By Crikey publisher – and former Sydney Morning Herald editor – Eric Beecher



The
dismantlement of Australia’s best print journalism is now officially
under way. The announcement yesterday by Fairfax that it will remove up
to 7.5% of its editorial staff – compulsorily if necessary – is the
clearest institutional message so far that quality journalism at
Fairfax will be sacrificed to maintain profits, no matter what the
societal, political or cultural impact.

Fairfax is a company
fixated on commerce, not journalism. Yesterday’s announcement – and it
won’t be the last of its kind – didn’t bother to use phrases like
“editorial quality” or “commitment to journalism” for one simple
reason: those days are over. In the face of a declining business model,
the management of what used to be the home of Australia’s finest
editorial believes it can no longer afford to care about such an
indulgence. Max Walsh sums it up perfectly – and ominously – in
today’s Bulletin.

In a company that doesn’t have a
proprietor, is run by a board which doesn’t have a single day’s
publishing experience, and is managed by a CEO who has never worked in
the media industry, the fate of serious journalism has become
precarious.

Yesterday’s announcement was pitched simultaneously
at several audiences. As well as attempting to impress shareholders
(“we’ll milk the profits in the short term”), and intimidate staff
(“no-one’s job is safe, so don’t agitate or try to get precious about
journalism”), there’s also a clear message for a federal government now
contemplating changes to dismantle Australia’s cross-media laws (“if
you don’t free us up to get bigger or get bought, expect more editorial
blood on the floor”).

Over the past five years the Fairfax
board and management have presided over a “strategy” that has resulted
in systemically declining circulations, a steady migration of its
newspaper classifieds to the internet, avoidance of any significant
internet acquisitions, and a recalibration of the company’s editorial
culture.

It’s death by a thousand cuts for quality journalism at
Fairfax. Yesterday’s announcement merely formalised the company’s tepid
new era:

PROPOSED REDUNDANCY PROGRAM FOR THE METRO PUBLISHING UNIT

SYDNEY,
25 OCTOBER, 2005: – John Fairfax Holdings Limited [ASX:FXJ] has
announced to staff at its Sydney and Melbourne metropolitan newspapers
– The Sydney Morning Herald, The Sun-Herald and The Age – that the
Company is initiating discussions with the Media Entertainment and Arts
Alliance regarding implementation of a proposed redundancy program for
staff at the papers. The proposed targeted redundancy program would
encompass approximately 55 editorial employees, or between 6 – 7.5% of
editorial staff at the papers. This is coupled with other operating
efficiencies, including non-editorial staff reductions that are
underway in other parts of the metro publishing business unit. The
company will announce the final redundancy provisions to be taken in
the accounts for the 2006 financial year if the program proceeds. –
ENDS –

Contacts: Bruce Wolpe Director Corporate Affairs +61 9282 3640

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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