In a management policy that is as pioneering as it is controversial and bizarre, the newly relaunched New Nigerian Compass has mandated its journalists to submit two pages of paid advert placements per month as a condition to be paid salary.
The policy is clearly spelt out in the employment letters issued to reporters and editors of the paper.
Reporters at the paper said the management of the company had made it clear editorial staff who fail to attract advertisement to the paper would have violated the terms of their employment and would therefore not be entitled to any pay.
But “soliciting advertisements” (two full pages or four half pages or eight quarter pages) is just one of the four “editorial and revenue-driven targets” that qualifies reporters and editors to monthly salaries and other official benefits, according to a copy of a journalist’s employment letter seen by PREMIUM TIMES.
The others include a minimum of 20 “regular” stories, one investigative (exclusive) report, and two interviews.
The management policy further states that for reporters and editors to be entitled to salaries and allowances, they must meet the minimum “editorial and revenue-driven targets” for 12 consecutive months.
“The payment of monthly salary and emoluments under this offer is tied to your meeting, on month-to-month basis, editorial and other revenue-driven targets as may be set and agreed with management,” the employment letter stated.
“The company shall not owe you monthly emolument nor will such emolument fall into arrears if you have not met your agreed editorial and revenue-driven target for the month,” the letter, signed by Muyiwa Amoo, the company’s Human Resources Advisor, added.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted him on why the paper is tying reporters’ emoluments to advert placements, Segun Oyebolu, the company’s Managing Director, said it was “a private affair.”
“You can’t ask me that question because if there’s a contract between two parties, you cannot go about talking about that,” he said.
“If you are offered a contract, you can say you can or you cannot do it. They are adults,” he added.
Pay as you go
Mr. Oyebolu’s company, Vee Global Network Resources Ltd, announced its acquisition of the publishing rights of the New Nigerian Compass newspaper last February.
The New Nigerian Compass and Weekend Compass will run on Mondays and Fridays respectively, with the publication going daily by September 2014, according to its new owners.
“The paper will benefit greatly from the tremendous technology expertise of its new investors and blaze a new trail in balanced, un-influenced news reporting in Nigeria providing the needed platform for those passionate about the welfare of the Nigerian State and its citizens,” the company had said in a statement.
In another controversial policy introduced by the paper last week, it attached journalists’ Basic Travel Allowance, BTA, to the usage of their articles in the newspaper.
This policy was conveyed to the editorial staff in an e-mail from Mr. Oyebolu.
The new management’s policies have irked a lot of the editorial staff.
The journalists who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES insisted the Pay-Per-Story policy was tied to their salaries.
“Our June salary has not been paid despite that the company directed us to resume on June 2,” a reporter at the newspaper who did not want to be named, told PREMIUM TIMES.
“iPads given to editors were retrieved just before the MD’s e-mail because they were afraid people would walk away with their gadgets after reading it, and with June salary still unpaid,” he added.
Another member of the newspaper’s editorial staff told PREMIUM TIMES that after they assumed duties on June 2, they began filing and uploading stories on the reporters’ portal.
“We were sorting for stories and sending stories, working as per directed,” said the staff who did not also want to be named to avoid victimization.
“Though, the publication wasn’t persistent due to what he (Mr. Oyebolu) called printer error and not publication suitable.
“Still, he was instructing staff to send stories, and they were sending it. We worked hard for the month of June,” he added.
In fact, the management’s “offer of contract employment” letter to editorial staff stated clearly that June 2nd was the day of “joining our organization.”
However, by July 10, and with June salary still unpaid, the staff began to demand for their pay.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that monthly salaries for reporters and editors range from N70,000 to about N150,000 and above, respectively.
“When we went to meet him for our June salary, he told us in plain language that he was not owing us,” the staff said.
Another staff told PREMIUM TIMES that the managing director marched some of his colleagues out of his office for demanding their June salary.
