Fairfax Media is blaming the recent round of redundancies for the freezing of its traineeship program next year but it appears there is another equally important agenda behind the decision.

The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald will not be recruiting the normal handful of talented graduates and early career professionals in 2009 but reassures would-be applicants that the scheme isn’t dead. It’s merely sleeping.

Fairfax Media sent Crikey a corporate statement today. The same people who brought us the euphemism “Business Improvement” to describe wholesale job cuts said:

The traineeship scheme has not closed. The trainees program has been suspended for 2009 given the staff reductions that were made. We intend to bring back traineeships in 2010.

Training continues in many other ways. Training for our staff is ongoing, and we are exploring opportunities for promising candidates from our regional and community papers with the metros.

Mike Dobbie, the director of publications and campaigns at the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, isn’t impressed by the announcement. He told Crikey:

This is an extremely disappointing decision by Fairfax and is the ultimate in short termism. Here’s a company that is signaling it’s suspending its investment in its own future.

There have been numerous redundancy rounds at Fairfax and that hasn’t affected its traineeship program. It seems extremely short sighted to do so now.

So if it isn’t strictly the redundancies forcing the suspension of the scheme, what could it be?

It would be nice to put these questions to Fairfax but the Communications Office told Crikey that its statement was all that the company was saying on the matter.

Three weeks ago, however, the new editor at The Age, Paul Ramadge, hinted at the reasoning behind the decision when he was asked on ABC radio by talkback caller and RMIT student Brett Worthington about the future of cadetships. Back then he was still considering whether to scrap traineeships next year but suggested The Age’s impending move to a new building made it difficult.

More importantly, he said bigger questions about the very future of journalism might make it prudent to hold off for a year.

“Are we better in 2009 to take trainees or are we better to take some journalists who might come with skills who’ll help us to get to the next point either as a converged newsroom or something else?”

If you combine that answer with today’s corporate statement you could be forgiven for thinking that 2009 will be the year for on-line savvy reporters, especially those in the suburban and provincial papers, to step into The Age with the skills needed to spice up its on-line and multimedia presence.

This doesn’t explain the reasoning behind the decision at The Sydney Morning Herald and either way it all must seem very depressing for young hopefuls seeking entry to the media.

Peter Fray

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