Piers Kelly writes:

A recent Fairfax email from Don Churchill to all staff begins:

Dear colleagues

This morning you have all received email and video messages from Fairfax Media CEO Brian McCarthy explaining the new strategy which the company’s Board, staff and senior management have been involved in developing.

To briefly repeat Brian’s key message, the announcement signals the next stage in the transformation of our company’s business model to adapt and integrate Fairfax in a fast-changing media world.

Some wonderfully arcane phrases follow, such as, “The strategic review has been driven by the collective desire to: grow our mastheads; grow our online businesses; and adapt to become a multi-platform business”. And my favourite, “In Editorial, at the same level as the Editors-in-Chief, a National Editorial sections position will be established to develop the ‘deep verticals’ that will back future development on-line as well as in print.”

Deep verticals?

The best explanation I’ve been able to find is buried in this article by Dan Lewis from February last year. In essence, the term refers to published content that is specialised and authoritative. This is contrasted with the ‘horizontal’ publishing typical of newspapers, in which a host of topics are covered in superficial detail. (At least, I think this is what it means. Correct me if I’m wrong.)

Despite Churchill’s corporate flourishes, what’s surprising is just how easy it is to unravel his message, which is far from bland: Fairfax is bringing its city and community newspapers together under one corporate roof, and the whole shebang is to be managed by a yet-to-be-appointed CEO.  Yet the tone of the email is so rousing and upbeat that a hasty employee might not hear the alarm bells until the ominous, “You will have questions about the implications of the new business structure on your own role. […] Management will continue to communicate with you once again with further updates and as the implementation process rolls out.”

Eek. Those $10 million in savings have got to come from somewhere.

Don Watson reckons that the confusion brought about by fluffy corporate speak has contributed to everything from the devastations of the Victorian bushfires to the Global Financial Crisis. I’m not so convinced. Our language has always diversified and adapted over multiple platforms to serve our needs, and we adapt and change with it.

The axe will still fall for Fairfax employees, but at least it will have a ribbon of verbiage tied around it to remind the luckless staff that their misfortune was in the service of a greater abstraction like synergy or strategic integration.

This, of course, is scant consolation.The unkindest cuts are as ‘deep’ as they are ‘vertical’.