As the dust settles from Fairfax’s announcement
that it plans to slash 55 editorial jobs,
insiders have told Crikey that at Spencer St, there’s a sense of
excitement at the prospect of some big payouts coupled with concern
over the
implications for the “quality of
the paper.” In Darling Park, meanwhile, the feeling at the SMH is one of outright hostility.

Alan Kennedy, Federal President of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance and SMH journo, told Crikey that he bailed up new CEO David Kirk this morning and asked him “Why are no execs
accountable?”

Insiders at The Age expect a cooling-off period of about a
week before the rush
for packages begins and according to one source not much work was done
at Spencer street last night as journos pulled out their calculators
to work out potential payouts. “There will be a stampede” for the
packages, and although names are not yet being bandied around,
long-serving staff
earning over $100,000 – a group of journos who at the SMH were dubbed “the fat slugs” by Fred Hilmer – are the most likely to stand at the front of the queue.

By way of contrast, an insider at the SMH told Crikey that the general feeling
at the paper was “f*cking p*ssed off.” New CEO David Kirk has been
touring the editorial floor this morning and “copping an earful.” But
even though staff are “sh*tty,” they’re giving Kirk credit for copping
the flak, which is “more than Fred ever did.”

Kirk is “now on the
floor hearing all the ideas that
people have for the paper which no-one in that management group ever
takes any
notice of,” our insider said. The SMH insider told Crikey that “there’s a big move
to go on strike.”
And SMH staff don’t understand why editor Mark Scott
is not among those who are “being made redundant.” Under Scott “circulation dropped
dramatically, yet he is not accountable.”

As for a forward plan of attack for addressing the challenges of the
internet era and boosting circulation, “when asked six or seven times
yesterday to represent a forward
plan Scott had no answer,” our insider told Crikey. “Numerous people have pleaded with Scott to convene a
brainstorming
meeting to come up with a new business plan…but it’s never
happened.”

“The view is that Mark Scott’s job seems to depend on the
body count…not on any creativity.”

Another Fairfax insider told Crikey that a
number of people at The Age have been “extremely unhappy” about the shortage of staff, the lack of leadership at the paper and editor
Andrew Jaspan’s “erratic style.” They added that the focus on cutting older reporters is “a double edged
sword. They talk about renewal but a lot of older reporters are an
invaluable resource.”

“If there’s another brain
drain the like of which happened in ’97 the quality of the paper will
suffer.” Our source said that the job cuts are “part of the process of amalgamating the SMH and Age
bureaus and boosting the copy sharing arrangements…” The management can’t “see the distinction
between the two papers…they only think of the bottom line.”

And there’s real resentment over departing CEO
Fred Hilmer’s $4.5 million retirement “gift” from the Fairfax
board. One Fairfax “economist” calculated that, “Hilmer’s
package has cost the paper 36 staff.” Hilmer’s bonus is “obscene,”
agreed a SMH insider. “All this talk of times being tough (but) the news never seems to
reach the 19th floor.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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