The senior executive in charge of Fairfax Media’s stable of suburban real estate glossies has had her employment terminated as the company reels from a $35 million revenue hole torn by ex-Age property editor Antony Catalano.

Crikey understands that Publications Director Fiona Reid was told the bad news last night by Fairfax Community Newspapers Victorian general manager Colin Moss, on the same day Catalano launched a new version of his Weekly Review in Melbourne’s north-eastern green belt to compete with Fairfax’s struggling Heidelberg & Diamond Valley Weekly.

Other layoffs, including senior sales managers, were also expected with one company insider telling Crikey they “would be very surprised if was just Fiona”. As a highly-paid senior executive, Reid oversaw a team of over 100 sales and editorial staff across the Fairfax Community Network.

Upset Fairfax staff are understood to have attended a team meeting this morning to discuss the changes.

Reid, who worked with Fairfax in New Zealand for six years before taking up her current role 18 months ago, was believed to have been sacrificed to save on her substantial salary, rather than for her performance in the role, which was said to have been exemplary.

Her replacement is expected to come from within Fairfax’s ranks with the doubling up of staff at Fairfax’s gleaming new Media House in Collins Street also targeted for possible cost savings.

The insider sheeted home much of the blame to Catalano’s new start-up. “The last six months have completely changed the market,” they said. “We were struggling to compete.”

The Heidelberg & Diamond Valley Weekly is understood to have commanded between $6 and $7 million in revenue each year, about three quarters of which comes from the property market. Revenue halved from last week to this week, with the new edition clocking in at just 40 pages, compared to 66 the week before. Just 7 pages of beefed-up real estate appeared yesterday and its print run was chopped from around 72,000 to 60,000 copies after a leading advertiser withdrew its support.

The north-eastern version of Catalano’s new cash cow debuted yesterday with 100 pages, with many advertisers poached from its competitor. Barry Plant, Buckingham and Company, Darren Jones, David McFarlane, Fletchers, Hocking Stuart, Jellis Craig, Miles Real Estate and Morrison Kleeman have all signed with Catalano and its general manager is former Fairfax regional sales director Jason Williams.

The raid on Fairfax’s real estate stranglehold began in April when Catalano launched The Weekly Review to take on the flagging Melbourne Weekly Magazine, ripping a $15 million hole in its revenue overnight. Since the heist, Fairfax has spruced up its four glossy weeklies, removing the word ‘magazine’ from titles and slashing ad rates.

Last week, it announced the return of targeted classifieds in Wednesday’s edition of The Age to shore up its Saturday ‘rivers of gold’, which have slowed to a trickle from their late-90s heyday.

Fairfax did not respond to Crikey‘s request for comment this morning.

Peter Fray

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