The Standard Group head office along Mombasa Road, Nairobi.

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith just a dozen days to Christmas, the mood is slowly moving from the gloomy political tension to a festive feel. But media employees cut really sorry faces. Media owners and managers are out with the scalpels, yet again, seeking to trim some fat from their payrolls.

At the Standard Group, the second biggest media house in Kenya, there are already strong signals of an imminent purge, with both journalists and administrative employees targeted for the chop at the head offices in Nairobi and its regional operations.

It is understood that the Standard has agreed to lay off 40 workers, including 10 from its editorial department, at the head office as part of efforts to reduce its operational expenses and grow revenues. Managing editors and management met Thursday to weigh in on the lay-off, with a consensus being reached on the number of those to go.

Names are not out yet, but indicators from I&M, where Standard newsroom is based, and its Mombasa Road head office, to the possibility of the axe likely falling more on what our source described as “editorial heavyweights”. This means either senior journalists who comprise mostly top editors or those earning high salaries.

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It’s the middle category journalists earning upwards of Ksh 150,000 are also undergoing scrutiny with an eye on reducing their numbers and hopefully finding cheaper replacements.

As it is tradition, redundancy will be the reason for laying off, but other factors such as leadership succession may play a major role. At Standard, the race is on to succeed Editorial Director Joseph Odindo, whose contract ends next year, while the CEO’s position remains vacant since the exit of Sam Shollei in August.

It will be a delicate exercise for Standard as it has to balance between the quest for profit and having a strong team that will deliver quality news on its print, digital and broadcast platforms. Compromise on quality will attract a backlash from its audience, as it has been happening with its digital division.

The group’s performance since the last major retrenchment two years ago remains lackluster, with the company even issuing a profit warning for the current year, just a year after nearly sinking into red ink.

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The lay-off had initially been proposed by Mr Shollei before he left under controversial circumstances, cutting his second four-year term prematurely. According to sources, Mr Shollei had sought the board’s nod to fund the lay-off mostly of junior staff but the directors felt the top had grown fatter and needed some squeezing.

Tension is high at Standard, with many anxiously waiting for the dreaded call to HR and the much-revered white envelop that carries the lay-off details. “We hear they are targeting guys who earn big money,” said a journalist attached to the Standard newspaper. “I’m told editorial will get a deep shave.”

At Nation Media and Radio Africa, employees are also dusting their heads as the media houses prepare for their annual end-year restructuring. Nation has already pushed out the CEO, Joe Muganda, who resigned last Friday and will be leaving at the end of February.

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