Sing Tao Group Launched Five-day Week

Chong Hiu-yeung - General Secretary, HKJA

[中文][Apr 2011 - The Journalist] Apple Daily and Hong Kong Economic Times launch a five-day work week pilot scheme last summer in what is likely to be trend for the whole media industry. Ming Pao Daily News is expected to explore its feasibility at about the same time.

The Sing Tao Group took a tentative step forward April 1 by giving its staffs on Headline Daily, Sing Tao Daily and Eastweek an additional day off each month. In practice this works out to three five-day weeks followed by a five-and-a-half work week for those on Sing Tao Daily and Headline Daily. Operational details will be determined by the departments concerned. The situation will be reviewed after six months.

The five-day work week is not exactly new to the industry. It was the Sing Tao Group's Hong Kong Standard that launched the five-day week more than 20 years ago.

On Eastweek, the practice until now was for editors and reporters to be off on Sundays and alternate Tuesdays, the day on which the magazine is published. Department heads decided when their staff could take the additional off day. However, this additional day off could be forfeited if there was a major news-break.

Ming Pao Daily News had planned to implement a five-day week in March but has been procrastinating. For now the newsroom is tied up with the Budget and the earthquake and nuclear reactor disaster in Japan. At the same time, the company has put aside it rigid performance indicator under which each section has to push a certain number of news items each week.

A reporter in Ming Pao Daily News said that staff morale in the company would be adversely affected if the paper did not adopt a five-day week.

But Apple Daily's trial run may be run into obstacles. On January 19 itsthe management announced without any advance notice that the company would not implement the five-day week in order to maintain the news quality. In other words, the newspaper resumed its previous five-and-a-half-day work week. Whether this work schedule will be called off is at the discretion of the department heads concerned.

The move set off heated discussions within the company, extending into Facebook, the online social platform and involved non-staffers. A reporter working in an electronic media company wrote an article headed “Is a career as a reporter to be scorned?”. This article attracted nearly 200 “like” and over 70 comments within two to three days. Journalists in other media outlets became concerned that if big companies like Apple Daily were not fully committed to the five-day week others might find excuses to avoid the five-day week.

The Next Media Trade Union and the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) issued a joint statement to express concern. HKJA also appealed to the management of Apple Daily to start a dialogue and to communicate with its staff members, with the aim of alleviating grievances. HKJA also appealed to the management to avoid taking unilateral action while reaffirming HKJA’s belief that the five-day week can enhance employees’ benefits, and in the long run, bolster staff morale, retain talent and enhance news quality.

On 24 January 2011, the representatives of the Next Media Trade Union had a meeting with the management of Apple Daily including the publisher Tung Chiao. According to a statement by the Next Media Trade Union the next day the management reiterated its long-term goal of implementing a five-day week, and that the company would conduct a trial implementation for a half year, followed by a review to evaluate its effectiveness. During the trial period, department heads would be given the liberty to resume the original work pattern or to implement the five-day week, with the understanding that news quality would not be compromised.

After this mediation each department chose an arrangement that fitted its own operations. This resulted in reporters on beats like local news, finance, foreign news, entertainment, spot news (outside the newsroom) and China news can continue to have the five-day week, while reporters in beats like spot news (in newsroom) and supplements as well as editors and staff members in arts and graphics departments returned to the five and a half day week.

It is our hope that the management of each media company understands that high-quality news rarely come from staff members who saddled with grievances and low morale. Bolstering staff morale and maintaining news quality can only be achieved through giving reporters more time to rest and learn, as well as enjoy two days off per week which is fast becoming the norm in the community, increasing manpower to shoulder the workload.