Layoffs at Scroll: at least 16 employees have been let go from the editorial side

The current economic conditions do not allow us to operate at our current size, says Naresh Fernandes.

WrittenBy:Cherry Agarwal
Date:
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Layoffs across newsrooms began as early as January 2017. It started with Hindustan Times shutting down four of its bureaux, followed by layoffs of hundreds of employees at The Telegraph, NDTV, DB Post, among others. Earlier this year, Buzzfeed, Vice and DNA also laid off several employees. On May 31, news website Scroll.in joined this growing list of organisations. As of June 3, at least 16 employees from the editorial side have been let go. The editorial team has gone from 40 to 24 (this does not include journalists at The Field and Scroll‘s Hindi news website Satyagrah). Apart from the editorial team, some people from the production, tech/marketing team were also laid off. The total number of people laid-off is just over 20. Scroll has also stopped its award-winning video show, Your Morning Fix, which aired on Hotstar.

Employees were told that the company was restructuring “due to certain business dynamics” and some positions were “re-evaluated with effect from May 31, 2019”. The laid-off employees were requested to send in their resignation letters by June 3, 2019. They would be receiving two months’ pay—June and July—as a severance amount no later than the end of this month, according to an internal email, a copy of which Newslaundry has read.

Speaking about the exit conversation, an employee, on condition of anonymity, said the in-person conversation was short. The employee was told that the layoff wasn’t performance-based, rather part of a restructuring process where some positions were being re-evaluated.

Another employee added, “I was told that Scroll could not afford to have specialisations anymore.” The employee was also told that Scroll could no longer afford its network of correspondents. Recalling the conversation, the person added: “I was told that the ones who remain will stay on a pay cut.” Simply put, the basic tenor of the conversation was “we are scaling back our operations, becoming a very small team we used to be earlier,” the employee said.

One of the employees who was let go was also told that the restructuring wasn’t a business failure. Another employee quoted Scroll’s founder Samir Patil as saying that the current economy had impacted investors. Patil was speaking at an internal meeting held at Scroll’s office on June 1. Recalling Patil’s comments, the employee said that Patil had highlighted that the layoffs weren’t performance based. “He also said that other cuts were made such that they never reached a point where people would have to be laid off. Unfortunately, that did not work,” the employee added. Patil also put to rest fears of more layoffs, the employee said.

Speaking about the layoff process, several employees that Newslaundry spoke to said that they wished Scroll had given them hints about the impending changes. “I haven’t quite processed it yet. But they could have given us hints before elections,” one employee said, adding, “But Scroll’s senior leadership said they too had no idea and they had to make very difficult choices in the week after the results.” Other employees that Newslaundry spoke with expressed similar views. According to the employees, this was one of the things they were told during their exit conversations.

One of the reasons why the newsroom had no prior heads up, one employee said, could be because of the wall between the business and editorial teams at Scroll. “While the presence of the Chinese wall maintains the sanctity of editorial processes, it could also insulate it against such developments,” the employee said.

Another employee who was laid-off also pointed out at the timing of the layoffs. “It would have been nice to know [about the restructuring] before the elections. I can’t begin to explain the amount of work that these guys put in,” the person said. The employee also pointed out that given the demands of election reportage, newsrooms tend to hire staff prior to elections. This means there is a greater chance of getting hired before elections than after, the employee said. The person also explained that in the absence of any prior information, he/she did not apply to other organisations despite openings he/she was sure of securing. “Before elections, there was a lot of movement but I didn’t even apply despite suitable opportunities. I thought where would I get as much freedom as Scroll. I don’t imagine post-election hiring would be easy,” the person said.

Meanwhile, Scroll.in has told the laid-off employees that it would help them find a job. “They’ve already sent me email ids and vacancy positions,” one of the employees said. Another added, “That support is there, Scroll is helping. But it would have been nice to have a job.”

One of the employees that Newslaundry spoke to said that Scroll would now focus more on raising money from readers’ support. It was only last year that Scroll made a partial shift to a reader-supported, subscription-based model. Another employee said that Scroll might now look for grants for particular beats.

Newslaundry also reached out Scroll’s editor Naresh Fernandes for comments on the restructuring, company’s financials and the next steps for the company.

Explaining the reason for this restructuring, Fernandes said, “Over the last five years, we have created a distinctive voice with ground reports, explainers and cultural coverage that filled the gaps left by the mainstream media. We have also cultivated a strong, independent voice that covers the uncovered and is not afraid of speaking truth to power. We want to make sure that our journalism is sustainable. As news organisations around the world struggle to find a model that works, we have built diverse sources of revenue: an in-house brand studio, programmatic ads, subscriptions and licensed shows for OTT platforms and TV. But the current economic conditions do not allow us to operate at our current size. It is deeply unfortunate that this process has required us to lay off some very talented colleagues.” He added, “Our aim is to preserve a vital space that has earned the trust of millions of readers.”

Addressing a query about the possibility of another round of layoffs at Scroll, Fernandes stated: “No, that isn’t on the cards.”

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