Newspaper delivery in the morning has not been as punctual and regular as before ever since the corona virus made its appearance in the country on March 8 last. A drastic fall in the circulation of the printed version of local newspapers forced the majority of their suspension by April. Even the leading newspapers - both English and Bangla - were forced to trim their sizes and curtail publications. Now those broadsheets are struggling to revert to their regular sections and pages but odds are against them.
True, the economy has opened up but not in as expansive a manner as before. Executives and employees avoid regular attendance in favour of either shifting duties or work from home. Not all operations or transactions can go full steam if such restricted regimes become mandatory with the threat of coronavirus looming large like the sword of Damocles.
Since the newspaper industry largely depends on advertisements for its survival, an economic downturn is bound to adversely impact the industry. Businesses and industries have been on a tailspin and are busy cutting their costs. Employees are retrenched or furloughed as an easy way out for their survival. So the flow of advertisement has become a casualty.
Newspaper readership has never been enviable in this part of the world. Yet over the past decades, readership was picking belying the prediction that online version will drive out printed newspapers. The virus has impacted the newspaper industry in different ways in different countries. Contrary to the situation here in Bangladesh, readership swelled in the United States of America in the early months of coronavirus attack. But still circulation suffered and local newspapers had to be shut down. This too on account of the drying up of ads.
There is no mystery about greater eagerness among the American public to read newspapers. Here is a conflict of interests. Coronavirusis is global but it is local too in certain respects. People want authentic news about the onslaught of the disease, particularly when they are confined to home and fear for their lives. How does the community they belong to in a locality fare, what are the health protocols they ought to follow individually, family-wise and collectively? In a mammoth country like America, the sharks of newspapers which ate up small local newspapers cannot provide readers with local news concerning small towns' requirements. So readership of small newspapers grew but those went out of circulation.
Bangladesh is a small country and its national newspapers can more or less serve their readers, directing their focus on local issues, albeit briefly. Here demand for broadsheets has dropped because people, business houses and organizations have unsubscribed those. Many are apprehensive of catching the virus through newspaper handling. Although the Newspapers Owners Association of Bangladesh (NOAB) informed the public through advertisements and quoting experts in the field that newspapers are not carriers of coronavirus, not many are convinced. The World Health Organisation (WHO) also confirmed this claim by explaining why the possibility of transmission of the virus through newspapers is next to nothing.
Then, some hawkers left the city in March immediately after the shutdown euphemistically called general holidays. With the drastic fall in demand for newspapers, hawkers also find the home delivery business uneconomic. Many of them had simply to leave the city because they cannot afford house rent here with the meagre income they earn from delivery of newspapers. One such newspaper hawker in Mohammadpur area is still in the business but he does not stay in Dhaka. He operates his business with the help of an assistant, a teenager who still clings to his shabby shelter in the city somehow. The boy misses delivery of papers two to three days a month. His boss tries to supervise business from his village home but cannot ensure the boy will be regular as before.
Thus the newspaper industry is passing through one of the most critical times. The longer is the pandemic, the greater the woes of this industry and all its stake-holders including those delivering newspapers at the readers' doorsteps.