In an industry which had seen double digit growth figures over the last few years, the current recession has brought with it some grim realities.
In a complete change of mood from a year ago when business was booming, the most common adjective about the atmosphere in newsrooms these days is “scary”.
What next? Troubled times for the media…
There is a compelling reason for people to visit the Hindi portal bhadas4media.com these days. It faithfully documents with names, the latest news on journalists who have lost their jobs. Three one week, 13 the next, seven the week after. As the media industry faces recession, pink slips for journalists are becoming a grim reality. In a complete change of mood from a year ago when business was booming, people were still hiring, and journalists could hop jobs with alacrity, the most common adjective about the atmosphere in newsrooms these days is “scary”. Because TV channels and publications are shutting down in some cases, and rationalising costs in other cases to survive. Performance is coming under hawk-like scrutiny.
A process which began with the Sakaal group of newspapers shutting down the Delhi office of Sakal Times at the end of November is gathering momentum. Most of the 60-odd journalists who lost jobs then are yet to find work. Tehelka’s cover story on job losses countrywide profiles one of the victims of Sakaal’s short-lived expansion. This month, the tabloid Metro Now which was a joint venture of the Hindustan Times and the Times of India shut shop, and the management said it would become a weekly. In the process, more people lost jobs. Since managements don’t confirm numbers it is difficult to put an exact figure on some retrenchments, but Infomedia, which TV 18 took over, has seen departures.
Bennett, Coleman and Co. is constantly rumoured to have sacked a large number of media workers, but its bosses admit to a total of 350 job cuts so far, across the country. Three journalists from Navbharat Times lost their jobs in January. The group’s CEO, Publishing, told a business daily that the print media was going through a rough patch and that this segment of the industry is in need of “right sizing”. Which is perhaps why the wealthiest media company has sacked the largest number so far.
The Hindustan Times and Mint have seen four senior-level prunings including one in Ahmedabad, that includes those whose contracts will not be renewed in months to come. The group’s Hindi paper Hindustan has pruned some 18 to 20 staff in four cities.
Gujarat, which was witnessing a media boom for a while, has had a reality check since. First the Business Standard Gujarati edition closed down resulting in job losses. On January 15 the Economic Times’ Gujarati edition let go of four people, giving them three months’ salary. The same month DNA asked two employees in Baroda to leave, and Divya Bhaskar closed down an edition in Mehsana.
The print media is perhaps feeling the pinch the most. While newsprint prices are falling from the sharp high they reached in middle of last year, they are still higher than they were a year ago. Advertising is dropping fairly sharply. Towards the close of last year the figures from AdEX, the TAM unit that tracks advertising volumes of different media, show that in November and October 2008, print media ad volume dropped sharply by 45 per cent. In November it registered a 20 per cent decline in volume over the same period last year. GroupM, the media arm of the world’s leading communications agency WPP, has projected for 2009 that the average growth rate across media will drop by 50 per cent, registering a growth of 8.9 per cent which is half the growth rate of 16 per cent in 2008.
In 2007 the growth in advertising was over 20 per cent. No wonder the media industry was on a high. Today the story is different, and publications are raising cover prices while cutting pages.
Where will the sacked journalists go? Upwardly mobile, young and middle level scribes, with extended monthly instalments to pay, face a depressing future. Most expansion is on hold. Some projects such as the Hindi business daily that was to be a collaboration between CNBC TV18 and Dainik Jagran have been called off. Mail Today, the morning tabloid in Delhi from the India Today group was to have a roll out in other cities, but that does not seem to be happening right now. Television, which was growing madly and grabbing journalists from print has slowed down now, and is pruning costs. Hiring is on hold.
The FM Radio industry has not seen media job cuts so far, but is unlikely to see expansion either, in the near future.
Expansion on hold
Despite a growth of 21 per cent in revenue, NDTV’s losses in its third quarter are almost four times what they were in the corresponding quarter of the last financial year. The economising measures undertaken will mean saying goodbye to Metro Nation, the city channel. The company is looking for a buyer for it. The channel has a 100 plus employees.
The only good news is that some expansion is still happening. BCCL recently announced that it was going ahead with launching the business channel ET Now. DNA launched a daily in Bangalore in December. The magazine from the RPG group is slated to go ahead with its launch.
From the employer’s point of view, journalists will now cost less to hire. In an industry where the top rung, particularly in television, had crossed eight figures in their annual take home, a reality check is setting in. Among other measures, some leading media companies (NDTV among them) have asked senior staff if they will voluntarily take a 20 per cent cut in their salary.