The media has been has been struggling with the economic slump resulting from COVID-19 pandemic

…as print, electronic media houses groan under the yoke of increasing hardship

By FELIX OLOYEDE

The media industry was excused from the five weeks lockdown imposed by the government to curtail the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but it has not been exempted from the economic impact of the disease as jobs losses, pay cut, pagination reduction, etc., hit the sector.

The Nigerian media has been struggling due to economic slump before the advent of COVID-19 in the country, but the impact of the pandemic has made it to gasping for breath- devising different means to remain afloat.

The Nigerian economy grew at a slower pace in the first quarter of 2020, growing 1.89 per cent compared to 2.10 per cent growth it recorded in the same period last year. Analysts have projected it may likely record negative growth in the second and third quarters of the year and slip into recession.

“Even before the Coronavirus pandemic, the media has been struggling, with the pandemic, it has been horrible, because there is no advert,” Dr Qasim Akinremi, Chairman, Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Lagos State Council, told BusinessHallmark exclusively.

Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher, Premium Times, an online news platform, recently solicited the financial support of the public to help the medium weather economic storm ravaging the media industry.

“But good journalism costs money. This is why we call on you now to kindly accept membership of a noble community that invests a modest donation to the making and sustainability of our accountability and fearless journalism that will defend our security through incisive and diligent investigations while holding power accountable at all times and standing as a tribune against the growth of autocracy in the land,” he pleaded.

Ademola Osinubi, Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief, Punch Newspaper, had forewarned staff of the newspaper that with the COVID-19 pandemic it was not going to be business as usual, as it cannot sustain its over N100 million monthly wage bill. The newspaper subsequently laid-off workers.

The story has been the same in most media houses in the country, as The Nation, BusinessDay, Daily Times, The Sun Newspapers, Television Continental (TVC), and Cool FM, etc., have either sack staff, cut salaries or have done both.

Daily Times cut staff salary by 50 per cent, having laid off more than half of its workforce. The Sun Newspaper has asked the majority of its staff to proceed on leave and they would be paid 20 per cent of the salary during this period. Leadership Newspaper is currently owing 10 months salary arrears.

The Nation has told more than 100 of its workers that their services were no longer required. The newspaper has also merged its weekend titles, asking the Saturday editor to also manage Sunday Nation.

Ayo Aminu, Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief, New Telegraph Newspaper, told BusinessHallmark that although his newspaper was able to pay workers full salary in April, it had to cut pay by 40 per cent in May. He further explained staff members were mandated to work from home except for those who it was necessary to be official physically, to reduce the traffic of people there, adding that like most newspapers, New Telegraph has cut pagination from 40 pages to 32 pages and also reduced print-run, all in a bid to cut costs.

The Lagos State NUJ Chairman disclosed that the association was mediating between The National and Vanguard Newspapers and the staff.

“Vanguard monthly wage bill is N54 million and before COVID-19 it was owing five months salary arrears plus three months since the pandemic started in the country. Where will it get the money to pay,” he queried.

Social media has also made life difficult for most newspapers as it has taken away the power to break news from them.

Akinremi noted that the only advantage newspapers still enjoy is being an archive for information and reference for advertisers.

“For the media, the paradigm has changed. You do not need a crowd to run to a newspaper anymore. You can rely so much on freelance. Pay people per story, that is what can save the media today,” he submitted.

He advised journalists to look beyond their monthly salaries and be creative about income generation, adding that they can freelance for international media, which are willing to pay for good stories.

The Managing Director of the New Telegraph revealed that the current challenged has made the newspaper to think out of the box and has device other income streams such as partnering state governments and other institutions.

The pandemic has also compelled most conventional media houses to strengthen the online platforms to serve as revenue sources.