Few things have been more contentious in the long and often troubled and jealous relationship between Fairfax sister papers the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age than the very mention of possible amalgamation of the papers’ federal Parliamentary bureaux. Strange that when it finally happened yesterday, it should be in a flourish of bureaucratise from the bosses and not much more than a whimper from the staff.

Here is the official announcement to Age staff, from local Fairfax chief Don Churchill:

From: The Age — Staff Notices
Sent: Monday, 15 June 2009 2:01 PM
Subject: Staff announcement — Canberra bureaux

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Today the Company is announcing some important changes to the Canberra bureaux of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

This announcement to staff is being made by the respective Publishers in Melbourne and Sydney, and the respective editors have briefed their staff in Canberra.

The changes, which will maintain Canberra staffing at existing levels, have four key purposes:

  1. Strengthening and broadening our national coverage.
  2. Preserving distinct political voices and positions of the mastheads.
  3. Providing greater flexibility and eliminating duplication.
  4. Enabling the aggregation of national coverage on nationaltimes.com.au

Historically, Canberra bureaux staff have worked only for the masthead on which they are employed and stories they generate are only published in that masthead.

For example, work produced by the political editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and smh.com.au, is not published in The Age or age.com.au.

Similarly, work produced by the defence reporter of The Age and age.com.au, is not published in The Sydney Morning Herald or smh.com.au.

The key elements of the bureaux changes are:

  1. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age will each have a core staff of four reporters working exclusively for their respective masthead. These positions include political editor, political correspondent and sketch writer. This enables the mastheads to maintain a distinct political voice and continues to provide a diversity of opinion and commentary.
  2. Stories generated by the masthead-specific reporters will be published on all online sites — smh.com, age.com, brisbanetimes.com and watoday.com.
  3. All other bureaux reporters — about 12 staff in all — will work as a team across both The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and all online sites. This will broaden and strengthen our coverage. For example, the SMH and the Age both have defence, education, national security and health reporters, among others. Regularly, these reporters cover the same story. Under the new arrangement, as an example, there will be one health reporter. The other health reporter will be assigned to another round, such as social affairs. This will expand the scope of portfolios we can cover and enhance our expertise in those areas.
  4. The combined bureau of reporters will be headed by a national chief of staff, Philip Hudson, who will report to the editors of the SMH and Age. He will also work closely with the editors of our online sites.
  5. The structure will enable the company to aggregate and publish all political and national affairs coverage online. This is of significant
    benefit for new initiatives such as the nationaltimes.com.au project announced last week.

The editors of the SMH and Age are in Canberra today briefing bureaux staff about the changes and our plans for the nationaltimes.com.au.

The new structure will take effect from next Monday, June 22, and we look forward to a new era in our coverage of national affairs and politics from Canberra.

Don Churchill
Chief Executive and Publisher
Melbourne Publishing

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