“First of all, I’m not going to tell you very much.”
This was not a very promising beginning to a conversation I had with News Limited editorial director Campbell Reid this morning in an attempt to get to the bottom of what is going on with News Limited’s features.
The conversation took place as Alan Oakley, the new national editor, features was expected in Melbourne to talk to worried editors about the same topic.
As The Age reported this morning, I gather the plan is for syndicated inserts containing the “non-newsy” features to be run in all mastheads with slight changes.
But Reid said this morning “there is no plan to close down any feature section or to centrally produce features from any city.”
So what on earth are they proposing to do? How will it work? Like he said, he won’t say, and the truth is that even senior editors on the various mastheads don’t seem to know.
People on the Herald Sun clearly believe they have been told that features are largely moving to Sydney. Yet it also seems that key specifics have not yet been decided. All of which is causing a lot of anxiety.
I was told this morning that contributors to Herald Sun sections have been informed they will soon be reporting to Sydney. I put this to Reid, and he said, “If anyone has been telling them that then they are getting a long way ahead of themselves.”
I also asked him if it was true that feature section staff would be asked to move to Sydney. “People move within News Limited all the time.”
Reid said that over the last two years there had been “extensive and intense” discussions about options for the various mastheads — not only features.
More recently, “Alan [Oakley] and I are talking to editors and Managing Directors in print and online about the best suite of sections and feature material for News Limited’s readers and advertisers.”
As for staff cuts, Reid’s opening and closing statements were all about how the changes are driven by better journalism, and so on and so forth, but asked if he could rule out staff cuts, the answer was basically no. “It is very clear to everybody that cost pressures are intense in media companies.”
Questions asked that he would not answer include whether these syndicated sections will run in all mastheads — including community newspapers — or only in some, where they will be produced, how the editorial structure will work, particularly if it is true that local feature sections will not be closed, and when the changes would be introduced.