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Hindustan Times, once the largest circulated English daily in India, has decided to close down seven of its editions from January 10 – Kolkata, Bhopal, Indore and Ranchi, Allahabad, Varanasi and Kanpur. The closures will render about 2000 employees jobless overnight.

An internal communication issued on January 5 reads: “In order to sharpen our focus on strengthening our prime Hindustan Times editions – Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Lucknow and Patna, it has been decided to shelve some of our other editions – Kolkata, Bhopal, Indore and Ranchi till such time in future that we consider reviving them. Additionally, it has been decided to shelve the Hindustan Times operations for Allahabad, Varanasi and Kanpur.”

Insiders say Hindustan Times’ Lucknow edition is also to be closed after the UP elections.

The Anndabazar group, too, is in the process of retrenching across the group publications and TV channels. While the initial plan is to retrench 48 percent of its work force, ABP has already reduced most of its supplements and plans to close down periodicals, some of which have been around for decades, and employees are being asked to leave on a regular basis.

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If employees under the wage board are being forced to sign post-retirement contracts, those on contract are being made to resign with hilarious severance packages.

The inside buzz in the Kolkata edition of the Times of India is that the management is considering  a 20 percent job cut and a salary slash.

Unlike fly-by-night operators like the Saradha group and the Rose Valley, which had publications of their own, the ABP (Anandabazar) HT Media Ltd (Hindustan Times) and the Bennett & Coleman Company Limited (Times of India) are traditional, established media groups. Their mastheads boast of prestige, glamour and stability.

The HT has, in recent times, shown a preference for getting editors from foreign shores. It managed a coup of sorts when it imported Raju Narisetti from the much-revered Wall Street Journal to launch its pink paper – HT Mint, few years ago.

The recent captain of the Hindustan Times is Aparisim ‘Bobby’ Ghosh, a former bureau chief of Time magazine’s Baghdad bureau. He is reportedly paid an annual sum of Rs 7.5 crore as salary. (Ghosh could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.)

According to insiders, HT Media Ltd, a listed company, posted a profit of Rs 602 crore in the last quarter of 2016 and predicts a profit of Rs 640 crore in Q1 of 2017. Yet, the company decided to close down seven of its editions, including at Kolkata, which happens to be the hometown of late owner K.K. Birla. Even its current owner, Shobhana Bhartiya, a former Rajya Sabha member, grew up in Kolkata and went to college there.

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Shobhana Bhartia, Chairperson, Hindustan Times

HT has “assured” its employees that they would get two months’ salary as severance. The company has already closed down its business bureau in Delhi and Mumbai, while deciding that business news can be taken on syndication from its pink paper, Mint. Inside information is that production of the HT Mint edition in Kolkata would also be stopped from January 31.

Journalists, who lost their jobs and are in the process of joining the queue, are  wondering how tragedy could befall them when they stuck to ‘stable’, ‘secured’ organizations.

The writing, however, was probably on the wall since 2008, when CNBC TV 18 retrenched several employees from across its bureau and made employees to go through massive pay cuts.

Then came 2010, when media house owners began saying that the global meltdown had hit India, paving the path for further retrenchment and pay cuts. The writing became more prominent when Times of India co-owner Vineet Jain tweeted in November that pay hikes at media houses would be difficult in the coming financial year due to demonetization.

“But what will happen to news,” asked a senior journalist based in Kolkata, who once worked for HT. “The fact remains that the man on the street does not care about veracity and believes all journalists are colluding with politicians to serve news that only serves the purpose of some dark master,” he observed.

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