What led to Dainik Bhaskar Group-owned DB Post’s closure

This is not the first incident where a Bhaskar group-owned English daily had to shut operations.

WrittenBy:Deepak Goswami
Date:
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On January 9, 2019, Bhopal-based DB Post published a thank you note for its readers. The note stated: “‘DB Post – The Smart Newspaper’ has always been committed to its progressive approach and has always kept a future-oriented viewpoint. In a short span of time, we have covered news related to all sections of society. The newspaper has consistently focused its thoughts and analysis on local, national and international matters. We thank all our smart readers for their huge support and encouragement.”

The paper also informed its readers about the closure of its print operations and that the January 9 issue was the last edition of the Dainik Bhaskar Group-owned publication.

Originally published from Madhya Pradesh’s capital, DB Post was launched in Bhopal on March 15, 2016, with great ambitions. The plan was to expand the newspaper’s reach to Indore, Gwalior as well as Raipur. But in less than three years, the newspaper was shut down.

The news about DB Post’s closure was shared with its staff during an informal meeting three weeks before the paper’s closure. While the staff was informed that January 5later extended to January 6would  be their last day in the office, no explanation was given for the paper’s shutdown. DB Post had a staff strength of 40, including 35 journalists and support staff. However, journalists present at the meeting told this correspondent that they were assured of being “adjusted” somewhere within the larger Bhaskar Group, following the closure of DB Post. A journalist from DB Post said the management’s assurance gave him confidence about his job.

A reporter with DB Post told Newslaundry that some journalists had also given their consent to be part of the Hindi paper. “A few journalists who are bilingual have said yes for the Hindi newspaper. A few of them who could write in Hindi but never got the opportunity to work have also given their consent and said that they will try.” The reporter added, “The management had prepared a list of 12-15 people who wished to work in the Hindi paper. It included 5-6 names of those who had previously worked in Hindi. I was one of them. I was told that I would be retained for sure since I have worked [in a Hindi newsroom] earlier also. So I need not worry.” The Dainik Bhaskar Group, one of the largest print media company, publishes Dainik Bhaskar, a Hindi-language daily newspaper.

As matters stand now, journalists have found all the management’s assurances to be misleading. They claim the Bhaskar Group has not given a single job to any of the journalists whose names had been listed for the Hindi paper.

Another journalist on condition of anonymity said, “We were given two weeks’ time. We could have tried for a new job but we were all hoping that the Group will adjust us somewhere or the other within the Group. When the interviews for the Hindi [publication] were going on, I was lined up for an interview with the editor. Even then he told me that he will do something. Some people were even told that they had been adjusted, a few were assigned to their respective departments as well. But the truth was that we did not have anything in writing. The management kept us in a dilemma until the last day.”

The final day was when management indicated its inability to absorb DB Post employees, the journalists said.

While the print operations of the paper have been closed, DB Post will continue its online operations. So why aren’t these journalists being adjusted in the digital edition?

A senior journalist working with DB Post says the management’s indications about retaining employees or converting the newspaper into digital was its strategy to ward off any opposition by the staff while maintaining the Group’s credibility. “If they actually wanted to convert the newspaper into digital, then they would need reporters and a digital team too. Leave aside the reporters, the digital team was also not retained. Then who will operate and how will the digital DB Post work?”

Amrish Hardenia, who worked with the DB Post digital team, confirmed this. Speaking to Newslaundry, Hardenia said, “Yes, I initially received an offer that I would be retained for the digital platform but later on it was said that the format of the digital will be different and is not fixed yet, and it will be decided later.”

Herdania added, “I thought that I should separate myself from it for my betterment as there was an uncertainty about the new formatwhat it will be, how will it be, when will it be decided. No details were available.”

With no confirmation of being retained, all DB Post employees on their last day demanded compensation from the management. They asked for a salary of three months each.

DB Post journalists told this correspondent: “Seeing no progress in the process of retention, we have sent an email to the newspaper’s managing director, Jyoti Agrawal, highlighting the ambiguity of the situation and demanding compensation.” According to the journalists, under pressure, the management agreed to pay them salaries for 70 days—20 days less than what was being demanded. However, upon further consideration, the management eventually agreed to compensate the employees with three months’ salary.

Nevertheless, the journalists are disappointed with the paper’s false promises. A journalist, Manish Haribhu, said, “The false promises of the management about retaining us left us nowhere. Neither did they retain us nor could we find another job. It is difficult to get job in this profession.”

