Fairfax slashes jobs, Jaspan sacked:

Peter Faris writes: Re. “Fairfax Fiasco I: When management speaks gobbledygook” (yesterday, item 4). I have taken the liberty of re-writing Eric Beecher’s story as it should have been:

Once you de-code the mangled spin, the real significance of yesterday’s announcement is that for the first time in its history, Fairfax has made a public declaration that profits come ahead of Left Wing journalism. That its role as a major custodian of Australian Left Wing editorial is secondary to its responsibility of maximising the financial outcome. At one level this is neither surprising nor wrong. Fairfax is a public company whose primary duty is to shareholders who have invested in the company with purely financial motives.

Until yesterday, Fairfax had maintained the pretence that the two aspirations — profits and Left Wing journalism — could coexist. Until yesterday, Fairfax CEO David Kirk perpetuated that charade with his absurd rhetoric about Fairfax newspapers being different to others afflicted by the problems of the collapsing newspaper industry. Yesterday Fairfax came clean. If you’re looking for custodians of Left Wing fourth estate journalism in Australia, they effectively said, don’t look here. We’re businessmen and our overriding responsibility is to the pockets of our shareholders. Find someone else to deal with the Left Wing societal responsibility stuff.

At least that’s clear. Now the question is: can the Left Wing, well-funded journalism that constitutes a pivotal plank of Australian democracy survive?

Asking whether newspapers can survive is the wrong question — many of them can, but on a much lower cost base, with far fewer journalists covering politics, business, foreign capitals, courts and the investigative beats. Newspapers like The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age can easily be produced with 150 journalists, not 300. They will be different newspapers, slighter and lighter, but they will carry words and pictures surrounded by advertising and they will dress up like Left Wing newspapers.

The time has come for governments, politicians and other public policy makers who genuinely believe in the place of Left Wing journalism within the infrastructure of Australian democracy to understand that if they leave its future entirely to the marketplace, and to News Corporation, it will almost certainly be gone within a decade. What will be left will be celebrity/sport/human interest pap journalism and relatively small independent outfits (like Crikey) whose revenues will never allow them to replicate the resources that have made newspapers like the SMH and The Age indispensable partners in the ecosystem of democracy for more than 150 years.

Peter Wilms writes: There have been sackings in the past from which newspapers have been able to recover. I fear that this time Fairfax has gone too far and that quality of coverage, already in a sad decline, will now deteriorate rapidly and inexorably to such a state that The Age and The SMH will just become pale imitations of the newspapers they once were. And that is the great pity of it when people who think they know what they are doing start interfering with things about which they know nothing and covering their tracks with language that would make any decent journalist cringe. I have been an Age subscriber for many years but, in light of this dreadful development, am considering my position. I think many others will be doing the same!

Damien West writes: Re. “Jaspan dumped as Age editor” (yesterday, item 1). Justifying Age Editor Andrew Jaspan’s sacking, Age CEO Don Churchill states he needs “fresh editorial and executive leadership”. Does that include Mr Churchill too? $20 million revenue black hole? Slashing and burning Age editorial? Closing The Age retail outlet ? Shutting the workers canteen? Journalists at war with management? The buck stops with the CEO. Time for “fresh executive leadership” at The Age Mr Churchill ? You bettcha.

Nick Shimmin: Re. “The Fairfax Fiasco II: Profits before public trust journalism” (yesterday, item 5). Though I generally agree with Eric Beecher and admire the current editorial direction at Crikey, I take serious exception to Eric’s argument yesterday that “Fairfax is a public company whose primary duty is to shareholders who have invested in the company with purely financial motives.” This is the appalling justification of an economic rationalist culture which has propelled us into the insecure, stressed and miserable state we’re in. This belief that shareholders are more important than the customers of a business infects every decision being made in public life these days.

Sorry, Eric, but the people who buy The Age every day are also investing in the business, in a less venal and selfish manner than those shareholders. In return for their investment, the readers expect a standard of journalism and a degree of informed commentary. Forgive the heresy, but I believe that THIS is the primary duty of a newspaper, and in fact any company’s primary duty is to look after its customers. Business history will demonstrate that those few companies who DO pay attention to the needs of their customers are the companies which thrive in the long term. The willingness to act as the slave of the shareholder at the expense of the customer is the great curse of contemporary culture, and I would expect more of Crikey than to parrot such orthodox nonsense.

Drew Turney writes: The market considers journalism a commodity like cars, hamburgers or Harry Potter toys. If the moneymen can spend less to produce it and it saves them money, quality journalism will be no more than PR spin. We all should have kept that in mind while we sat around watching Howard, Costello and the then-stewardship of the ACCC change laws to let overseas private equity firms come in and turn the media into a global casino like they do every other industry. Horse? Bolted?

Michael Sanchez writes: Oh, please, Eric! The Fairfax journalists (sic) are getting the can cause they’re a bunch of lazy, disloyal, ideologically challenged, greedy, narcissistic, bludgers who spend more time on Crikey than they do writing readable stories. McCarthy should sack the lot of them and poach the only decent journalists in Australia — News Ltd journalists. Let’s see how you handle the situation when your Crikey starts to bleed money from every orifice.

Kevin Rudd:

John Shailer writes: Kevin (“The buck stops with me”) Rudd now concedes we are all worse off after only nine months of his Government. What happened to lower petrol prices, grocery prices, childcare costs, interest rates etc? The problem is global markets, John Howard, Senate obstruction etc etc – nothing to do with Kevin! Wouldn’t it be simpler, if Kevin threw his arms in the air and said: “Hey, I was only fooling!”? Pretty good too — got me elected!” If it was anyone else, they would be getting chased by the ACCC for false and deceptive conduct!

