Now the
threat to newspapers and old media is really getting serious. In a sure
sign that the great journos’ expenses racket has reached the end of the
road, the London Times will slice its 4.3 million pound annual staff expenses bill by 10%.

According to a report in The Guardian, staff at The Times
will now have to justify lunching with contacts to their department heads
and seek permission before planning “lavish” entertaining. In a long
memo to senior staff – described as a “classic of the genre” – the bean counters advise that:

While Pizza Express need not become the restaurant of choice, neither should The Ivy.

Department
heads will be the best judges of the editorial benefits of such
entertainment and “reasonable” should be the watchword.

The memo also explains why Rupert will no longer pay for staff
subscriptions to rival newspapers.

“While looking at rival newspapers can be instructive, it
is disproportionately expensive,” the memo said, noting that
journalists have a limited amount of time to read newspapers before
work.

“There are piles of national newspapers scattered throughout departments for staff to refer to,” it noted.

The paper will
also put an end to routinely paying for reporters’ food when they are out on a
story. “The Times is not obligated to pay for every coffee, crisp and
sandwich purchased by people out – or venturing out – into the
reporting field.”

To staff at Fairfax, this will be old news –
they saw the writing on the wall almost a decade ago when lunch
expenses were limited to $25 per person, barely enough to cover the
cost of a spaghetti marinara and a wine.

And new rules forcing
journos to write down the names of people with whom they’ve dined have
also been a major appetite dampener, with the old lurk of taking mates
out to lunch and claiming you were dining with deep throat “sources” no
longer on the menu. (This was always a dodgy one anyway, because it
meant in the end that you had to come up with a story.)

According to
TV industry insiders, the long lunch is still on the menu at the major
networks. Despite cost cutting at Channel Nine, John Alexander has
introduced a list of favourite ritzy restaurants where staff can go
and get 10% discounts. Favourites include Peacock Gardens and La
Grillade at Crows Nest and upmarket city pasta bar Machiavelli.

But
over at News Limited, it looks as though Rupert is yet to turn his
attention to his Australian operation, where some staff report the
rules are much more relaxed – reporters are encouraged to wine and dine
contacts and even $200 lunch bills barely raise an eyebrow. Then again, it’s
not that much really if you need a decent bottle of wine to wash it all
down.

Peter Fray

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