Why was DB Post closed?

With the management giving no clear answers, the reason behind DB Post’s closure is yet unknown. Independent sources told Newslaundry that the reasons include “non-professional attitude of the management, excessive interference of Jyoti Agrawal in editorial affairs, operating English newspaper the way Hindi newspaper works, unnecessary interference in the work of journalists and internal family disputes between members of the Bhaskar Group”. Sources said the Group struggled to find an editor, good reporters and an experienced hands-on desk for the newspaper.

But this isn’t the first time that the Bhaskar Group has shut operations of its English daily. In the past, it had closed newspapers like Daily Bhaskar, National Mail and DNA after publishing them for a short time.

A journalist who was associated with DB Post for about two-and-a-half years and was a member of the core team said, “Eight people from the Bhopal edition of Hindustan Times were hired by DB Post. They were presented with a good concept and offered handsome salaries. Some of these included Shams ur Rehman Alvi, Sarwani Sarkar, Ashutosh Shukla and Shahroz Afridi. Some early-career journalists were also hired.”

The journalist said even before the paper’s launch, a dispute broke out between the owners and some senior employees—and Sarkar, Afridi and Rehman quit. Ever since journalists have continued to come and go from DB Post.

Several journalists associated with DB Post confirmed that Agrawal’s interference was a major reason behind the disputes in the publication’s newsroom. A journalist said, “Shortly before the launch, the then editor who was roped in with the newspaper and came from Chandigarh was sent back mysteriously. The interference of the MD and management in the selection and placement of news was so much that in the short span of two-and-a-half years, around 100 people left DB Post.” The perception of such interference from the management also discouraged journalists from joining DB Post.

The treatment of the English paper like a Hindi publication was also problematic. A DB Post journalist said, “We used to have many good stories on the front page but we were told to use only those news pieces which were published on Dainik Bhaskar. They [management] were unable to understand that the tastes of a Hindi reader are different from that of English readers. Also, it is not necessary that the thinking of the Hindi and English journalists is the same.”

Speaking to Newslaundry, Rehman, who was part of DB Post’s core team said, “Daily Bhaskar was launched in 1986. Later it was changed to National Mail. Then it was closed down suddenly. Similarly, the DB Post is being closed now. I was in National Mail then. They closed DNA also suddenly. Their problem is that they see everything with the perspective of Bhaskar. But they do not understand whether they want to bring out another version of Bhaskar in English or a different newspaper.”

Rehman says, “There is a complete lack of professional working ethics. It’s like working with some merchant. But they show off in such a way as if they are very professional and progressive.”

How were DB Post’s finances?

The employees don’t believe that financial difficulties had anything to do with the newspaper’s shutdown. “When it was started, the company had already formed a no-ad policy. It was said that the purpose of this newspaper was not to earn revenue. Later, 20 per cent advertising policy was made. When the revenues were not the aim, then where did the losses come from?”

Another journalist told Newslaundry about the absence of a marketing department. “I think the running expense, including monthly salary, was around ₹30 lakhs. The truth is that we were so popular that people want to advertise with us. But they did not even have a marketing department or someone in circulation. Who would bring in advertisements, which is the biggest source of income for any newspaper?” DB Post was dependent on Dainik Bhaskar’s team for advertisements and circulation.

Speaking about the viability of an English daily in Bhopal, Rehman said, “If someone says there is no space for an English newspaper in Bhopal, then this argument is wrong. Newspapers such as The Telegraph and The Times of India are being published continuously.”

Newslaundry also spoke to Rakesh Dixit, Madhya Pradesh-based senior journalist who was also associated with National Mail and DNA. He said, “They hired people on hefty salaries in DB Post. They should have been given some opportunities but within four to six months, they were being fired one by one. Politics started within. They brought out the English newspaper in a very non-professional way.”

The result is that despite finally receiving three months’ salary, the laid-off journalists are now struggling to find new jobs. It doesn’t help that they were promised jobs by the management—a promise which ultimately backfired.

Newslaundry reached out to DB Post product head Anant Ratan and MD Jyoti Agrawal for comments. While Ratan declined to comment, Agrawal’s responses are awaited. The story will be updated as and when they respond.

Note: Names of journalists have not been published to keep their identities confidential. Newslaundry has details of all the conversations.

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