There is increasing evidence of on-the-run decision-making at Fairfax, perhaps even panic, with the shock removal of the Age Business editor Michael Short before an expected announcement that The Age and Sydney Morning Herald business pages will be restructured and partially merged.

Senior editorial executives at The Age were taken by surprise by Short’s departure, announced internally yesterday. While Short has told his staff that he isn’t unhappy — it is well known that he has been looking for a move for a while — the timing was sudden and unexpected.

Yesterday afternoon senior editorial executives on both the Age and Sydney Morning Herald were scrambling to work out what is going on.

It was expected that there would be an announcement today about a partial merger or restructure of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald business sections, but I understand that this announcement may now be delayed after a conference call between senior Sydney and Melbourne executives, planned for last night, failed to go ahead.

The conference call was to be between Short’s replacement, Kirsty Simpson, the acting Sydney Morning Herald business editor and other senior executives, including Sydney-based group executive editor Phil McLean, who is believed to be driving the process.

Meanwhile staff in both cities are anxious and depressed. The Sydney Morning Herald business section has not had an editor for some time. One reporter said the attitude among the staff there was “paranoia is total awareness”.

It is not clear what the organisation is trying to achieve. The business sections of the two newspapers are already among the most closely merged between mastheads. I understand the intention is to retain separate editors of the sections in each capital. But in the present climate editorial staff think that “restructuring” can only be a euphemism for cuts, and staff on other sections of the paper believe that they will be next.

Senior political reporters believe that a merger between the mastheads’ Canberra presences is virtually a fait accompli. Yet if there are plans along these lines, senior editorial executives have not been told — but nor were they told about Short’s departure and the business restructure before it happened.

Only last week, Age editor Paul Ramadge assured staff that there would not be any restructure of sections. Now that has clearly changed.

Other sections that believe they may be in the line for merger include the foreign pages and even sport.

All this follows the speed with which Fairfax changed last week from assuring the market that it did not need to raise capital to doing exactly that.

I understand Fairfax executives had a high-level strategy meeting in the Sydney Quarantine Station conference centre late last week. Perhaps this week’s sudden moves are as a result of decisions made there.

What other decisions were made? There are a large number of people within the organisation who are still guessing.

The most favourable interpretation to put on events is that the company has a communications problem, both internally and externally.

Sadly, it seems likely that the problems are more severe than that.

One senior Fairfax figure told me this morning that he did not know whether current developments were evidence of “nimble decision making” or panic. It would be nice to think it is the former.

Age editor Paul Ramadge has not returned calls requesting comment, and recently appointed Sydney Morning Herald editor Peter Fray has also not been available.