Add one more media victim of the economic slump. The daily Business Day has ceased publication, as of Friday, 26 February.
What's that you say? You didn't even know such a paper existed? Well, to be honest, neither did I. I mean, there's a ton of papers out there which come out with dummy editions just to keep their "declarations" (permissions to bring out a publication) going. And, despite its claims of challenging the (pretty mediocre-ly produced but solid) standard-bearer of financial journalism in Pakistan, Business Recorder, nobody really thought it was anywhere close to doing that. But what makes this shutdown interesting is actually that the paper was owned by PrintOne, the communications arm of financial behemoth Jahangir Siddiqui Group or, as it is now known, the JS Group. PrintOne's chief executive was Nadia Munawwar Siddiqui, whose marriage apparently coincided with Business Day being shut down. PrintOne had acquired the two and a half year-old paper from Tauqir Mohajir (who also at one point put out the daily Financial Post and the defunct Diva magazine) only in February 2009. The current editor, Qaiser Mehmood, had been drafted in from his longtime job at Voice of America.
The human cost: nine sub-editors, five senior editorial staff, nine reporters (Karachi and Islamabad), about 10 newsroom production staff and some marketing staff laid off. But more than the modest numbers, it was the manner of the shutdown that raised a few eyebrows (at least among those within the organization).
According to an insider account, the staff had been told earlier the same month that a "formal launch" of the paper would take place in February in Karachi as well as Islamabad, to coincide with the opening of the paper's printing press in Islamabad. And that a new surge in distribution and marketing would take place with spots on CNBC and Samaa TV. Materials for this were also apparently displayed at the paper's offices. However, misgivings among the staff sprouted when an executive was overheard inquiring about the sale price of the existing press at a JS Group event. The management assured the staff that the sale was taking place only so that a new press could replace the existing one. By mid-February, however, rumour mills had gone into overdrive when staff discovered that only 500 copies of the paper were being printed daily. But despite everyone expecting an imminent shutdown, management continued to tell staff their fears were unfounded. Then, on February 25 came the notification that publication would cease the following day (sort of mirroring the shut down of another financial paper Business Today, owned by Sultan Lakhani). The official website of Business Day still forlornly features the last published edition.
According to the insider who supplied us the information, the management executive who came bearing the news said that the paper had been shut down because of multiple reasons, including poor business returns but also including, bizarrely, "the wedding of the chief executive."
Of course, given the size and name recognition of the paper (or lack thereof), it would be foolish to second-guess the business rationale behind owners deciding to wind up a venture. But there are some important lessons for journalists to be learnt from this incident. One, never trust at face value what management is telling you. Two, corporate houses get into media for reasons usually other than a passion for journalism and those reasons can change overnight. So, if one is being lured into a spanking new media venture with promises of great lucre, one should go in at least with one's eyes open.
Finally, one should accept the fact that media is business for its owners. Even the old established media houses are certainly not in it for charity. But is it too much to ask for media houses to be slightly more sensitive to people about to be summarily turned out for no immediate fault of theirs? At the very least, could they not be NOT given false assurances when corporate decisions have already been taken?