How journalism can survive
When I decided to quit my profession in journalism, I was nervous and scared of a new world that may both usher in uncertainty as well as financial hope.
Uncertainty because I was entering into a corporate environment which I had always avoided, even after receiving many offers for jobs, and about which I had no experience. I didn’t know whether I would sustain in the corporate world.
Hope because I was about to enter a working environment that may ensure a better living in terms of my finances than I had in the years spent in journalism.
There was another reason for me to quit journalism. I had come to a realization that I had nothing new to add to the state of journalism in Bangladesh, and I had nothing new to learn. I did leave journalism, but painfully, I still miss it. I now realize that I love the profession of journalism.
However, when I entered the corporate world, I discovered that I still had quite a lot to contribute to the state of journalism of my country -- both in terms of ideas and editorial values.
Given the proper opportunity and adequate “financial” and other facilities, I perhaps may decide to go back to journalism again.
So, there’s still a strong appeal for journalism within me. But. There are many buts for consciously making that choice. I feel like going back to the profession, but perhaps I won’t choose it consciously.
I may have switched seats, but I have been closely working with the media and people working in the media for the past five years. My observation about the state of the media and journalism has become extremely critical over the last few years.
I have seen that media workers -- that includes the news gatherers -- have been toiling to make their ends meet, and media companies (newspapers, online news portals, TV channels, radio stations) have been struggling for revenue.
They are still struggling, and their income index is declining every day. Many are finding it very difficult to pay the wages of the media men in the wake of declining revenue. Only a handful of such media companies are able to sustain in this situation.
The reason these few have become successful to an extent is because, I believe, they have shown a keen interest to set up proper business development units, who develop business models to follow. They are constantly researching on what to offer to their audience in terms of content.
Most others, as I have seen, do not have any business model to sustain. Only publishing a newspaper, operating a TV channel, and having a radio station put on-air may not bring you the expected revenue that you may be hoping for.
I sometimes observe that our government boasts of granting permission to many TV channels, newspapers, and radio stations. That’s great!
However, what the government fails to fathom is that the revenue market is not big enough to sustain more than 30 TV channels and perhaps more than 500 newspapers.
The businesses that spend on their product promotions have not grown or become bigger to sustain this huge number of media outlets. The government needs to understand this issue of numbers.
BBC Bangla last week has published a story, saying that most media workers in Bangladesh were passing through an uncertain time of losing their jobs. Being unable to earn revenue on part of the media houses has been cited as one of the prime reasons for this.
How many newspapers did we have in the 70s, 80s, and 90s? How did the newspapers sustain at that time? The fear of declining revenue wasn’t there; the fear of losing jobs was also not there. What was different at that time?
Now, let’s look at how the media houses pay their employees. A few years ago, a cub apprentice reporter used to get Tk15,000 every month. The situation hasn’t changed till today. In many cases, the entry-level salary is Tk5,000.
There are many instances in which media workers don’t get yearly increments -- they don’t have provident funds and gratuity facilities. Many newspapers cannot pay wages for months.
The income scenario of the journalists as well as media-men in Bangladesh is very bleak and uncertain. I recently met a city corporation cleaner who told me that his monthly income was Tk20,000.
Compared to this cleaner, the monthly wage of a cub-reporter is Tk15,000. Many chauffeurs in this country earn more than Tk12,000 at the entry-level.
The government, I believe, needs to focus on this aspect -- the wages of the journalists. Opening up new media outlets cannot be a hobby for some industrialists who think they can spare some money for a few months and when the hobby burns out, they can ask the workers to leave.
They have to ensure that there’s a business model and that adequate revenue is coming from the business. They have to ensure the livelihoods and the living for the people who work for them. We cannot say that merely launching a media outlet will create employment.
The hobby-seekers should realize that the media business is a long-term affair. You don’t invest in it just because you feel like it -- there are responsibilities attached to it.
Ekram Kabir is a story-teller. His other works can be found on ekramkabir.com.