Today is the day of reckoning in the newsrooms of Fairfax Media. The journalists lining up for voluntary redundancies will find out whether they can take the money and run and everyone else will find out how many will be kicked out against their will.

Things are set to turn ugly at The Age because management wants to sack between 45 and 55 editorial staff but Crikey understands that as of yesterday only 27 people had put their hand up voluntarily. This means between 18 and 28 will be forced out. But because management retains the right to refuse redundancy to people who have applied, the number of people facing the sack may be even higher.

Staff at The Sydney Morning Herald are much happier to escape and more than the intended target of 70 people have signed on, headed by a long list of the most senior journalists such as Gerard Noonan, Roy Masters and Tony Stephens. The same is true at the Sun Herald, prompting Fairfax executive, Lloyd Whish-Wilson, to warn Sydney staff yesterday that some of the applicants will be disappointed. Meanwhile the deadline for voluntary redundancies has been extended for production staff after only 19 of the intended 35 volunteered.

The redundancies are part of a move to sack 550 staff across Fairfax Media’s Australian and New Zealand operations as part of a plan for “business improvement.”

The issue now at The Age is who will be targeted, how this will happen and what the staff will do in response.

Reporters fear the process won’t be based on merit and will be open to abuse by managers who may target those they dislike. Although Fairfax has denied there is a hit-list, individual managers are believed to have their own lists of staff they want removed.

The union at The Age has told management that it will treat forced redundancies very seriously and there’s talk of an immediate strike if the company starts tapping people on the shoulder. But the problem for the house committee is that there’s not a lot of room to manoeuvre thanks to clause 15.1.1 of the enterprise agreement which says “If there are not sufficient suitable voluntary applications then compulsory redundancies in the affected area may occur.”

“That clause doesn’t give us a lot of joy frankly,” said one Age insider yesterday.

Insiders also anticipate turf wars between editors when the list of people who want to go is revealed. If particular sections are over represented then editors are likely to argue to retain some, requiring sackings elsewhere. Also, as the new editor in chief, Paul Ramadge, has admitted, the period after the redundancies will be equally disruptive when staff are redeployed, possibly against their will, to plug the gaps created by all the departures.

The problem facing The Age is that it has already undergone voluntary redundancies in recent years and cleared out much of the dead wood. It also has a smaller staff and has already made the switch to a seven day roster. So there are less people to draw from and fewer ways of achieving immediate economies.

At The Sydney Morning Herald, it is believed management has been working on a new roster which has been described as “horrendous” and “the least family friendly roster you could come up with.” This may have had a bearing on the higher numbers of people seeking redundancy.