The Nine network is in the process of removing 100 staff from its news and current affairs divisions. BRW has just finished removing its top tier of writers and editors. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age
each recently removed dozens of their most experienced journalists.
Almost every major Australian media organisation is engaged in the
reduction of editorial staff and budgets.

These are the dog days
for Australian journalism as the creative destruction of “old media” is
extracting a price. But it’s a price which won’t just be measured in
dollars – it will be measured by the permanent decline in the quality
of the editorial content of this country’s fourth estate.

Good
journalism, according to Fairfax chief executive David Kirk, doesn’t
depend on the number of journalists. Of course he is wrong. But as a
businessman representing the exclusive interests of one group – his
shareholders – he and other media managers have no choice when it comes
to protecting their commercial interests. They have to keep cutting
costs, including editorial costs, as the profitability of their old
media businesses decline. That’s their job.

And by doing their
job and getting rid of senior well-paid journalists, the managers of
Australia’s biggest media companies are participants in an unfolding
tragedy – the dismantling of the best of Australian journalism.
Journalism which, despite the cynicism of much of the public, is
actually much better and much better funded than at any time in its
history.

Within a few years, the best of Australia’s remaining
journalists will be either pushed out or will have retired. The
insidious process of cost cutting favours the removal of the most
experienced (and therefore highest paid) talent.

Meanwhile,
the federal government’s determination to abolish the cross-media rules
will only accelerate the cannibalisation of journalism. That absurd
policy will result in a grotesque rationalisation of the media industry
with an inevitable result: few owners, fewer journalists, less
diversity, more commoditised journalism.

And a debased democracy.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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