Apr 1, 2011

Sub cuts: tension rising at News’ Mercury HQ in Hobart

Reporters, photographers and subeditors at The Mercury are seething at plans to export Tasmanian subediting jobs to Melbourne and edit the state’s major newspaper interstate. Lindsay Tuffin, a former News Ltd journalist, reports.

Behind The Mercury building’s at deco facade, information is being monitored and suppressed. Ironically, the message that staff wish to pass up the line of News Limited command is one that is in the best interests of the group and its bottom line. It’s an opinion based on an understanding of the Tasmanian community. An overwhelming majority of reporters, photographers and subeditors at The Mercury are seething at plans to export Tasmanian subediting jobs to Melbourne and edit the state’s major newspaper interstate. Their Save Our Mercury campaign -- utilising Facebook, Twitter and a regularly updated blog -- has gained a full head of steam and garnered support from across the political spectrum. The primary argument mounted by the concerned journalists is that the Voice of Tasmania, as The Mercury proclaims to be each day on the front page, will lose its integrity as a part of the Tasmanian community if editing goes offshore. As one local Hobart television news report put it: the voice of Tasmania will now come with a Melbourne accent. The plans to ship subediting jobs offshore come after a dramatic two years of cutbacks and changes at The Mercury. About 40 jobs have gone from across all departments. The job shedding has affected everyone from artists to receptionists to those in classified advertising. In 2009, 15 editorial staff left, including reporters, subeditors, clerical staff and a photographer. Sections of The Mercury have been slowly exported offshore in an incremental dismantling of the newspaper. Escape, E-Guide, Your Money and the finance and world pages, are now produced interstate. The CarsGuide, Taste and daily sport and news are next to go offshore. The Tasmanian Country, the Gazette, the Kingborough Times, Property, Style and the Sunday section of the Sunday Tasmanian are under review, expected to go offshore if and when Melbourne NewsCentral has the capacity to take them on. Morale in the newsroom is at an all-time low. Subeditors have worked with the sword of Damocles hanging over them for months. One journalist who has worked at The Mercury for 20 years said last week: "It’s like everything I’ve worked for, everything I’ve learnt about journalism, about being accurate and knowing your subject, is all for nothing. It’s all I have. I’m a journalist. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. But it’s no longer valued. We all know this is bad for the paper, everyone knows it, but they just don’t care. They don’t give a stuff about quality." Another far more senior journalist once made a very similar heartfelt plea. "A journalist is what I am, who I am, and what I’ll always be," he said. "I learnt that journalism was an opportunity to make a difference. To be given the chance to represent people in a very significant way, especially those people who felt they had lost control of their lives." The name of this journalist was John Hartigan, News Limited chief executive. He made the comments during the Andrew Ollie Media Lecture in 2007. They are noble thoughts. The people who have lost control of their lives at The Mercury are subeditors within Hartigan’s own group. These senior journalists have written and edited thousands of stories about others and their plights, but now find they are the story. They are the voice that is being ignored, oppressed and needs representation. And what is it they want to say? Simply that editing The Mercury offshore will destroy the brand the newspaper has built during 160 years of publication. It is already destroying the morale within the ranks. They want to say that specialised knowledge about Tasmania is essential to editing The Mercury. Local knowledge is king. Overwhelmingly, The Mercury staff believe that if the Tasmanian community finds out about plans to take subediting offshore it will be outraged, insulted and resentful. So far, judging by the community support they have attracted, staff have been proven correct. There’s the rub. Their perceptive and cognisant reading of the mood of the Tasmanian public is a clear example of the power of local knowledge and the advantage of a newspaper being part of its community. The Mercury journalists are simply doing what all good journalists should do, tell it the way it is. *This article was first published at Tasmanian Times

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7 thoughts on “Sub cuts: tension rising at News’ Mercury HQ in Hobart

  1. sickofitall

    It’s all very well quoting journalists with 20 years experience, and I certainly feel for them: but…

    Journalists haveen’t been doing their jobs for at least 25 years. Had they made themselves indispensable: doing stories, rather than regurgitating press releases; spouting opinion rather than courting that hard mistress fact, and maintaining a quality product, just perhaps the Mercury would be able to be what it should be.

  2. sickofitall

    (sorry second point in second paragraph should be reversed – courting that hard mistress fact instead of spouting opinion… apologies.)

  3. HB

    seriously have you read the Mercury? The same news as the Oz, printed a day later, in words of fewer syllables. Very third rate.

  4. Budgie

    The Mercury has its faults: the stories taken off the wire are often out date. However, that doesn’t mean the few local editorial jobs that there are should be taken to Melbourne. It’s in the community’s interests to protect those of the local paper. The paper certainly will not be improved by having non-locals doing the subbing. In fact, it could become unbelievably worse. Probably all the content would be taken from the Sun Herald.
    I read The Age for news, but I do believe that the local community needs its local paper kept in the local community.

  5. sauron256

    “The Mockery” has been a joke for the people of Hobart for years now. Even today when discussing this article with the guys in the office it was agreed that we don’t really want to see the newspaper saved. Maybe if they put some time into hard news analysis and public education, instead of filling it with press releases and articles from other News Ltd sources, it would be different.

  6. Budgie

    I agree with SAURON25 in that the Mercury can really only be saved by improving its content, which currently is basically ill-informed, badly expressed and often irrelevant. I’ve been struck the number of work-experience people who do the reporting with apparently little or no supervision. But that isn’t their fault.
    Hobart needs a local paper: a paper that as a capital city it can be proud of. But that won’t happen by using Melbourne subs. Local newspapers need staff with local knowledge.
    But beyond that, the staff need to be well-trained, and allowed to do their jobs properly, without the fearing that they could lose their positions at any moment. Who can work well under those conditions?

  7. Ranger

    Last time I checked, the sub editors are not the ones that write the stories that go in our paper.. They’re the ones that check them for mistakes, etc..

    Apart from the sad fact of losing some jobs, I really can’t see what everyone is getting all up in arms about.. Its not like the Mercury can get any worse than it already is

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