Times of India shuts editions, layoffs begin amid uncertainty

The lack of transparency by the Times Group leaves employees in a permanent state of anxiety.

ByNL Team
Times of India shuts editions, layoffs begin amid uncertainty
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Since India went into lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Big Media has cut or deferred wages of their staff, and even laid some off. The Times Group has done so despite making tidy profits in the past several years.

The media giant, which runs 45 dailies and periodicals, including the Times of India and the Economic Times, a series of websites, and a bouquet of TV and radio channels, has cut staff salaries and deferred increments. It has laid off dozens of staffers in its financial daily, the Economic Times. There is no clarity as to the actual number, however.

At least 18 serving and sacked employees of the Times Group told Newslaundry that their human resources managers were being secretive about the layoffs. But the scale of the sackings can be gauged from the number of the bureaus that have been affected across the country.

So far, at least two employees at three bureaus in Andhra Pradesh — Visakhapatnam, Hyderabad and Vijayawada — have been asked to resign. Ei Samay, a Bengali daily of the Times Group, has asked nine employees to resign. In Kerala, the Times of India has four bureaus, two of which are set to close. The newspaper has also closed editions circulated in nine districts of Kerala, and laid off 13 journalists in the state. At least three staffers of Times Life, a Sunday supplement produced by TOI, were asked to leave in April.

Generally, an employee being let go is informed through their editor or bureau chief, rather than directly through communication from the HR department. “I listed my story for the day, and went out in the field to work on it. In the afternoon, the editor called and asked me to resign. He said these were tough times,” said a reporter who was sacked. “I was shocked and left wondering if I needed to complete my assignment for the day.”

The reporter, who was with a bureau in South India, was given a day to resign. She stopped working this week, and doesn’t know if she would be allowed to serve a notice period, or if she would get her pending salary for May.

“For days, my colleagues didn’t know I had been laid off because it was done so secretly,” she said. “After I told a colleague about it, I came to know another employee had been laid off as well and nobody knew. None of us saw it coming.”

A team leader at a bureau in eastern India who had worked at the Times of India for eight years resigned last week after he was asked by the top management to identify one member of his team “who can be laid off”. “I was told the decision had to be taken because these were tough times,” said the employee. “I refused. Many in my team are the sole breadwinners of their families and I couldn’t just ask them to leave. So, I decided to resign myself.”

An employee who was the door by the HR team in the Economic Times told Newslaundry: "I was the first one to be contacted and the HR team wasn’t very transparent with me about if I were the only one being asked to leave. We will be getting no salary for the month of May and will be serving our notice period in June."

The employee added: "The company waited to announce a pay cut and within six days of getting a heavily reduced paycheck, we were thrown out."

Since April, the city pages in TOI’s editions have been reduced by half. For example, the Rajasthan edition for Jaipur city had four pages, since the lockdown, it has been given a single page. Similarly, each of the three bureaus in Andhra Pradesh had at least six pages of city news. Now, there are only three-four pages for city news a day. This is happening across editions.

But this phenomenon is not new. A similar pattern can be seen with newspapers of other brands since the lockdown began in March. Lengths of reports seem to have been shortened and several sections, like Sports, are now only allotted half a page in the newspaper.

A journalist with Ei Samay was asked to resign by the HR department in mid-May after eight years of service. He was put out the door along with eight other staffers, some of whom worked for Onno Samay, an entertainment supplement with the same newspaper.

“I was given no reason. Three of the employees have already resigned but the others are still waiting for the company to give them some reason for their sacking,” the journalist told Newslaundry. “It’s very difficult to analyse as to why it is happening. I was told I would be given two months’ salary after I resign. But the promise was made verbally and nothing was put down on paper.”

Credit: Atanu Biswas, an ex-employee of the Times Group.

Credit: Atanu Biswas, an ex-employee of the Times Group.

While there’s little clarity on the exact number of layoffs, some employees that Newslaundry spoke to said more terminations may be on the cards.

It’s not just the newspaper industry that has been hit hard, owing to the economic crisis spurred by the nationwide lockdown. Companies like Zomato and Swiggy have, in recent times, announced layoffs. What is specific to the layoffs in the newspaper industry, though, is the lack of transparency that leaves employees in a permanent state of anxiety. Our efforts to elicit a response from the chief executive officer of the Times Group yielded no result. The story will be updated if he responds.

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Update: A previous version of this story said a team leader at a bureau resigned after being asked to identify two members of his team who can be laid off. This has been changed to "one member of his team".

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Also Read : For newspapers battered by the economic slowdown, Covid-19 is the final blow
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