The year 1969 saw Woodstock, the My Lai massacre and the first man on the moon. It was also the year Doug Anderson, The Sydney Morning Herald’s iconic TV critic, started working at the paper as a proofreader.
Some 43 years later, Anderson — whose five-word review of Anger Management this week as “A program about a dickhead” sums up his sardonic style — is leaving the paper with a redundancy cheque that would make some lotto winners jealous.
The 150 Fairfax editorial staffers who have chosen to leave — we’ve updated our list — will receive four weeks’ pay for ever year of continuous service on top of two weeks’ severance pay and all leave entitlements. Many fear such a generous deal will not be included in future enterprise bargaining agreements.
Given Anderson, 68, was due to retire in two or three years, he could well be the luckiest man in Australia right now.
But he’s hardly alone. Fairfax bean counters have been stunned by the number of long-term employees — many with more than 25 years’ service — who applied for redundancy. About 40 staffers at the SMH alone are understood to be leaving with more than a full year’s pay.
Those who know the company well say they’d be shocked if the final redundancy bill isn’t more than the $208 million originally anticipated ($109,400 per employee).
“Once you get up to 15 years, the sum of money you’re choosing to walk away from if you stay is very significant,” one departing journo told Crikey. “You have to ask, are you turning your back forever on the biggest sum of money you’ll ever see? That was a risk I wasn’t going to go with.”
Several journalists who have been living overseas on leave without pay, and haven’t filed a story in over a year, are also departing the company with a cheque.
“There are a lot of non-commercial decisions being made,” said one surprised business journalist. “There are a lot of people on the verge of retirement who are getting an enormous amount of money to go … It’s as though they want to get rid of anyone who might question the brave new world.”
Anderson, who was still recovering this morning from a night on the turps with fellow Herald hacks, had a more light-hearted take on the situation. ”I didn’t spend my entire redundancy payout at the pub,” he said. “There’s still seven dollars left.”
As Anderson and co were downing beers at the Shelbourne Hotel in Sussex Street, a similar “wake” was under way for departing Herald Sun staffers at PJ O’Brien’s pub in Southbank.
News Victoria tsar Peter Blunden was there, according to those in attendance, looking like a “proud uncle” after several journos told him he was their favourite editor. Recently departed editor Simon Pristel also fronted to bid adieu, an appearance that raised a few eyebrows. Bruce Guthrie, unsurprisingly, was nowhere to be seen.
The Hun redundos have so far attracted little attention because the head honchos there have refused to put a final figure on the amount who’ll go.
Thirty-five editorial staffers at the Herald Sun and its Sunday sister paper have already accepted voluntary redundancy, according to Victorian MEAA secretary Louise Connor.
It’s the biggest loss of journalistic heft at the high-selling tabloid since it merged with TheHerald in 1990. Among those leaving are medical reporter Kate Jones, court reporter Norrie Ross, investigative veteran Russell Robinson and transport reporter Greg Thom.
“There’s been a lot of sadness about the experience and people who are going,” said one Hun scribe. “It’s definitely a changing of the guard.”
Unlike their counterparts at Fairfax — where union density hovers around 90% — payouts for those leaving News are capped at a sum equivalent to 112 weeks at their current rate of pay.
Farewell drinks were also held this week for The Australian’s film writer Michael Bodey and partner, national arts writer Michaela Boland, who are both heading back to Sydney from Southbank. They will continue to work for the broadsheet but not senior writer and former literary editor Miriam Cosic, who has accepted redundancy.