Spare a thought for journalists

Utusan Group

Sadness, regret, pain and bitterness.

Those are the only words that can sum up the feelings of many of us within the media fraternity as some 800 of our colleagues from Utusan Malaysia and Kosmo! may lose their jobs.

A townhall will be held at 4pm today, where the staff will be informed of what lies ahead. But history has shown it will not be pretty.

It simply boils down to money, or the lack of it where this industry is concerned.

Newspaper organisations saw this coming more than a decade ago. Many “projects” were invented and plenty invested, yet the debts kept piling up.

Late last year, the nation’s oldest newspaper The Malay Mail ceased its print edition, taking along its spirit. Some of the former print staff are still looking for jobs.

Tamil Nesan, Southeast Asia’s oldest Tamil newspaper closed shop on Feb 1 but its former employees are still fighting for dues allegedly still owed to them.

Even national news agency Bernama has been hit with financial woes with contributions to Employees Provident Fund not paid on time.

Yesterday, reports went wild that Utusan Malaysia, the oldest Malay newspaper, along with all the publications under Utusan Group – Mingguan Malaysia, Kosmo! and Kosmo! Ahad – will cease its print and online operations.

There are some of us who remember being in a similar situation albeit different circumstances.

The uncertainty was seen among media practitioners following the infamous Ops Lalang in 1987. On Oct 29 that year, The Star, Sin Chew Jit Poh and the now defunct Watan had their publishing permits withdrawn by the Home Ministry.

It was a dark moment for every single person who served those newsrooms.

But we could blame that tragedy on the politicians.

Some were quick to blame Umno politicians who benefited from Utusan Malaysia‘s coverage in the past but have done little to help them in their time of need. Others were quick to jump on the political bandwagon to play the blame game.

Those in the industry knew of Utusan Group’s financial woes even before the downfall of Umno and Barisan Nasional on May 9, 2018.

But the dark cloud that hovers over the industry is beyond politics.

It’s a global problem. Reading patterns have changed, the demand for news is now different and journalism has certainly evolved. Mobile phones and handheld devices remain supreme in this nation of 32 million.

It is indeed heartwarming to see the spirit of brotherhood still alive within the industry.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) of Malaysia has initiated a donation drive (CIMB account number 80-0082256-0).

The union’s New Straits Times Press Bhd’s branch will also be collecting money and daily necessities like rice, cooking oil, sugar diapers and milk on Aug 23, 2019 at Balai Berita, Jalan Riong, Bangsar. Others have offered words of encouragement and support.

While the donation drive may be just a temporary solution, it is time to see the similar spirit of brotherhood among the decision makers.

News agencies should band together and come up with creative ways to ensure sustainability within the industry while still enjoying a decent slice of the pie.

A collaborated marketing strategy could also work, promising brands wider coverage and perhaps the print numbers could be reduced to a more manageable figure and be more targeted in its reach, instead of mass as currently practised.

Such changes will not happen overnight.

Journalists are a dying breed. They forsake their families or personal time to deliver the latest news day in day out, come rain or shine. Journalists are historians in their own nature, having documented historical timelines – from the days when the British ruled Malaya, the moment the country gained independence, to tragedies like the MH370 and MH17 aviation disasters.

These news articles have been the livewire of your WhatsApp groups and social media platforms.

We hope Malaysians will once again be part of this fight for change – change within the media industry and en route to alleviating the pain, regret, sadness and bitterness among our colleagues.


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