Nigerian Compass speaks
But while responding to PREMIUM TIMES enquiries, the company defended its controversial policies, stating that they were a way of moving the newly resuscitated newspaper forward.
Mr. Oyebolu frowned at what he described as the staff’s inability to understand the contract they signed with the company.
“A situation where people who are supposed to enlighten the nation cannot even read,” he said.
According to the newspaper’s management, correspondents will be paid “N5,000 for every lead (front page story) submitted and published in any of the Compass titles; N2,000 for any good, event picture that is submitted and published in any of the Compass titles; N2,500 for any front page (minor) story with picture submitted and published in any of the Compass titles.
“N1,500 for any other story submitted and published in any of the Compass titles; N1,500 for any original cartoon submitted and published in any of the Compass titles; and N3,000 for every news video & audio clips used online.”
The payments, the company said, will be made on the 30th of every month to correspondents based on the number of published stories; and where more than one correspondent submits a story and the story is used, the allowance will be shared equally among the correspondents equally.
“By adopting the pay-per-story scheme, BTA is hereby cancelled except for special projects as may be approved from time to time by the Publisher,” the e-mail added.
Mr. Oyebolu said that the Pay-Per-Story policy only affects the correspondents’ BTA and not their salaries.
“We were talking about the BTA because we found out that we were paying people who go to their houses and stay, and then go to The Punch website, download a story and bring to the editor,” Mr. Oyebolu said.
“Nothing has affected their contract with Compass.
“Sometimes, the stories they (correspondents) bring are not even genuine. I can’t continue to run money down the drain.
“The reporter we sent to cover Ekiti election got a paid hotel and N20,000 for a two day job and we got zero story out of it,” Mr. Oyebolu added.
The MD’s e-mail to the editorial staff also noted that stories that do not meet deadlines will not be used in the newspaper.
“Please note that payment under the pay-per-story is not tied to advert or any other condition – once your story is published, it will immediately be queued for payment at month end,” Mr. Oyebolu’s e-mail to staff added.
Mr. Oyebolu dismissed the claims that the iPads were retrieved from his editors saying that they were going to be inscribed upon.
“There is no law that states that our properties cannot be inscribed upon,” he said.
‘Blame journalists for destroying my paper’
The Nigerian Compass was established in 2008 by Gbenga Daniel, the former Ogun State governor.
The paper hit troubled times at the end of Mr. Daniel’s governorship tenure in 2011; with Mr. Daniel blaming his “wasteful” editorial staff for the newspaper’s inability to survive.
Speaking to journalists in January, when he denied claims that he was on the verge of selling the newspaper, alongside its sister publication, The Westerner, Mr. Daniel said he established the New Nigerian Compass as a way of contributing to nation building.
“Many people have been saying a lot of things but they can never know better than I do because, I was the one who knows the reason for establishing it. You will all agree with me that journalists are needed components in nation building, but in Nigeria, they are not well taken care of and you will see them looking tattered and unkempt,” Mr. Daniel had said.
“I sat down and thought of what to do and I concluded within me that I should establish a newspaper and make it a place where the pen men would be well taken care of and free to perform effectively and efficiently. But, alas! what did I see, it is the same journalists that I was fighting for that ruined the company.
“They destroyed the company and nearly made it go bankrupt. But I can promise you here today that the company is coming back soon; back and better.
“You people have to understand that someone that established a newspaper house does so to make profit. It is a business enterprise and all hands must be on deck by all and sundry for its survival.
“A situation whereby some people among the stakeholders are not performing as expected would be the beginning of the collapse of such a company, which was part of what contributed to the problems faced by Compass. It is you people, I mean, the journalists that killed the newspaper.
“You will all recall that when we started then, newspapers like The Nation, The Sun and even This Day were put on their toes, with the welfare packages we put in place. We bought 36 cars for all our correspondents across the country and they were all adequately taken care of.
“Even those at the head office were so happy with the welfare packages they enjoyed until you people finished everything,” said Mr. Daniel.