PUNCH Newspapers says its finances have been heavily hit by the COVID-19 pandemic even as it has taken tough measures to stay afloat.
The shocking revelation was delivered by its Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief, Mr. Ademola Osinubi, in a rare two-page letter to staff members.
Osinubi, who is Nigeria’s longest-serving newspaper MD, said the pages of the titles had been reduced while the Sports newspaper had been temporarily suspended.
He also warned that staff members would be asked to stay away from work without pay to enable it to keep in line with the Federal Government’s social distancing regulations.
The full letter below:
THESE TRYING TIMES AND THE DAYS AHEAD
In the words of Thomas Paine, “these are the times that try men’s souls”. The highly contagious COVID-19 virus, which began its journey in Wuhan, China is travelling the world, leaving death and destruction in its trail.
This virus has upended all aspects of human life. Schools have been shut, businesses shuttered, airports and borders closed, congregational worship halted, and human and vehicular traffic severely restricted.
While it is indeed true that the myriad challenges besetting our industry predate this pandemic, this crisis has accentuated existing challenges and catalysed new ones. The UK Guardian has rightly described the crisis confronting newspaper businesses as an ‘unprecedented existential challenge”.
In Nigeria, the challenge that this crisis poses to our industry and company is unprecedented in scale, uncommon in scope and unparalleled in the annals of the journalism profession.
In several respects, this challenge bears similarities to the diverse firestorms that shaped the PUNCH brand and its emergence as Nigeria’s most socially-conscious and most- successful journalism brand.
At different times, our newspapers and journalists have been at the receiving end of the worst kinds of extra-judicial abuses from the military and the police; executive lawlessness and power-mongering; illegal arrest and detention of our journalists; threats by terrorist groups; attempts by successive governments to cut off our revenue flows; and the closure of our company, by military regimes, for months on end.
PUNCH weathered all these storms by the mercies of God, the farsightedness of its board, the uncommon courage of its journalists, the exemplary commitment of its staff and our company’s unshakable fidelity to the highest ethos of the journalism profession.
However, as your leader and colleague, and a party and witness to the many principled battles that our newspaper has won since its inception, I can say with the benefit of hindsight, that this existential crisis is different from previous ones.
This pandemic has dealt our business telling and severe blows. Our circulation and advertisement revenues dipped dangerously, compounding the operational and revenue challenges birthed by the migration of a majority of print newspaper readers and adverts to digital platforms.
Our company has a well-earned reputation for confronting operational challenges headlong. We constantly innovate and reinvent to sustain our position as Nigeria’s No. 1 newspaper, offline and online and we will continue to do so.
Before the pandemic, the company’s broad reengineering plan was well underway. The pace of implementation will increase to complement the recent proactive measures that the company has put in place to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our health and operations.
I am not at liberty to disclose all of the measures that the management has taken so far. But the ones that could be made public include an immediate reduction in print pagination; staff furloughing to comply with government and expert advisories on social distancing; the temporary shutdown of the sports newspaper; and significant financial reengineering.
The board and management will continue to explore the best ways to stay ahead of the curve, while also protecting and advancing the interests of the company’s critical stakeholders, particularly our staff.
As things stand, there is no ground to believe that the revenue situation will improve in the short-term. All projections point at a bleak and uncertain future for our industry and the economy. Notwithstanding, the company’s commitment to the welfare of its staff remains cardinal, hence, the decision to pay 100% salaries in the month of April and fulfil all annual leave obligations, despite the dip in revenues. All staff, including our colleagues asked to stay away from work in April, have been paid their full salaries.
Our efforts in this regard were aimed at shielding our staff from the adverse impact of this unexpected crisis and to also appreciate the extraordinary commitment of those staff who braved sundry health hazards to keep our operations going during the full lockdown.
In the days ahead, the company will be exploring additional ways to keep our business afloat and thriving. While we do so, we shall take due cognisance of the interest of staff, the threats to our industry and the tremors within the Nigerian economy. However, one thing is certain: the company will have to adjust all facets of its operations to reflect the realities of these trying times. Such adjustments are imminent and inevitable.
The decision of the authorities to relax the lockdown in the epicentres of our operations, Lagos and Abuja is noted, nevertheless, the measures put in place to shield the company and its staff from the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and associated health hazards shall stay in place. The Administration department will keep you abreast of future developments and decisions.
In the meantime, keep safe, keep informed and stay healthy.