Crikey publisher Eric Beecher writes:
What happens when the editor of an important newspaper loses the confidence of his journalists?
What happens when almost the entire editorial staff of a highly reputable newspaper concludes that the ethics, values, demeanor and professionalism of their editor is so incompatible with their own idea of their newspaper’s journalistic standards that they are prepared to confront the editor, en masse, and effectively demand his resignation?
Well, we are about the find out. And the answer to the dilemma at The Age will reveal whether the people who run Fairfax, which used to be Australia’s greatest editorial institution, care more about profits than they care about journalism.
Fairfax is in a bad way. It has no proprietor who understands media, its board works chiefly in the interests of its institutional investors, its share price is wallowing well below the levels of the sharemarket correction, its broadsheet business model has run out of growth and may be broken, its classified advertising base is eroding, it has been beaten by internet competitors in all key classified advertising categories, its editors have become marketeers, many of its journalists hold their owners and editors in contempt and its websites and in part its newspapers are being dumbed-down every day to reach a popular audience to replace a serious one.
The furore inside The Age over the performance of the editor, Andrew Jaspan, is actually about much more than a furore about poor Andrew Jaspan. It is a genuine furore about institutional conflict between journalists and management in a media company which plays a crucial role in Australian society.
If the management wins that conflict — and it is the management who will decide who wins — the message they will send to all their journalists and readers will be stark: at Fairfax, money matters more than journalism.