The Australian Financial Review is the latest newspaper to outsource subediting in a bid to cut costs — and it’s not the only problem the troubled newsroom is facing.
Australian Financial Review Group CEO Brett Clegg is adamant the paper remains profitable, despite the decision to make 13 more jobs redundant by outsourcing subediting to New Zealand.
Speculation is rife among senior staffers who spoke to Crikey this morning that the up-market tabloid has run into the red this financial year because of dwindling display advertising.
Nevertheless, a bullish Clegg insists: “We are profitable and fully intend to remain so. This industry has been marked too long by indecisiveness and insular mindsets. These are tough and extremely confronting times for everyone in traditional media. I don’t intend to stand back and hide from these decisions. At times these are difficult and painful. But they must be made.”
Some reporters are concerned the relocation of more copy editing to New Zealand, announced yesterday afternoon, will see more errors creep into copy and make the paper less distinctive.
“With the drain of senior writers over the last 10 years the subs have become the chief repository of the paper’s shared knowledge, not just the institutional history/expertise that gives The Fin its edge, but defines the culture of the paper,” a senior reporter told Crikey this morning.
Errors are a particularly touchy topic now given The Fin recently ran the Whitehaven coal hoax as fact on its website: a “bad slip-up” according to one newsroom source.
Staffers at The Illawarra Mercurysent a dossier of errors made by Kiwi subs — including a story that mentioned Julia Gillard leading a Liberal government — to Fairfax management last September. Sources at The Mercury, however, tell Crikey things have “mellowed” since then, with fewer clangers being committed. Fairfax shifted subediting for The Mercury, the Newcastle Herald and other regional papers to New Zealand mid-last year.
Not all Fin staffers, however, oppose the decision. “We’re really struggling and we’ve got to cut costs,” said one reporter. “Our print revenues have fallen through the floor … From a cost saving point of view it’s pretty sensible. Some subs have been here a long time and are paid enormous amounts of money. I’m happy with resources to be directed to people who are breaking news rather than people who edit copy.”
Clegg & Co are slashing costs wherever they can — including by cutting back from two editions to one, and halving Sydney office space by putting commercial and editorial staff in the same area.
According to newsroom source, a staff survey conducted last year found morale was at “rock bottom”. Some staffers are unhappy the paper is becoming a “clone of The Oz”. Others are jealous that big names, on big money, have been poached from The Australian while their salaries remain stuck. Clegg and editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury have gone on a hiring spree since leaving The Oz, luring writers including Jennifer Hewett, Phil Coorey, Matt Stevens, James Chessell, Joe Aston and Christopher Joye to the paper.
Others are more optimistic: “The Fin is being talked about again. It breaks news and sets an agenda. Regardless of what you think of that agenda, it’s back in the frame.”