The Northern Territory News is mourning the departure of six sub-editorial staff, following an internal restructure that will see the paper’s main subbing function shifted to the South Australian headquarters of the Adelaide Advertiser.

The changes, pushed through as part of News’ controversial “NewsCentral” arrangements for sub-editorial pooling, will see the Darwin daily’s team replaced by four new Adelaide-based staff working 3,000 kilometres away.

Crikey understands that six staff, including several veterans, have taken a redundancy offer and one has moved to Brisbane, with the remaining subs and backbenchers reallocated to the paper’s layout section. Another has resigned for unrelated reasons.

Some of the departing veterans, originally slated to leave on December 1, have already jumped ship, with those remaining reportedly running a book on how long it will take for Fannie Bay to turn up in print with “y” instead of an “ie”, as imported Croweaters make a hash of the croc-obsessed daily’s punchy prose.

Sources close to the paper say the changes, which will also affect The Sunday Territorian and the Alice Springs-based Centralian Advocate, were widely unexpected and followed a redesign of the paper and the intervention of team of News heavies flown in from Queensland.

“Of course it’s surprising … if you try and edit a city paper from another city it’s absolutely ludicrous. How are the people from Adelaide going to know what street’s in what suburb?” the source said.

“It’s ridiculous, I don’t see possibly how it could work … it’s just the knowledge of where things are and places, it’s also the knowledge of the paper and what we’ve run in previous years.”

Following the departures, another source described the atmosphere in the NT News‘ Printers Place bunker as “poisonous”.

“I think some of them will be pretty happy to get out of there, but there are others that would be devastated.”

Chris Warren, from the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, who has liaised with News Limited over the changes, confirmed the departures and told Crikey that he was “concerned about the increasing separation of sub-editing from the masthead”.

“Sub-editing on a masthead has its own rhythm and the new centralised arrangements reflect an increasingly intense work environment,” Warren said.

Sub-editorial outsourcing has been a relentless trend across the industry in recent years, with The Age recently shifting its sport results, form guides and sections such as Green Guide, Drive, A2 to Pagemasters. Large sections of The Sydney Morning Herald are currently being subbed out of Pagemasters’ Brisbane HQ.

The NewsCentral rollout is now set to spread elsewhere, after its initial introduction in Brisbane last year. Sydney and Melbourne are next on the chopping block, with staff at Melbourne’s Herald Sun moving to a centralised arrangement amid a suite of roster changes in early 2011.

NT News editor Julian Ricci told Crikey that a Darwin-based team “will continue to do all copy tasting, story and photo selection and all design and layout work.”

“They will also continue to check all final page proofs in the NT News newsroom so we are confident that we’ll keep spelling Fannie Bay and Humpty Doo correctly.”

Peter Fray

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