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Editorial: News Organizations Ahead of the Curve

This issue has a special focus on HR issues, which gives me an opportunity to say something that I don’t think you will hear very often: the newspaper industry is ahead of the curve. 

Specifically, I am thinking of atypical employment, by which I mean anything other than a salaried person sitting in front of a computer from nine to five, or whatever the set hours may be.

We have those as well, and every company needs them, but newspapers have also long had freelancers, people who may work for a number of publications and have no set desk in the HQ. For a period of eight years or so I did just that between editorships, working from my home office for a number of diverse organizations, providing a range of communications services from straightforward news reporting, to copywriting and copy editing, to internal and external corporate communications.

Working from home is not for everyone. It requires a degree of discipline (personally speaking, I always found the thought that I had no guaranteed monthly salary an immense aid in this if internet searches became too distracting), but the freedom that came with it – to push the seat back from the desk, grab the dogs and go for a walk because it was a nice day, for example – was wonderful.

It also requires discipline from those around you should there be others at home. While she was on maternity leave looking after our youngest child, my wife did not always appreciate that I could not just drop everything and “pop out to the shops”. But we worked our way around it. 

I can’t work from home in the same way now; editing a newspaper comes with too many other responsibilities and duties that require you to be in the office fairly regularly. But to managers afraid of letting staff work from home, at least part of the time, I say that it can do wonders for their wellbeing and productivity, provided you choose the right people. Just because it is “atypical”, does not mean it is unworkable.

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In the same week that the ruling Fidesz-Christian Democrat (KDNP) coalition won a sweeping election victory here, two more news organizations folded. One, Magyar Nemzet, was a venerable, 80-year-old conservative newspaper, the other, the Budapest Beacon, a four-year-old English language web portal. Both were independent of the government, and frequently critical of it.

You can argue all you like about financial models and sustainability, and no one has a divine right to stay in business, but as I wrote when Népszabadság, an equally venerable newspaper bastion of the left, was shuttered in 2016, such closures should be noted and mourned because every society needs a plurality of views.

With Hungarian newspapers and portals increasingly in the hands of pro-government supporters, that plurality is fast disappearing. And that should concern readers, whoever makes up the government, because none of us has a monopoly on wisdom, and, as businesses know very well, diverse organizations (including diverse thoughts and views) are frequently better, healthier and more profitable places.

Robin Marshall