industries who have been in similar situations know, assurances of the HR department all too often mean nothing.

In a letter to the owners of The Hindu, employees have written:

“All the undersigned have doubled-up on efforts to work to the best of our abilities during the ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic; often putting ourselves and our families at risk. The Mumbai edition, which launched on November 28, 2015, has built up a strong team across — politics, business, features, cinema, photo and design — with credibility in all the respective industries. All of us have co-dependents in our lives and are the primary breadwinners in our households – with life partners, elderly parents and young children to look after. Not to forget, we are in the midst of a global pandemic and have been frightened by the thought of losing our jobs. On April 14, we received a reassuring note from the HR department appreciating our work during lockdown times. On April 25, came the note from our CEO on salary cuts, effective from the April 2020 salary onwards.

“In light of the speculation surrounding layoffs and the closure of the Mumbai edition, we request you for clarity. For all of us, what is of primary importance is our job security. Each one of us undersigned takes great pride in our work and feels that our values are aligned with 140-year-old The Hindu’s sense of integrity and ethics. We seek written clarity about the future of the Mumbai edition as well as the positions we all currently hold.

“All of the undersigned wanted to work at The Hindu, as it has been considered the ideal workplace for Indian journalists, in fact – where journalists are well respected and editorial freedoms are a given. The principles on which The Hindu has operated in the past is what should apply to us as a team now. For a news organisation that prides itself on reporting labour laws and violations of the same – in a robust manner – we appeal to you to clarify the situation to us in writing.”

The pain expressed in this letter resonates through all the job losses that a global pandemic and its effect on the economy has caused. However, for the Indian media, the problem predates the pandemic. It predates the dire economic situation we were in before the pandemic. It is to do with the broken revenue model: the over-dependence on advertising, the downgrading of journalistic calibre which has downgraded quality and newsgathering of the actual “product” and the staunch refusal to understand changing technology and readership patterns. And let us not forget the ascendancy of marketing departments over editorial. This has not actually improved revenue models but in fact have brought the industry to this point.

That an enormous industry like this does not have the reserves to deal with an economic slump and that it cannot find any ways of tiding over without job losses, points to inefficiency and short-sightedness. It is telling that jobs at the lower level across all departments and jobs of journalists are the first to go. Those who make the decisions hang on to their 10 to the power of endless zero salaries.

I’ve said it before, I’ll saying it again. One or two top management owners will compensate for most salaries. And, in case you think they are indispensable, just think about why your company was brought to this low point in the first place.

I suspect however that we will learn nothing from this experience. Just jump back on to the same broken treadmill.

The immediate tragedy is that most of those who have lost their jobs will eventually be replaced. Most likely by first-timers to keep costs and quality low.

Journalists are notoriously bad when it comes to standing up for themselves, as a community. We feed off the power of those we deal with, but we cannot find any power within.

Yes, there are small groups that will help their own and all kudos to them.

But the larger picture remains bleak as long as current patterns of control and ownership remain. And journalists continue to have no say in how their own business is run.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal

 

 

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