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Disruptive method of newspaper production proves successful

Columns 2022-11-11, 8:42pm

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Mostafa Kamal Majumder



Mostafa Kamal Majumder

I was in a new working environment at the Asian Age where almost everybody was a newcomer and my job was to get a great production done at the end of the day. It was tiresome. But for the request and persuasion from a close relative of mine in a position of influence, unfailingly showing respect to me, I was there. Young learners - some just passed out of universities, some others still studying - were assigned to do jobs that not even people with 10 years of experience will be asked to do. Was it not a Herculean task to get standard publishing work done with them having barely two to three months of training, that too not from efficient professionals?

I was requested to get the work done by these young beginners. After my joining in September 2015, I trained them for hardly about 10 days, acquainted them with some basic techniques of production, and with attractive dummy pages. In no time the owners felt the time was up for actual production for the market. I won't say they decided to go for production just by being impressed with the quality of dummies because their schedule to start the same was at least a fortnight behind the time. In other words, they would have started production a fortnight before had preparations been adequate enough. Clearly, they awaited my assistance. When I was in, and there was the impression that the dummies looked close to production quality they went all out to start actual production.

A colleague who had all along been a PR man before his retirement, with little practical knowledge and experience of newspaper production, used an unwelcome technique to start production as per the wish of the owners. He talked to me before the start of a planning meeting organised for the purpose and agreed with my observation that some experienced people are needed to help with the production at different sections. But at the said meeting he, without taking my concurrence, with the collaboration of another person told the owners that production of the paper was possible with whatever manpower we had. I said, 'No', told them 'who would edit copies, who would write editorials'. Owners said they had a panel of people to write editorials and would recruit some people as per my suggestion. This is how a couple of experienced journalists joined the paper and assisted my efforts to make the production possible with all new hands.

Still, the burden was extremely heavy on me. I had to start the day's work by holding an elaborate orientation meeting with the newcomers handling the inside pages, the reporters and the central desk people. It took about two hours every day first to review the day’s production, page by page and story to story; point out the mistakes and how to avoid those then seek opinions of the pages in-charge, their plans for the next day and offer my own suggestions for making the pages better. The reporters similarly were briefed on the quality of their stories. They were asked to tell their story plans for the next day and were given fresh ideas. The work of the central deskmen was similarly assessed, and they were briefed to avoid mistakes and make better headlines, photo captions and improved pages. It was quite tiresome but the new hands were always cooperative, maybe, because I succeeded to win over them by proving to be helpful to them.      

After the briefing meeting, there was a break when quality snacks and tea were served. The real production work did begin thereafter. The pages in-charge came with their dummy sheets to my room one after another. I made corrections to the inside pages made up by the newcomers. All 11 inside news pages had to be done and redone before being sent to print. Then with the support of one useful 'editorial assistant', I used to edit two editorials, and produce the editorial and the Op-Ed pages. First I did edit the editorials that were written by assigned people. The local editorial writers were all new hands. One of them wrote good copies which also needed editing and recasting. Editorials from others were not all up to the mark. I had to polish those to make publication worthy. It became clear that all writings were not publication worthy and I took in another editorial assistant to go through Op-Ed items before submitting those to me for final editing and approval for production. There were days when two editorials were not available from assigned writers and I had to ask one of the assistant editors to prepare a write-up for use as an editorial after necessary polishing. On some days I had to write one myself. Subsequently, I enlisted the contribution of one specialist editorial writer.   

After I finished with the 13 inside pages by 8 pm to 8-30 pm, I led the central news desk to choose news stories and pics for making the front and the back pages. The owners were quite demanding and wanted the paper to compete with the leading English dailies of Dhaka city. In the process, my working hours extended from the early afternoon to the early hours every day. After about four months of production, I felt the pressure and thought why not ask the colleague - who did prematurely tell the owners of the false preparedness of the team to start production but contributed little to it - to oversee the 11 inside pages? Since then he started piling up final copies of the 11 inside pages on his table boasting of his contribution to the paper’s production. But the young journalists were not happy working with him and complained of giving them wrong choices of words, wrong headlines and misleading guidance. One female subeditor came up to my room and said, 'We miss you'. She used to do a page. After several months for some reasons, not needed to elaborate here, she was given charge of the 'countrywide' page which needed extra hard work to rewrite raw copies of district correspondents. I took back overseeing of the 11 inside paged on my shoulders and relieved the colleague of the charge.

Meanwhile, the editorial assistant who was working with me became tangled with her marital engagements and politely sought leave of absence several days before the solemnisation of the marriage. I took the initiative to give her a gift but failed to attend the ceremony. I found the sub-editor in charge of the countrywide page suitable to work as an editorial assistant and picked her up to fill the vacancy. Another assistant editor joined the section soon after and with this setup, the production of the paper was handled for the first two years and a half. Within this short period of time, the paper succeeded to make its presence felt in Capital Dhaka and the districts.

The disruptive method of work I employed enabled the paper to run without a head of the editorial section, without a full-fledged News Editor neither shifts in charge nor a Country News Editor. In addition, the paper did not need to hire experienced page editors from other newspapers to do the inside pages - this would have required the payment of higher salaries and benefits - and instead created a set of its own page editors.