Zaffar Abbas, Editor-in-Chief, Dawn, Pakistan
Like in most other news organisations across the globe, we at Dawn in Pakistan are also faced with a very different and difficult challenge, with safety being of prime concern. Yet, we all remain committed to informing the people, and are doing our best to remain ahead of others in disseminating news and views on Covid-19 and other matters, both through our web portal and newspaper.
As our web team is quite young, and luckily quite tech savvy, we didn’t have a problem in moving 90 per cent of them to work from home, and they are doing it quite efficiently.
In our newspaper, bulk of the staff is old fashioned, and it is taking us time to teach them operational methods of working from home. Still we have managed to train around 60 per cent of them to adopt these new methods.
However, working on old systems, we still have quite a few people, like senior copy editors and edition in charges of various sections, as well as those designing pages, to be present in the office.
We are doing our best to provide them a safe environment. Staff has been staggered in several rooms, and our efforts are to make sure that not more than four people operate out of one room. Even within these rooms they are being kept at a safe distance.
The premises is being sanitised and disinfected on a regular basis, which in its own way remains a huge challenge because of the lockdown, and unavailability of manpower. However, we are not willing to take any chances.
Because of the critical situation, we have prepared a number of contingency plans, which also include reducing the number of pages. In the worst case scenario we may even reduce the newspaper to 8 pages. Hopefully such a situation will not arise.
The downside of all this is that the situation is posing an existential threat to newspaper as an industry. With people mostly confined to their homes, they are relying mostly on online news service or television, and circulation of newspapers is dropping quite rapidly. The rumours that the virus can also spread through newspapers is also having a disastrous affect.
It’s a challenge that I have never experienced in my 40 years of journalism: the and I’m not sure if the newspapers will ever be able to revive their circulation once the virus is contained or eliminated.