Business Day is to shed 10 jobs, all in the newspaper’s sub-editors department citing, in particular, under-performing advertising “substantially behind target” as the main reason, Glenda Nevill reports.
The paper, owned by the Times Media Group (TMG), currently has a pool of 20 sub-editors. It wants to reduce this by half to 10 fulltime staff. Two messengers will also lose their jobs.
Responding to questions, editor Songezo Zibi would only say, “We have proposed the restructuring of certain areas of our newsroom (excluding writers) in order to better manage our costs. These proposals have recently been tabled to the affected employees and their union representatives for consideration and further discussion,” he said.
“We are therefore not in a position to provide details on these until the consultations have been completed. It is our intention to complete this process and have an outcome that does not in any way compromise the quality of the Business Day.”
But insiders are concerned that Business Day is being unfairly targeted as the Financial Mail, which is also owned by TMG subsidiary, BDFM, is also suffering major advertising deficits but is retaining its full staff. Zibi and the Group’s managing director of media, Mike Robertson, refused to comment on this or other more detailed questions as to how the “restructuring” of the company will roll out. Staff are also concerned about the speed at which this process is unfolding.
The proposal, seen by The Media Online, is to reduce costs through “operations of scale” through utilising a “subbing hub” staffed with on-day dash subs and which would be flexible enough to “react to variable newspaper sizes”. The Times and Business Day would both use the hub.
Zibi, in his rationale, says the reasons for the revenue shortfall are “numerous” but include loss of financial results advertising as a result of the JSE changing its rules, overall loss of newspaper advertising in the industry as a whole. The newspaper as seen the size of ads placed diminish, ad spend is down and the “advertising outlook remains weak despite introducing innovations and new offerings”. The advertising deficit for BDFM per month is estimated to be R3-million.
“Fundamentally, however, the traditional newspaper business model no longer responds to the realities in which we operate. We need to be sufficiently lean to withstand the difficult times, which are sent to continue into the medium term. This requires a significant level of reorganization both editorially and in terms of our cost structures,” Zibi said. The use of freelancers to reduce staff overheads is the strategy the company will employ for the foreseeable future.
The company has introduced other cost-cutting measures such as salary freezes for those earning more than R700 000 per annum, early retirement packages, the newspaper page count limited to what is justified by advertising, limits on travel, vacancies to remain unfilled, reduced dash staffing levels and negotiations with data suppliers for better rates.
A concern of staff affected by this strategy is that quality of the newspaper will be impacted. Sub-editors working on business titles need a thorough understanding of the sector, which is complex. But Zibi proposes a “senior specialist team” be on hand “ensure editorial integrity and that the titles retain a unique voice” and that specialist copy is subbed in-house.
The current situation is that staff is consulting with unions on retrenchment packages, investigating counter proposals and redeployment options. Business Day wants the termination date set for 1 April.
IMAGE: Business Day editor Songezo Zibi. Follow him on Twitter @SongezoZibi. Follow Business Day @BDliveSA