Joining the ranks of dozens of media organisations that have laid off employees since March, the financial newspaper Business Standard carried out mass layoffs over the last two days. While rumours within the organisation peg the number of retrenchments at about 60, employees were laid off in locations across the country.
Among those affected were at least six reporters from five bureaus as well as members of the sales and marketing team and design department. Five out of eight employees in Business Standard Weekend, the paper’s Saturday supplement, were laid off, as well as the newspaper’s design head. All employees, except the chief of bureau, were laid off from its Kolkata bureau, while the Hindi team saw terminations as well.
The paper will also discontinue its Sunday edition from this week onward, though reporters are expected to file stories for the Business Standard website.
The economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic has incapacitated the media industry. Over the last three months, predicting dips in ad revenues, hundreds of journalists have been either fired or asked to resign by some of the . Salaries have been slashed too.
Like its fellow organisations, Business Standard initiated salary cuts in April. A staffer who was laid off yesterday told Newslaundry that cuts impacted employees earning above Rs 10 lakh per annum, with the percentage of the cut increasing with the payscale.
Yet this week’s layoffs came as a surprise to the employees who were retrenched. There was no rumour or any indication about a possible layoff, the staffer said.
“In the afternoon yesterday, I got a call from our editor in Delhi. To my astonishment, he said I should not work for the paper from July 1 onward,” the staffer said. “Everything was too sudden for me to comprehend.”
Another employee told Newslaundry that six reporters were laid off in total: two from the Kolkata bureau, and one each from Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bhubaneswar. The newspaper is currently published from 12 centres — New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Pune, Kochi and Bhubaneswar — and also printed from Bhopal. Its Hindi edition is published from eight centres across northern India.
The employee said he too received a phone call from the editor, asking him to pack up on a day’s notice. The editor explained the move by citing the organisation’s financial difficulties due to the pandemic. On the same day, following the phone call, the employee received a letter from the human resources department which formally informed him of the decision.
Both employees said they were offered a decent severance: Apart from three months’ full salaries, those who worked for more than three years at the daily would be eligible for gratuities. Also, employees would be given an additional component of 15 days’ salary for every year completed in the organisation.
Newslaundry contacted Shyamal Majumdar, Business Standard’s executive editor, to ask him about the exact nature and scale of the layoffs, but he refused to speak. Newslaundry also sent a questionnaire to Shivendra Gupta, executive vice-president of the organisation.
Here is Gupta's statement in full:
"Due to the severe business and financial stress caused by the pandemic and to cut costs, we had to unfortunately ask some of our colleagues including a few journalists to leave. We have compensated them as per the provision of the applicable laws. We have also discontinued our Patna and Raipur Hindi editions with effect from July 1, 2020. The Sunday Business Standard will also be discontinued with effect from July 5, 2020 and the Weekend pullout will no longer be published on Saturdays from July 4, 2020."
Business Standard isn’t the only major newspaper to feel the heat. Last week, the Indian Express laid off four of its employees, citing its sagging revenues. The employees were called to an editor’s office and informed of the decision.
Like Business Standard, the Indian Express “temporary” salary cuts for its employees in April. The organisation’s chief executive officer, chief editor, chairman and director also took 100 percent salary cuts for the month of April.
In further reflection of this downward spiral, reports emerged yesterday of salary cuts and layoffs at the Economic and Political Weekly, a journal published by the Sameeksha Trust. EPW reportedly implemented salary cuts ranging between 25 to 40 percent, and laid off the entire eight-member team of Engage, its digital arm.
Former employees, editors and members of the “wider EPW community” to Sameeksha Trust, asking that the decision be reconsidered. While acknowledging that the Covid pandemic might have strained the magazine’s finances, the letter said this cannot be improved by “wielding an axe on the livelihoods of EPW’s dedicated staff”.
Signatories also said that salary cuts and retrenchments could eventually lead to the “destruction” of a “very valuable and world-renowned institution that has been built up over more than half a century”.
The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have “laid waste to livelihoods and destroyed enterprises”, it stated. However, signatories commented that media employers and boards of management were expected to go the extra mile to support their staff which very few have done. “While these are admittedly difficult times for commercial enterprises, we would expect a public charitable trust like the Sameeksha Trust to do all it can to act differently,” the appeal said.
It’s not just the newspaper industry that has been hit hard, owing to the economic crisis spurred by the nationwide lockdown. But while in various sectors, media companies are not transparent about their retrenchments, leaving their employees in a permanent state of anxiety. Business Standard is one of the only newspapers to have responded to Newslaundry's queries on layoffs.
Most newspapers were already battered by the economic slowdown, and the pandemic appears to be the .
Update: This piece has been updated with a statement from Shivendra Gupta, executive vice-president of Business Standard.