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Mexico's only English-language daily sold; staff cut by two-thirds

June 1, 2009 |  2:06 pm

Thenews

Mexico’s only national English-language daily newspaper, the News, based in Mexico City, was bought by a Mexican media company, and dozens of staffers were laid off over the weekend, a development that left employees standing outside the newspaper’s offices “looking bewildered,” according to an editorial in the paper Monday morning.

The newspaper will continue publishing with a third of its original staff but will offer a smaller daily edition and will no longer publish on the weekends.

An unsigned editorial in Monday’s issue of the News takes a swing at the former owner, Victor Hugo O'Farill, for the way in which staff were laid off at the end of last week. Those present said they were met by a group of lawyers who gave them the news.

“There are ways of treating employees that Mexico must learn if it truly wants to be a member of the OECD [Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development] and not be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a third-world backwater …" says the editorial.

 “When you lay off dozens of employees by surprise -- as happened at the News on Friday, and as is to be expected in any merger, anywhere, particularly during an economic crisis -- make a personal appearance to break the news. ... [F]ire people yourself, thank them for their hard work and effort and face any possible backlash, rather than leaving the dirty work to the lackeys and muscle-for-hire.”

All 40 employees on the paper were laid off on Friday at the end of last week, but 14 of them were rehired by Grupo Mac that same day, said Malcolm Beith, who was elevated from national editor to editor.

O'Farill, whose grandfather founded the news in 1950, said in a telephone interview that his family lacked the resources necessary to continue running the newspaper.

"The News needs to be in a bigger editorial company. It's an excellent title. We've had great editorial results, amazing collaborators, and have won design awards, but we didn't have the capacity to give it the energies necessary to survive and it was at risk.

"The costs were very high for such a small newspaper."

The paper has just two reporters but will be translating Spanish-language content into English from other Grupo Mac titles (which includes the newspaper Cambio).

Former staff say that the former owner promised to give employees three months' severance and 20 days' pay for every year they’d worked for the paper. Instead, employees have been offered 30 days of severance pay.

But O'Farill said that it is his understanding that the former owners did not violate any labor laws in making severance offers to ex-employees.

The News in its current incarnation has been publishing daily in Mexico since October 2007 but before that existed in Mexico from 1950 until 2002. The newspaper uses the motto “Mexico Explained” on its masthead.

Below is the full editorial:

Explaining our transition

It was an image not unlike those we have published a thousand times. A group of employees of a Mexican company standing outside their office, bewildered, having been mistreated by their employer. This time, we were on the receiving end: The News has been bought by Grupo Mac, a media company that owns Cambio, Rumbo de México and Estadio, among other publications.

The fault does not lie with them -- they are the acquiring company. The fault lies with Víctor Hugo O'Farill, the former owner of The News. The fault, too, lies with Mexico.

At The News, we have never had an agenda of focusing on the negative or tarnishing someone's name for the sake of it. But we do consider it our obligation to point out faults in the system that holds Mexico back.

There are ways of treating employees that Mexico must learn if it truly wants to be a member of the OECD and not be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a third-world backwater.

When you run or own a small company like The News, which operates more for the greater good than it does the bottom line, treat your employees with respect and humanity. If you don't, it will come back to haunt you, as you will have a reputation preceding you when you try to hire new employees for your newest venture.

If you are going to give employees contracts, give them real ones that clearly spell out their rights and yours. There is no point in creating false contracts filled with loopholes - your employees know you are giving them a raw deal and they will never invest what you need -- their lives and hearts -- into your firm.

When you lay off dozens of employees by surprise -- as happened at The News on Friday, and as is to be expected in any merger, anywhere, particularly during an economic crisis - make a personal appearance to break the news. ... [F]ire people yourself, thank them for their hard work and effort and face any possible backlash, rather than leaving the dirty work to the lackeys and muscle-for-hire.

Last year, Mexico passed reforms that, according to the World Bank, made it easier to close a business but fell 14 spots to 56th place in terms of ease of doing business. It failed to make any improvements regarding treatment of employees. According to the World Bank, wealthy investors were among the most vocal opponents of some of the most heralded reforms. The nation must do much, much more.

In any case, The News continues. Our editorial line will remain the same. The foreigners on our staff love living in this country, of which our Mexican colleagues are an integral part. We will continue to report on the reality of Mexico - the good and bad - as we see it from our perspective.

We will be streamlining -- to 24 pages, Monday through Thursday. (On Friday you will receive a 32-page weekend edition; we will no longer be publishing on Saturday and Sunday. We, too, enjoy our weekends.)

Content-wise, I'm pleased to say we will be increasing our focus on Mexico, thanks to the Grupo Mac resources at our disposal. We expect that working with our partners - with their reporting and editing resources, their knowledge of Mexico and their experience in publishing newspapers here - to be nothing but fruitful. We also hope to use our experience in the business here - we did win a global design award or two, and some of our reporting has been worthy of awards, even if we are not eligible for any major ones - to help lift the standards for Mexican journalism, which has been improving for years.

We hope you continue with us as we cover and uncover Mexico -- and also, please bear with us as we deal with the adjustments of the merger -- and we look forward to being your primary source of news in this wonderfully exciting country.

The News editorial, Monday June 1st, 2009

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City

*edited Monday 7pm Mexico City Time.

Photo: The first issue of the News in 2007. Deborah Bonello / MexicoReporter.com




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