Ming Pao Delays Implementation of Five Day Work Week

Chong Hiu-yeung - General Secretary, HKJA

[Jan 2011 - The Journalist]  Ming Pao's plan to adopt the five-day work week from January this year is facing a setback. So far only the editor's desk has succeeded with its trial run. In return for an extra day off, the group of editors agreed to turn up for work earlier on week days to work on pages that do not have tight deadlines. However, for the news desks, social news and financial news, trial runs have yet to begin.

For the photographers a dry run was stopped by senior management on Nov 20. The reason given was that "fewer photos were published in the newspaper which means productivity was hindered". The photographers were required to work out a new plan. Late last December, Simon Cheung, Chief Editor of Ming Pao, announced indirectly that a decision on the implementation of the five day week would be postponed to March.

A glance at Ming Pao Daily News.
The unwelcome decision caused morale to plunge. The two editors who manage spot news quit and will join the Apple Daily, the first newspaper to implement the five day week.

Among Chinese newspaper organizations, Apple Daily and Hong Kong Economic Times have implemented the five-day week. Ming Pao is supposed to be the third organization to do so.

Ming Pao's management set some conditions for adoption of this five-day week: no new hiring and no decline in the quality of reporting. News desk management would have to squeeze its already tight staffing to maintain high productivity. This is an obstacle to implementing the scheme.

Hong Kong Economic Times had set the same conditions. But the paper saw profits rise; its interim results notched up a 73% profit increase. In response management agreed to hire additional staff to resolve its manpower problem.

Work Redistribution

Ming Pao had also insisted, as a condition for the five-day week, on an additional "hard target" for the staff. All desks had to hand in a five-day week plan to Simon Cheung which included a "pledge" to hand in a number of stories of quality – stories that can be used as inside page leads. Mid-level management must ensure that news quality would not be impaired by the implementation of five-day week.

There was also a re-distribution of work to meet targets for these inside page leads in accordance with the staffing of each desk. For example, the Social News Desk would be divided into five beats: 1. housing, transport and environmental protection; 2. social welfare, labor and security; 3. I.T., tourism and consumer issues; 4. medical, health and food; 5. investigative reports. Each desk, with 3 to 4 staff, must provide "news ideas" for the week. At least half of these ideas must be prospective and exclusive inside page leads. And the online click rates of these page leads should be above average for the day.

Desks like Court News were not exempted. They may not be able to produce exclusive stories, given the nature of the beat, nevertheless they are required to hand in a personality feature and two "legal knowledge" features every week. Due to shortage of staff, the team leader is required to "go out and get stories".

The pressure on the Investigative Reports Desk is even higher. It must investigate issues on which society is focused, with a minimum of 3 news stories each month that have impact on the society or impressed the readers.

The hold on implementing the five-day week for photographers caused some ripples. A photographer who did not want to be named expressed his discontent to The Journalist, saying that they had already squeezed their productivity by sending pictures back to office right after every assignment.

He was disturbed by the “hard target” which is not a fair criterion for evaluation of a photographers' work. It is not unusual for a photographer to have several assignments each day. Whether their photos are used or not depends on other editorial considerations such as the news worthiness, page layout, and so on. Some assignments are more time consuming; photographers just cannot “click and run”.

Sing Tao: needs more time

The success of Ming Pao's implementation of the five-day week has wider implications for the industry. It will be a tipping point for the entire industry.

The Journalist understands that Sing Tao Daily has taken on a 'wait and see' attitude towards Ming Pao Daily. Its Chief Editor has told a meeting of his staff: “Let's see whether Ming Pao can get it done.”

Fellow journalists in Sing Tao should not be discouraged. A senior management of that paper told The Journalist that the group actually needs more time to consider the effect of five-day week since if implemented, it would not be applied only to the editorial staff. It must apply the practice to all its staff, and there are thousands of them. It would involve much extra resources. For the moment management is working on the rate of salary increment. They do not want the five-day week issue to interfere with this.

If this member from the senior management is trustworthy, The Journalist hopes that members from Sing Tao enjoy higher levels of salary rise. But the management should still consider the five-day week more pro-actively and in time. When the staff turnover rate climbs, it would be too late.