What happened at Geo
Don’t believe everything you might have read about Outlook having decided to shut down three of their international magazines, Marie Claire, People and Geo. “We are not renewing our licences for these three international titles,” was the tame and completely reasonable explanation that Indranil Roy, president, Outlook Group, gave regarding the closures. But the way it came about was anything but.
Here’s a version closer to the truth. And here’s what happened from where I was standing.
On 26 July 2013 Geo‘s editor Kai Friese, my boss, came back from a (very short) meeting looking rather bemused. Apparently, they were closing us down and it was all a Very Big Secret. At that point, nobody but the big bosses were supposed to know; unfortunately, the news got out via a tweet and was a complete shock to the over 100 staff that was being laid off. (I wish I’d been the one to out Outlook, but I wasn’t. Damn.)
For those interested in a blow-by-blow account of how it unfolded, read Rajyasree Sen’s excellent summing-up at Newslaundry.com. By the evening I was getting calls and mails (well, one call and two mails) from friends in the media asking what the eff was going on.
Of course, it’s public knowledge now that the People magazine people approached the Mumbai labour court to stay their dismissals and the staff at Marie Claire refused to release the last few pages of the issue till dues were cleared. At one point there were talks of the three of us at Geo joining the Marie Claire people to approach the courts. All this happened over the next few days, in which there was still no word from the company about our standing. Were we still employed? We didn’t know.
In her story, Rajyasree Sen recounts that one of the questions she asked of Indranil Roy was: “How was this communicated to employees?” Needless to say, he didn’t respond, but I can tell you: It wasn’t communicated to employees at all.
Yes, not one of the big bosses had the decency to tell me and my colleague at Geo personally that we were being sacked. (I’m not sure what happened at the other magazines.) Of course, Kai telling us didn’t count, since he was being laid off as well (he resigned first, striking a final blow from our side, so yay!). And you bet they weren’t going to put anything down on paper or email, but no one even thought it might be—I don’t know, good manners? the only decent thing to do?—to personally talk to us, on the phone at least. There were just two of us—how hard would it have been for Certain People to fit into their no doubt terribly busy days?
On 1 August I got a call from one of the accounts people that I should come to “collect my cheque”. That was the first official indication of my termination. When I turned up the next day:
- Outlook finally deigned to pay me the two months’ salary they still owed me.
- They actually paid me the full severance package detailed in my appointment letter. You could have knocked me down with a feather (and then again later when the cheques actually cleared!)
- But then they produced a letter purporting to be my resignation. Needless to say, this was the first I had known anything about having resigned! They indicated that if I didn’t sign, they’d take away the money that was due to me.
After some wrestling with my conscience and discussions with journalist and fellow member of the Network for Women in Media, India, Laxmi Murthy, who contacted her friend M.J. Pandey at the Bombay Union of Journalists, I decided to sign. The termination and how it happened was illegal, and even though my official record says I “resigned” rather than was sacked, it was all about Outlook covering its dishonourable gluteus maximus. (The People people withdrew their case eventually and reached an amicable settlement. One wonders if resignation letters featured in the process.)
Anyhow, here is the lie I put my name to (click on image marked 1 for the real thing):
This has reference to the discussions we have had over the last few days.
In view of the same, I am hereby resigning from the services of the company with immediate effect.
Kindly accept my resignation.
They simultaneously handed me another letter letting me know that my resignation had been hereby accepted with “immediate effect” (image marked 2). Oh, joy.
So that’s how my two years at Geo came to a messy end. It’s not really an end yet in some ways—spare a thought for the freelancers, who have dues since March that the company hasn’t cleared yet.
In sum, terribly played, Outlook. No wonder the bad taste in mouth refuses to go.