Around 35 stringers contracted by Dainik Bhaskar’s digital platform have allegedly not been paid for their work since March this year. Their stories were published, several stringers in Madhya Pradesh told Newslaundry, but the payments never came through.
“Stringers” are journalists hired on a semi-regular basis to report from particular regions, often areas in which media houses do not have correspondents or bureaux.
“At least 20 of my stories have been published till date since I joined some months ago,” said a stringer, who didn’t want to be identified for fear of reprisal. “Even though the concerned editor asked for our account details, the payment hasn’t been processed yet.”
The stringer earns Rs 20,000 a month by facilitating content for Inshorts and ETV Bharat. Hoping to supplement his income, he began working for Dainik Bhaskar’s digital wing.
“Even though the decided rate [Rs 300 per story] is on a per story basis, the payment is usually processed when a couple of stories have been published every month,” he said. “I have five members in my family. How am I supposed to manage?”
Another stringer said his only means of communication with the Bhaskar team is through a Whatsapp group.
“All new joinees are part of this group,” he explained. “Sometime ago, while responding to a query on payments, we were told to submit documents for KYC verification.”
KYC, or know your customer, verification is conducted for bank customers through the submission of documents like Aadhaar cards, passports, driving licenses, and other IDs. The stringer said these were “simply dilly-dallying tactics” by Bhaskar.
“When I have already provided my account details,” he said, “what was the need for KYC verification on the part of the organisation?”
Bhaskar began hiring more stringers between March and April, the stringer said, as part of an expansion of the digital team.
“There were changes within the organisation as well, such as setting up a night team to generate more stories,” he said. “From an earlier arrangement of a stringer who would oversee a few districts, the new arrangement was one stringer per district across the state.”
Several stringers signed up, he said, hoping that an established brand like Bhaskar would help them get a “permanent source of income” – a rarity for the majority of stringers across India.
Another stringer in Madhya Pradesh, who also hasn’t been paid by Bhaskar, said, “I usually send them four stories per day. Some are published in the newspaper, others make it to the online portal. The rate for one story along with video is Rs 300 while the rate for a story along with photos is Rs 50. The situation was pretty bad at other newspapers even before Covid lockdown. Now, it’s worse."
A fourth stringer in Madhya Pradesh said there is “no formal contract” between the organisation and its stringers. “We just have a word with a senior and start delivering stories,” he said. “On an average, Rs 6,000-7,000 is usually credited every month. Some local channels like Sahara and Bansal hardly pay.”
He pointed out that Rs 6,000 a month, roughly Rs 200 a day, is lower than the minimum wages prescribed by the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
His relationship with other organisations hasn’t been ideal either. “Seniors at local dailies such as Dabang Duniya and Raj Express often take a dig at us, saying ‘What do you need money for?’” he said. “Are we thieves that we have other means of making up financially?”
Newslaundry contacted a member of Dainik Bhaskar’s editorial team in Madhya Pradesh to ask about the delay in payments.
He said, on the condition of anonymity, “There was a delay in April during the peak of the second wave, as many in our staff, including HR, tested positive for Covid. But we have been trying to streamline things since then."
He added, "There’s no delay, only a slight delay. Why don’t you share the names of those stringers? Expansion of the digital wing has been in place since last December. Since the focus was on hyper local news, as we wanted to draw the readers to the app, we did reach out to stringers. All they send are inputs, the entire story is developed by the desk."
He refused to confirm whether payments are pending for around 35 stringers, though he said a “fixed payment” will be put in place from August 15 to replace the pay-per-story system. “A separate desk is being set up to coordinate regarding stories done by stringers," he added.