Normally News Limited is not a very leaky ship — certainly not compared to Fairfax. But this is changing, because the troops are very, very nervous. With some reason. Those in a position to know say that the revenue figures for the company have “fallen off a cliff” over the last few months, which is not surprising. It’s a similar story at all media companies.

Understandably the troops are worried about their jobs and feral rumours are flying around the newsrooms and making their way to me.

Over the last week, I have been besieged with calls and emails about what either has happened, or is about to happen at News Limited. Figures of 50, 100 or even 200 jobs to go are being mentioned.

Most of the rumours are not true, but nevertheless something is going on and I understand some kind of announcement will be made shortly. So I thought I’d do my best to sift the truth from the bullsh-t.

The latest bout of panic, an allegation that 50 people were to be sacked from the Herald Sun feature department in the wake of a restructure, would appear to have been sparked in the blogosphere last Friday. Since then, the substance of the rumour was repeated to me by dozens of people. Through no doing of mine it got a run in the ‘Tips and Rumours’ section of Crikey earlier this week, but was denied by News Limited. I don’t believe this story to be true.

But News Limited are planning an imminent change to how they produce features, as signalled by the appointment of former Sydney Morning Herald editor Alan Oakley as national editor, features earlier this month.

Insiders understand that it will mean some “rationalisation”, with feature content shared on a national basis. But there is also talk of new products. Senior executives are expecting an announcement shortly, but in the meantime, very few people inside the company know exactly what is going on, and outside Melbourne and Sydney, the information deficit is even deeper.

In the present climate, any news of restructure sounds to the staff concerned like an excuse for cuts. Contributors have already been cut back. You’d have to be stupid not to see that in the present climate cuts are likely.

News Limited has a deliberate policy of going softly-softly with redundancies, precisely because they don’t want to scare the horses. The tap on the shoulder has been administered around the nation over the last few months. Most newsrooms have lost numbers. Nor is the Canberra Press Gallery immune, with at least one to go from there shortly. It is not clear if he will be replaced.

Most of the people I speak to in senior positions are expecting it to get worse, with more “restructuring” to make it possible to run leaner. But it would be strange indeed — and evidence of major crisis — if News Limited suddenly changed tack from the softly-softly approach.

Guys, take the rumours of imminent mass sackings with a bit of salt. 

Peter Fray

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