From: “Andrew Jaspan”
Date: 27 August 2008 11:48:34 AM
To: Age Editorial
Subject: That’s All Folks!

I will come and bid my adieu on the floor at 12noon.
andrew

Andrew Jaspan
Editor-in-Chief
The Age and The Sunday Age

And that was that from Age editor Andrew Jaspan, a man who never really rose above the general impression of disgruntled distaste that formed among staff on his appointment four years ago. The departure of Crikey’s favorites Fairfax editor — check our Jaspan archive here — was announced by Age chief Don Churchill mid morning today, a move that left staff already stunned by yesterday’s announcement of savage job cuts momentarily gobsmacked. They hit the phones soon enough to spread the word.

Attitudes to Jaspan seem to have been mellowed by the haste and ruthlessness of the departure. His record is one of circulation growth and sales success, a record that owes a lot to the close partnership Jaspan formed with Age marketing boss antony Catalano. Catalno was sacked by Churchill yesterday.

Both departures confirm an impression among observers that the future business plan for the Age centres on cost control and cutting rather than growth. It is all but certain that Jaspan’s demise owed nothing to any journalistic sin, but rather to his long history of vigorously resisting the cost cutting culture now dominant at Fairfax. It seems he has flown the flag of maintaining the journalistic resource at his peril.

This is how Churchill broke the news this morning.

I would like to announce changes to the Editorial management of The Age, effective immediately.

I wish to report that Andrew Jaspan will no longer be Editor In Chief. Andrew has been a highly successful editor. He has delivered great papers and has done a magnificent job in reinvigorating The Age. He has our thanks and appreciation for all he has achieved in the past four years. Under Andrew’s editorship, The Age benefited from an innovative redesign and consistent, strong growth in circulation and readership, and agenda-setting journalism. The Age was named Newspaper of the Year by PANPA in 2007, one of the industry’s highest honours. The company is discussing with Andrew the ways his skills and expertise can be made available within the company.

The company has decided that for this next critical stage of The Age we would have fresh editorial and executive leadership.

I am pleased to advise that Paul Ramadge will be appointed Acting Editor-in-Chief of The Age.

In the capacity of Acting Editor In Chief, Paul will be responsible for the day to day management of The Age, the State’s leading quality newspaper. He will also manage the restructure of editorial operations as part of a recently announced company-wide transformation plan.

Paul has outstanding experience in journalism, as a reporter, editor and leader. Since joining The Age as night editor in 1996, Paul has held the positions of assistant editor (news), executive editor and Saturday editor. He also edited the newspaper’s inspirational and Walkley Award-winning coverage of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Paul Ramadge was appointed senior deputy editor in December 2005.

The editorial leadership team have my highest confidence. I know they will excel in leading the editorial staff of The Age to ensure The Age’s continuing success.

The company will soon be making a permanent appointment to the role of Editor In Chief.

Don Churchill

Chief Executive & Publisher – Vic Metropolitan & Community Publishing

Meanwhile: the cards and letters are flooding in from Fairfax. Here’s a selection:

Rural Press wields the scissors: Word that a substantial number of the 160 Australian editorial cuts will be concentrated at the struggling satellites the Illawarra Mercury and Newcastle Herald. Both titles’ bottom lines have been hammered after losing their prised rivers of gold to cheaper online outlets including homehound.com.au and Fairfax’s own Domain. Now the mastheads have emerged as prime candidates for the Rural Press slash-and-burn ethos now spreading like wildfire across Fairfax. Notorious Rural Press enforcer Bryan McCarthy is now in his element with Fairfax chief David Kirk said to be cuddling up close to the notorious cost cutter who makes Max Moore Wilton look like a more homely version of Doug Cameron.

Kirk has known for a long time that middle management has been excessive, with Age sales and marketing manager Antony Catalano the most high profile departure in the latest round of cuts. And all this despite last week’s Rural Press-assisted profit of $386.9 million. It’s Rural Press modus operandi to slash editorial and old-school production staff but pay them relatively well, while failing to extend similar largesse to media sales and other back office toilers who work for close to the minimum wage. On regional papers, the Rural Press legacy is still strong, with some staff members doggedly sticking to old style guides coupled with a rabid culture of McCarthyist hostility to the MEAA. One would have thought that a sliver of Fairfax’s historic commitment to Fourth Estate principles would have survived in the merged entity. Instead, we’re left with a hollowed-out rump of a firm piloted by misguided duo with little idea of what a real commitment to quality journalism actually entails.

Out of the loop: My understanding is that neither Oakley or Jaspan were briefed on the cuts announcement before it went public. That is how far editorial and journalism is rated.

Obscene management bonus scheme safe: Both Kirk and McCarthy say “base salaries will be frozen”. Churchill says there will be a “deferral of wage reviews for senior management”. These are carefully chosen words. What this means is that the obscene bonus scheme remains intact for 2009. It is easy to cop a zero wage increase when you are on $500,000+ when you know you will be are paid a large bonus. Kirk, Whish-Wilson, McCarthy, Churchill, Narayan etc will all get cash payments of between $80,000-$200,000 – even if they have a bad year in 2009. Even if the figures are down on the previous financial year it will still be a real wage increase of around 4%. If they were really serious about cost reductions this bonus scheme would be abolished. Result: $2 million in savings which equals 25 employees (average salary of $80K) keeping their jobs. You never know, it might even help The Age canteen open past 5 O’Clock for night shift staff so they can do their jobs !!

What about the limos? Churchill talks about “a reduction in fringe benefits such as taxi use, parking and canteen subsidies”. Does that include chauffeur driven limousines for himself and other Fairfax executives? What about credit card expenses for fine dining ?

Trainees? Fairfax journalism traineeships “unlikely” to be offered this year.

Peter Fray

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