There is no gentle way to say this, the near future for Indian newspapers looks scary

Salaries cut at major publication, survival of scores of other papers at stake

MediaImage Courtesy:

“My dear colleagues, my Express family:” the note from CEO George Varghese, was warm when it bagan. “Before going even a word further, Thank You. To each one of you, across the Express Group, for underlining the best of times in the worst of times.”

This could have been a lovely email from the big boss to colleagues, perhaps announcing an annual bonus, or maybe just a farewell note. Instead it was something that shocked employees of The Express Group, publishers of the Indian Express newspaper, and once it began circulating in media circles it sent shockwaves there too. The IE employees were informed that their salaries would be cut, in different percentages for different salary slabs, and it was not clear how long this would go on. The salaries landed on time, and the employees were grateful. “I am just glad I have a job, blessed that I did get my salary on time, I can manage with a cut for now,” said a journalist working with the paper, “it could have been something worse.”. 

Perhaps, this is a sign of things to come, especially for newspapers, as newsprint and the printing process is expensive and depends on revenues generated by selling space to advertisers. In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, journalists in India, and across the world, have found themselves on the frontlines of a war like situation never seen before. There are no standard operating procedures to cover Covid-19, the respiratory disease that results from the highly contagious virus.  

Varghese writes: “The commitment that you have shown in the past one week has been inspirational. Despite the countless logistical challenges, our colleagues in Editorial, Marketing, Advertising, Administration, Circulation, Press, Production, IT, Scheduling, GFML, BPD, IEOMSPL (our digital company) have moved whatever needed moving to ensure that our newspapers are out each morning, our online is live 24×7. Yet, we have not been able to reach all our readers.Vendors are insecure, RWAs are insecure, the rail, road and air lockdown has grounded distribution, businesses are shut down, we have been compelled to reduce print orders in all centres – this is absolutely unprecedented.”

He explains how the newspapers advertising revenues have been hit, and that the situation may get worse in the future. This is when the “temporary salary cut” is announced.

The proposed reduction is for those who earn more than Rs 5 Lakh (annually it is safe to assume), and it ranges from 10% to 30%. Leading by example,  CEO Varghese, Chief Editor Rajkamal Jha, and the chairman Viveck Goenka, and directors Anant Goenka and Vaidehi Thakkar have taken a 100% salary cut.

But no one is sure for how long this reduction in salaries will continue. “What worries me is that if the situation continues this proposed reduction in salary will also not be enough for us to see through this crisis. If the situation does not improve I will have no choice but request all of you to make more sacrifices,” writes Varghese.

“Maybe they will have layoffs, maybe we too should be ready for something similar,” said a senior journalist working for another leading national daily.  “Is this the finance managers way to balance profit margins?” asked another journalist. There is no gentle way to say this, the near future for Indian newspapers looks scary. 

On March 31, veteran journalist Malini Parthasarathy, co-chairperson of The Hindu Group’s Publishing Company, had also posted Indian Newspaper Society’s  appeal to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, and Information and Broadcasting Minister Praksh Javdekar. “As newspapers struggle to keep up the momentum of news dissemination especially vital in the critical national war on COVID, Indian Newspaper Society appeals for some critical reliefs to the newspaper industry.” she stated.

Interestingly, days before that she along with other senior journalists, and editors had been a part of an interaction with the prime minister. She had then posted:  “We were privileged to be part of PM @narendramodi’s interaction with print media representatives. His strong commitment to ensure that India does not succumb to the COVID pandemic is demonstrable. He has strategic clarity on how to move forward. We are certainly in good hands!”

Prime minister Narendra Modi had also shared his views about the interaction on twitter and on his website. 

Apart from noting that “newspapers carry tremendous credibility,” etc., the PM said that it “was important to tackle the spread of pessimism, negativity and rumour mongering. Citizens need to be assured that the government is committed to countering the impact of COVID-19.”

Reports of the  meeting started an interesting debate about the role of media too, “Hours before lockdown, Modi asked print-media owners, editors to refrain from negative COVID coverage,” reported The Caravan Magazine.

According to the note posted on the PM’s website, “journalists and stakeholders from Print Media appreciated the role played by the Prime Minister in communicating effectively and leading the country from the front. They said that they will work on the suggestions of the Prime Minister to publish inspiring and positive stories. They also thanked him for reinforcing the credibility of print media and noted that the entire nation has followed his message of coming together to face this grave challenge.”

“India’s media universe is vast, perhaps the biggest in the world: More than 17,000 newspapers, 100,000 magazines, 178 television news channels and countless websites in dozens of languages. Thousands of Facebook pages call themselves news publishers, and YouTube is filled with local bulletins on everything from real estate trends to police raids,” said a report in The New York Times .

However, if  the Indian Express salary cuts are any indicator of the days to come, survival of scores of publications, and the thousands of employees across departments may be at stake. A Covid-19 casualty not many had foreseen. 



Related Articles