Malawi Chronicle newspaper folds

The Chronicle is now locked in a slanging match with another newspaper, The Guardian Newspaper, which it accuses of offering better pay and working conditions, prompting an exodus of staff from The Chronicle to The Guardian.

“The Guardian Newspaper has finally broken our proverbial back with a poaching campaign that we have to endure,” declared Robert Jamieson owner and Editor-in-Chief of The Chronicle Newspaper.

The National Media Institute of Southern Africa (NAMISA) says what the two newspapers are currently doing is uncalled for as this is has created a media war which is unfortunate to the media landscape in the country.

“Both Newspapers haven’t handled the issue professionally. They became too personal in their letters which have been copied to us. So being a professional body, we could not go into discussing that apart from advising the two publications to sort out their issue in a professional way,” said Martines Naminga NAMISA Chairperson in an interview on Tuesday.

In his communication to some international organisations within the country Jamieson who is also Chairperson of both the National Editors Forum (NEFORM) and the Southern Africa Editors’ Forum (SAEF) said for this reason The Chronicle has made a decision to suspend all publication.

“We have endured some very trying times in the last 13 years and believe it might be time to throw in the towel. We are sorry it has come to this but what other options do we have when all our efforts to create a winning team can be obliterated in one fell swoop,” he says.

He says The Chronicle seems to have become an employment agency that specialises in training media workers exclusively for The Guardian.

“This year has been exceptionally difficult one for The Chronicle with little advertising coming our way and certainly not from government. We bow out gracefully, hopefully having lost this little battle but winning the war,” declares Jamieson.

He says in the letter, that in the last year his newspaper has lost seven different key employees to The Guardian which pays better.

“I believe there is conspiracy to reduce the independent media to nothing so that there is no alternative voice for the people,” said Jamieson in another letter which he wrote to the Duwa Mutharika, Managing Director of The Guardian.

“We note with concern that your company has, on several occasions approached and effectively persuaded our staff to immediately resign from The Chronicle to join your Newspaper,” he says in the letter.

He is accusing The Guardian of putting in place an employment strategy which has not only targeted The Chronicle but also other independent media such as The Courier and The Dispatch.

In their Monday issue, The Guardian hit back at The Chronicle.

In her letter to The Chronicle which she published in her Monday issue, Duwa described accusations in Jamieson’s letter to her as malicious and untrue.

“I have on many occasions come to my office to see members of your staff waiting to ask me for employment. My recent hires have come after an intensive in-house advertising campaign. Many members of your staff responded to my advertisement and some were hired after multiple interviews,” contends Mutharika in her letter.

“Blaming me for your human resource woes is unfounded and immature,” she adds.

She went on to explain that ex-members of The Chronicle staff are willing to go on record to disclose the abuse they have received from Jamieson while under his employ.

“They speak of you underpaying and undervaluing them as well as displaying unprofessional behavior such as shouting and verbal abuse,” she says.

She says that such staff members are tired of being belittled and seek employment at a better environment. “I am proud to say that my newspaper fits that description.”

Chris Katanga writing on NAMISA’s internet forum bemoaned the closure of The Chronicle saying this now leaves only The Nation as the only surviving paper from scores of titles that came on the scene during the transition period from single party dictatorial rule to multiparty politics in 1993.

However, he went on to say that The Chronicle management are sole architects of their downfall.

“Actually it is a pleasant surprise that they survived this long because they made crucial mistakes from both business and technical points of view,” he says.

Katanga says from a business point of view no company can grow unless it is willing to invest heavily and he claims that The Chronicle has not been investing enough money into the business.

“They have not only been using obsolete and cheap equipment but have also been relying on cheap labour,” he says.

He says losing people to other publications therefore has not started with the emergence of The Guardian as many newsrooms in the country have many people who once worked at The Chronicle and left because of low pay.

Because of the quality of staff, Katanga claims that the quality of the content of The Chronicle has been largely affected leading to low circulation and, crucially, a plethora of lawsuits due to badly handled stories. The paper has had to pay through the nose because it has lost such cases.

“Technically, it seems to me and most people that the management of the paper equated independence to anti-government. As it did with the [previous] United Democratic Front government, The Chronicle has gone on an aggressive anti-government stand with the current government,” he says.

He says in Malawi that is dangerous because you do not only lose government advertising from those who do not want to be seen to be supporting that agenda.

While it is sad that The Chronicle has folded, Katanga says the fall has not been as graceful as portrayed by Jamieson.

“Rather than being the victim, The Chronicle will do better to point all fingers at themselves. Sympathy-seeking paranoia will only work to those who seize every opportunity to hit at the President and his government,” he says.

One of the senior staff member who is on the list of those that Newspaper complains was poached Levison Mwase said he personally did not want The Chronicle to die.

“But the owners should do a serious overhaul of the structure and salary of staff,” he said.

He said despite meager salaries that the newspaper has been offering over the years, he will continue to have fond memories of the place.

December 2006
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