The axe has fallen on guide book behemoth Lonely Planet’s tight-knit team of website writers, with eight content production roles made redundant at the whim of the company’s BBC management.

Shocked staff were informed yesterday of the decision to dissolve the positions, which included two core veterans that had been with the company for years. Lonely Planet management is yet to make a formal announcement, but the firm’s Footscray office is in meltdown, with angry staffers taking to Facebook to criticise their employer and the company’s digital strategy.

The affected writers authored original stories for key website sections, including the famed World Guide, which featured spiels on every country and was updated with breaking news affecting travellers like terrorist attacks.

George Dunford, the author of several Lonely Planet guidebooks and a lecturer at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, slammed the decision on Facebook:

“LP’s loss, this thread is a testament to how they can’t hold on to good people, see restructures rather than building as an excuse for business strategy.”

A former website chief wrote this: “LP: spend 15 years building enviable online content, then spend two years dismantling. Bad for friends, stupid for community.”

And a current staff member at the firm’s headquarters hinted at the prospect of more cuts to come: “…early in the week it was the second floor, today it’s the first floor, you guys better watch out on the ground floor.”

Lonely Planet’s head of communications Kim Lovely told Crikey that the loss of the roles was “…very, very said for those people that have been affected. We’ll be helping them find those redeployment opportunities and there are opportunities for those that still want to work with us.”

Lovely said four new roles would be created and that the affected team members would be invited to apply. But the writers would be undertaking new non-writing tasks. “The new approach is about the curation of content, rather than the creation of content.”

Another former digital team member questioned the new direction: “…when you get a whole load of people who don’t understand content to run a content company this is what happens.”

Insiders say the company has struggled to build a comprehensive web presence and to knit together diverse platforms that includes mobile technology and an underperforming television arm.

The decision to dissolve the popular team comes after Lonely Planet laid off 50 staff last year in a bid to rein in its global wages bill in the midst of the global financial crisis. But the subsequent stockmarket rebound was apparently not enough to save the producers, as the company turns to existing guidebook content to displace exclusive website spiels.

The fresh departures come just one day after a charm offensive launched by Lonely Planet CEO Matt Goldberg, in which he promised to take its online content to “the next level”. Goldberg, a former Dow Jones executive who just celebrated 12-months in charge, hinted he was keen to tap the website’s 700,000 registered users to author articles.

But a Lonely Planet insider told Crikey this morning that the website would struggle without the input of the content producers, who were considered vital to the operation. The source said that business-to-business revenue streams could also be affected.

Lonely Planet is also under immense political pressure after UK Conservatives indicated they intend to rein in the BBC to forestall a looming “one broadcaster state”. An incoming Cameron government is expected to proceed with an immediate sale of the Lonely Planet business, which was controversially acquired for $200 million in 2007.

A spokesperson for the Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance said the union was investigating the cuts:

“We’ve contacted  Lonely Planet and we are trying to get the full picture there and how it will affect our members. We’re concerned about any adverse impact this may have on journalists’ jobs.”

Crikey understands that the website team drowned their sorrows last night at a local drinking hole, which they’ve renamed The Redundancy.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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