Fairfax has struck a devastating blow to journalism education and the future of the profession by radically cutting back on the number of its trainees, and altering the educational requirements for its intake.

As foreshadowed by Crikey earlier this month, this is the latest move under the groups New (Brian) McCarthyism, one that has caused a great deal of discontent and muttering among editors and middle management.

Some members of middle management are understood to be seriously opposed to the move, but count themselves as lucky to have any 2008 trainees at all.

Fairfax has told journalism educators that The Age and Sydney Morning Herald will take on only four trainees at each paper next year – four in Melbourne and four in Sydney. Even more radical, of each four two will be university graduates and two will be fresh from school. All will be paid as third year cadets, regardless of their level of education.

Quite apart from the cut in numbers – down from an average of around eight trainees per paper in previous years – the changes will strike despair and doubt into the hearts of the thousands of students presently studying for tertiary journalism qualifications, not to mention those who train them

What is the point of spending three years getting a degree (or one year on a post-graduate qualification) if both your chances and pay are the same as if you have just left school?

And what does it mean for the future of the industry? This leaves News Limited, the ABC and suburban and rural papers as the only parts of the industry with a significant commitment to the future of the profession.

Applications for the now rarified Fairfax traineeships open this weekend and close on 14 September. Good luck.