Mostafa Kamal Majumder
The proprietors of The New Nation did not ask me to look after the financial management of the paper. Yet I felt the burden because the journalists and general employees readily find the editor to tell of their sufferings due to irregular payment of salary and benefits. I thought why not try to lift the economic base of the paper which was by then the oldest living newspaper of Bangladesh. This is a marketing point. Another point was its editorial neutrality. The paper definitely had its editorial priorities but it was not directly involved in party politics. It thus had the ground to be of appeal to all shades of opinion. Those who looked after the financial side of the paper definitely had their stakes. It was tricky to make a middle road without hitting vested interests. First I chose the non-controversial areas of The New Nation’s income and expenditure. The City Press from where the paper was printed charged Taka 250,000 a month as printing charge. Being owned by the proprietors of the New Nation the press used to claim priority for payment of its bills before the salary of the journalists and employees were paid. This was a big head of expenditure. I came to know that this was only the printing charge. Supply of newsprints was the responsibility of the paper. I requested Saju Madam to call the City Press manager to a meeting at her office room and call me to be present. On the day the meeting was held I sought to know how he charged Taka 250,000 a month on the paper. The manager referred to a commercial rate of printing including the costs of plates and ink. I said the printing press was owned by The New Nation and he can charge maximum the cost of the plates and the ink. Calculations showed that the cost comes to around Taka 60,000 a month. Madam Saju Hosein made it a round figure of Taka 100,000 a month. Thus the paper was spared of a pressure of Taka 150,000 a month.
I then concentrated on the transport costs of the New Nation. The paper used to pay Taka 80,000 for two microbuses hired for movement of the advertisement staff to different offices to seek ad and collect bills during day hours and another was for reaching journalists and computer section staff to their residences late at night. The microbus used at night was dilapidated. Often its sliding door used to fall off requiring the passengers to get down and pick it up to put back on its place. The driver regularly used to drop journalists and employees on main roads instead of reaching them to their residences located on lanes and by-lanes on the plea that the oil procured to running the night shift had depleted. The other microbus which was in a better shape used to remain mostly parked beside the paper office. It was used to carry senior officials of the general section to different places. Not even 25 percent capacity of the microbus was utilized. I suggested to Madam Saju Hosein that the paper can do without the two microbuses. Like the Daily Ittefaq, The New Nation can also hire baby taxis to ferry its night staff to their residences and the cost would be minimal. She agreed to the suggestion. General section people were asked to submit conveyance bills for movement to get advertisements and bills. And the paper was relieved of Taka 60,000 wastage a month on transportation costs alone. There was resistance. People from the general section initially said they were not getting baby taxi contractors to work with but finally gave in.
Simultaneously to increase the readership of the paper I managed to get an allocation of Taka 25,000 a month from Saju Hosein earmarking Taka 10,000 for payment to writers of post editorials and features and Taka 15,000 to pay retainer’s allowance to district correspondents at the rate of Taka 500 each and Taka 1000 to two division level correspondents at Khulna and Rajshahi. For Chitttagong the paper had a regular stringer. The allocation helped establish a better relationship with contributors by ensuring payment at the end of each month. The impact of payment of retainer’s allowance to the correspondents was beyond description. The correspondents started calling me over the phone and telling – ‘nobody even contacted us before and you have started paying us allowance’. I said in reply please submit reports every day and you would get bills according to set rates. A total of 28 correspondents became active in no time submitting stories and news photos of varied news interests. The district page was unable to accommodate all those and we used to pick up some important reports on the front the back pages of the paper.
Because of the solid support for payment of bills of contributors, I was able to enlist AK Faezul Huq, son of Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq, and my esteemed Dhaka University batch mate and prolific writer Shahid Alam, now a faculty member at the International University of Bangladesh (IUB) to be among regular contributors. The editorial and feature pages of the paper started attracting more readers. In Dhaka University, the National Press Club and other circles The New Nation once again started becoming a topic of discussion.
The activation of district correspondents had far-reaching impacts. Soon after the introduction of the allowances for the correspondents, the government (source of 70 percent of all advertisements) decentralized the distribution of its advertisement from the Department of Films and Publications (DFP) in Dhaka to the District and Upazila officers of its line departments. The district correspondents jumped on those and we encouraged them to collect advertisement for regular payment of commissions against collected advertisement bills. When advertisement was decentralized no newspaper had so many district correspondents like The New Nation. And as all Dhaka dailies were raising voice against the decentralisation and had to fill their advertisement pages with news items, we were printing above 500 column inches of advertisement every day as against 100 plus inches of ads a day before. Soon the paper started experiencing revenue surplus and after a long time began paying arrear salary and benefits of journalists and employees. The paper also paid off its overdue bills in the market. And for the first time, the proprietor of The New Nation started calling festival allowance paid to employees during two Eids ‘bonus’. Before that the festival allowances used to be paid under the head ‘ex-gratia’ because those used to come from the proprietor’s subsidy.
Mostafa Kamal Majumder