Thanking our Olympians:

John Goldbaum writes: Re. “Nelson and Costello sitting in a tree” (yesterday, item 11). One of the interesting comparisons that Bernard Keane could have made about Question Time in both Houses of Parliament on Tuesday was which political party likes which Olympic athletes. In the Reps, just before QT commenced, Kevin Rudd singled out Jared Tallent, Stephanie Rice, Emma Snowsill, Grant Hackett, Steve Hooker and Matthew Mitcham for special praise, while Brendan Nelson selected Stephanie Rice, James Tomkins, Steve Hooker, Ken Wallace and Drew Ginn. Over in the Senate, Chris Evans took the first Dorothy Dixer, which asked about the Beijing Olympics, and he singled out Matthew Mitcham, Steve Hooker, Anna Meares and Grant Hackett. Both the PM and the Senate Leader praised Australia’s first out-and-proud gay athlete going into a Games, Diving Gold Medallist Matthew Mitcham, but the homophobic Brendan Nelson dared not speak his name.

Turnbull and Costello:

Chris Johnson writes: Re. “Four Corners shock revelation: Malcolm Turnbull had hair!” (Tuesday, item 7). Every day Malcolm Turnbull is looking more like the rest of the aimless, disgruntled bunch who sit on our Opposition benches. They all exude an obvious frustration at being stuffed on what next to do with their lives. In Mal’s hey-day he was a mastermind at kicking some heady professional goals until he latched onto the stuffy, rigid conservative machine that reversed his brilliant career. Now as an ageing, self-functioning opportunist he’s well and truly stuck with a political party going nowhere in a hurry. Like Costello he’s convinced he’s a born to lead luminary who keeps lapsing into the chorus. The pair is at wits end to restore their credibility in a political wilderness and global recession. Neither is suited to being shadow anything and both are averse to consolation prizes. Unless Costello’s Christmas sales go ballistic and Turnbull’s number is drawn in leadership lotto both should pull up stumps for ordinary lives. As contrary as they seem, they’ve become moths to the same flame — and it’s obviously not the Liberal Party.

Cyber-safety:

Tim Marshall, Media Adviser, Office of Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, writes: Re.”The best internet filter is education” (yesterday, item 18). Filtering is just one part of a comprehensive cyber-safety strategy being implemented by the Rudd Government. This strategy includes education, research, law enforcement and a consultative working group of industry and child welfare professionals to address issues such as addiction, bullying, security, privacy and child abuse. In addition, a youth advisory group will help ensure the Government understands these issues from the perspective of young people and can address them accordingly. The Government’s $125.8 million investment in this area recognises that cyber-safety requires a comprehensive response.

The Business Council:

Tamas Calderwood writes: Re. “Time to clean out the sceptics from the Business Council” (yesterday, item 2). Stephen Mayne demands global warming sceptics be cleaned out from the BCA and informs us that “The whole point of carbon trading is to stop this poison being pumped into the atmosphere”. By “carbon” Stephen presumably means carbon-dioxide, a trace atmospheric gas that is essential for all life on earth. Humans produce less than 5% of this gas annually (95% is produced naturally), plant life thrives in higher concentrations of it and of course this ‘poison’ is exhaled by every human — indeed, big windbags like Stephen would produce more than average. I should also mention that there is no actual evidence CO2’s 35% increase to a whopping 0.00038 of the atmosphere has played a significant part in the less-than 1C rise in Earth’s temperature over the past 100 years. In fact, concentrations have risen almost 5% over the past 10 years while the planet has actually cooled. Weird, huh?

Qantas history:

Paul Jenkins writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). A basic mistake from your tipster on Qantas history as Australian Airlines (previously TAA) merged with Qantas not Ansett as his insider suggests. The Australian Airlines crew of executives included both Geoff Dixon and James Strong plus the recently resigned CFO, so Qantas has definitely benefited from merger with a wealth of experience and success. AA at the stage of the merger was beating Ansett hands down in the share of the Australian domestic market. Interestingly, the Jetstar former CEO and new Qantas CEO Alan Joyce was a senior manager of Ansett.

Education:

Steve Martin writes: Re. “Questions for Jenny Macklin” (yesterday, item 15). My initial reaction to the proposal was positive, but on further consideration I am not so sure that it is a good idea. There is a saying that “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” which seems appropriate to this suggestion. Pity the poor overworked teachers trying to cope with students who would rather be elsewhere, and no doubt are inattentive and disruptive. In any case it begs the question that parents can exercise control of teenagers who would prefer to be out and about, and can see no benefit from education as far as their future is concerned. I guess that there is a case for primary school children being dragooned into school attendance as they are more likely to under the control of their parents.

Not quite:

Warwick Sauer writes: Re. “Failed Spotless bid shines a light on bankers’ fees” (yesterday, item 23). Adam Schwab says that the “top-tier investment bank” that “earned $100 million for its work on the ALH float” was… drum roll please… Foster’s! Um, not quite. Foster’s is in fact a reasonably well known brewing company that floated ALH in 2003, and in doing so paid a rumoured $100m to that other “top-tier investment bank”, Macquarie.

The poor state of Crikey:

Steven McKiernan writes: Re. “State of the Planet” (yesterday, clickthroughs). I’m a bit disturbed that Crikey’s State of the Planet has suffered relegation in importance by not being available in the daily newsletter, yet we still have to suffer the interminable TV ratings. Arts and Sports are lacking in coverage and there is too much emphasis on Business. Lift your game.

Not making a Splash:

Lloyd Lacey writes: Re. “Rundle 08: White trash, drink and a shuck for Darryl Hannah” (yesterday, item 3). Guy Rundle and Darryl Hannah… In the light of Rundle’s piece in yesterday’s Crikey, I suggest you finalise his contract with you and send a journalist.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected]. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name – we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

Peter Fray

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