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Monday, September 09, 2013

Uhuru Kenyatta's newspaper fails to pay staff

Kumekucha Business Special

People Daily employees have not been paid their salaries. It is the first delay in more than three months and is causing major ripples at the Uhuru Kenyatta owned newspaper.

The situation is worse for the correspondents and photographers from across the country who have not been paid for two months and most of them are in a state of shock. With schools now opening, there are murmurs that the employees might miss taking their children to school on time. The poorly paid correspondents and journalists have now appealed to the top management of the company to step in and help.

A member of staff speaking to Kumekucha says that managing editor Maina Muiruri keeps telling lies to the correspondents every week but in reality worries more about his personal perks and benefits rather than that of the company or workers.

On the other end, some correspondents who have been working for more than two years have now been denied their retainers after Annabel Iraki, and finance man Ken said that they are not in the strategic plans of the company. Ken and Annabel have insisted that correspondents cannot be paid retainers because they are not employed and should be treated like any other freelance contributors who write opinion pieces for the newspaper. 

Just two years ago, the correspondents staged a strike that was highlighted by a famous blogger after which the payments were immediately effected.

Maina Muiruri, who also lied to the upcountry correspondents that they were to recieve an increment from one shilling per word to three shillings, has turned round and told finance not to effect the new payments.

The firm continues to mistreat the poorly paid correspondents with abandon and yet any experienced newspaper man will quickly tell you that correspondents scattered across the country and on the ground are the backbone of any news gathering organization.

These recent troubles come hot in the heels of a downsizing exercise by People Daily where at least 72 employees were asked to clear their desks and leave.

Other sources have told this blogger that the crux of the problem is the pressure the management is under to turn around the newspaper into profitability. And yet they do not seem to have a clue or clear workable strategy of how they are going to do that. Recent headlines have been boring and lackluster at best in a highly competitive market where circulation of newspapers is shrinking anyway, as technology rapidly changes the way most Kenyans receive and digest their news. Clearly the management are nowhere near finding a viable niche for the newspaper.

The People Daily is going to be an interesting case study for those who market newspapers for years to come because it started out as a very popular high circulation profitable weekly launched by reforms hero Ken Matiba after the Daily Nation refused to run a controversial advertisement he had already paid for. It thrived at the height of the clamour for a return to multipartyism and reforms and must be credited for helping sustain pressure on the then dictatorial Moi regime. It's captain and guiding light right from the beginning was the late legendary George Mbugguss a man with limited formal education who started out as a tea boy in Taifa Leo and climbed through the ranks to Editor in Chief of the Nation group. Mbuguss was quite a character (who ate and slept newspapers) and this blogger was fortunate enough to work under him briefly in launching a new column for the Sunday Nation that ended up being a runaway success and was one of Mbuguss' many ingenious ideas to sell more newspapers. The man would go on leave but always end up wandering back into the newsroom daily and his first question was always the same; "what is the splash?" (referring to the main headline for the newspaper the next day.) Clearly he had no other life except newspapers.

Mbuguss strength was smelling stories that could sell a newspaper and after retiring from the Nation did just that for The People with impeccable but mysterious contacts right inside State House that enabled him to reproduce secret conversations in the corridors of power verbatim producing stories that were always a must read.  

Drunk with sensational success, a hurried decision was then made by The People management to turn the newspaper into a daily and that is where the troubles that persist to this day started. What in effect happened was that The People Weekly died and was replaced by a struggling directionless daily newspaper.

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