Radio National staff are up in arms over a looming decision to dump seven veteran employees at a cost of up to $1 million as part of a root and branch restructure of the station’s tight-knit website team.
According to an internal email sent by RN supremo Jane Connors and internet overseer Linda Bracken, obtained by Crikey, existing RN and Classic FM website jobs — which had earlier been rolled into a new division detached from the station — will be declared vacant, with the affected team members technically able to re-apply for their old gigs.
But insiders tell Crikey the loyal staffers — one of whom has been with the broadcaster since the early 1980s — won’t be able to keep a foothold at Ultimo. They accuse a youthful management clique of pursuing a scorched earth policy to remake the new Multiplatform and Content Development department in their own image.
“It’s bizarre the level of ignorance, obviously it’s bad for people to be threatened by redundancy shortly before Christmas,” one team member in the firing line told Crikey. “Before, we all worked for Radio National. And then there was this land grab by Linda Bracken and [ABC’s online manager of design and development] Fergus Pitt where they hoovered up all the people so that Radio National effectively doesn’t have control.
“It wouldn’t be unfair to describe it as asset stripping. They took all the positions and they chucked out everyone who was in these positions and now they’re talking about bringing in new graduates with degrees in computer science.
“They’re promising all these jargony buzzwords, it’s all about Twitter and Facebook and Wikipedia and all that stuff. Basically they want to clean out the old guard and bring in a bunch of yougsters who don’t actually listen to the radio at all, and just do whatever they’re told.”
Staff have been told management now wants staff to go “beyond content” to utilise new skills in web design, social media and the “user experience”.
Another staffer said there was little chance of retaining a regular salary: “We’ve been told that we almost certainly don’t qualify, they’ve reviewed our resumes and we will almost certainly not get them. We were told that if we had some secret skills that management didn’t know about we were welcome to put our names forward.
“It’s been a bit of a team thing and now it’s turned into a division of labour factory… It’s like the industrial revolution has hit these sites, out go the artisans and in comes the factory mentality. I personally think it’s just a way of getting rid of some staff and clean out the old so that the new management can build their own empire.”
The email, sent last week and naming the seven staff involved, is apologetic in tone and admits that many staff won’t find work under the new regime:
“We realise this email may come as a shock and these situations are always confronting. We can assure you that Radio management has given this matter extremely serious consideration and it’s a step not being taken lightly.
“At the end of our consultation process, the new roles will be advertised and affected staff will be welcome to apply if they believe they satisfy the selection criteria. Unfortunately however it may be the case that some of your colleagues will not have the requisite skills and/or experience.”
Staff say Bracken is keen to hire “22-year old web designers” loyal to Triple J instead. “Every one of them is a Triple J person … and they’ve all gone out and hired their old mates at Triple J,” the source said.
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, which is liaising with management over the changes, has expressed concern over the six-week consultation period, which it says has been arbitrarily mandated by Aunty in contravention of the broadcaster’s employment agreements.
The ABC’s Pitt told Crikey this morning that “rapid developments in the ABC’s multiplatform objectives and activities, and the digital industry at large, have necessitated a review of the skills required by staff working in the ABC Radio National and ABC Classic FM digital environments”.
“Given changing audience expectations, and that the technology to build websites and work on other platforms such as mobile and social media has changed, it’s clear the networks must develop accordingly,” he said.
But one website worker rejected that assessment and was scathing of the timing, which they said will lead to a meltdown over summer: “They think it’s a good time to do this but radio stations go into convulsions over summer when programming changes and they apparently didn’t know that.”
The turmoil comes as ABC News begins briefings with its foreign correspondents on changes to bureau structures and the loss of back-office staff. The ABC said today it won’t comment further on the changes until after all staff have been briefed, but Crikey understands news director Kate Torney is in the broadcaster’s Asian offices to announce cuts.
A former foreign correspondent complained to Crikey late yesterday of the “spin” employed by management in communicating the changes, which will see some bureaus share offices and possibly resources with the Associated Press. Staff also expect changes in the correspondent ranks to accommodate a new post in Afghanistan.