By their works ye shall know them. Or in the case of new Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood, we might say that we know him by the appointments he has made, and those whom he has dispatched.

It has been a fast-moving couple of months since Hywood was confirmed in the job as Fairfax Media’s CEO. We have seen flurry of departures and appointments, most recently this week with the announcement that Mike van Niekerk will take up a new position as weekday editor of The Age.

Van Niekerk is the man who, before online and print were brought together in a single division, was identified with The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald websites being more populist or tabloid than the print iterations.

It is a fair time to ask what Hywood is up to, and what grand plan he hopes to advance.

In truth, despite the hype of some other media commentators, the van Niekerk move is not by itself hugely significant. Van Niekerk is not supreme, but on a level with the editor of the Saturday paper, Steve Foley and the editor of the Sunday paper, Gay Alcorn, all of whom answer to editor-in-chief Paul Ramadge.

Equally significant, but getting less airplay, was the expanded role, overseeing slabs of masthead defining news content, for Mark Baker, now titled special editor. Add the continuing role of deputy editor Shaun O’Connor and a raft of other editors, and you begin to suspect that there are now as many people at the paper with editor in their title as there are humble reporters available to be sent out on jobs. Perhaps more.

There are the usual, predictable, and so far as I can tell unsubstantiated rumours that Ramadge’s tenure is coming to an end. The title of editor-in-chief-in-waiting is now hotly contested.

So much for Melbourne. The bigger Fairfax Media narrative is about  a ruthless review and segmenting the market — trying to move away from running the newspapers as declining legacy businesses and reconceiving them in terms of separate, tightly targeted businesses operating under a single “brand”.

Fairfax is no longer thinking of itself as a mass media business, but as a business serving small, hopefully high-grade audiences.

The talk is of three different businesses under each masthead: print, online and tablet. And within that, different markets and approaches for the weekday, Saturday and Sunday papers.

Van Niekerk has overseen and at times defended, including to this reporter, the system under which the website of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald have taken on a tabloid air, more celebrity-news-oriented than readers of the hard copy broadsheets might expect.

He has said to me in the past that so long as the serious news of the day gets a fair shake of the stick on the sites, the inclusion of more populist content is all to the good. The unlimited space of online media makes it possible to be all things to all people.

The idea currently discussed within Fairfax is that the websites serve an audience that is not committed readers of the mastheads, but that come in sideways from search engines and social media. It also is accessed at work, as light relief.

Readers of the print edition are largely older than 50 and read in the morning and evening. Printing on and distributing bits of dead tree is an expensive business. There are hopes of encouraging some of these readers to move to receiving the paper on mobile devices.

The readership of the iPad and mobile device edition is still being defined, but Fairfax hopes it will be “premium” and that advertising on mobile devices will also attract premium rates rather than the heavily discounted rates of the websites.

The contrary view is that all this segmentation has already caused brand confusion at a time when the main thing mainstream media have over new media competitors is their branding and reputation. The Australian, it should be noted, has taken a very different approach, being recognisably the same newspaper on its website as it is in print form.

The most significant appointment Hywood has made so far is that of Jack Matthews, former head of Fairfax Digital, and now head of the whole metropolitan publishing shebang — websites and print mastheads together.

Why Matthews? He has emerged a board favourite from the battle royal with former CEO Brian McCarthy, who left walking quickly late last year in an attempt to avoid people noticing the hands pushing him.

Matthews’ leadership of Fairfax Digital saw that business prosper. He presented as personable, talented, upbeat and energetic when McCarthy was underwhelming.

But being a favourite of the board is not by itself a recommendation.

As one close and well-informed Fairfax observer said to me this morning, the board has been part of the problem more than part of the solution. Said this observer: “No board can be patted on the back for its record over the last five years.” There have been a series of very public and nasty stoushes — between JB Fairfax and former chairman Ron Walker, between the board and former CEO David Kirk, and then between the board and McCarthy.

Little or nothing has been done to address the real problems and the company has, as this observer put it “been buffeted on the high internet seas” without the board getting to grips with the fundamental problems. The record of the past five years can only be seen as a black mark against all concerned, but perhaps particularly chairman Roger Corbett.  The newer directors are known to be trying to change the approach, but analysts regard the board very dimly. It may be too late for Corbett to turn that opinion around.

In all this, Matthews’ vision and role has been largely opaque to outside observers. His appointment is a sign that digital thinking — digital first — is a priority for the company. He has been elevated more than the old print hands. But what is his vision, and what does the brand now being so ruthlessly segmented really mean?

The rhetoric is that it is all about quality journalism, however and whenever it is delivered.

Yet Matthews’ is regarded with scepticism by the journalists. The future of the company is seen as depending in part on people’s willingness to pay for news content, but if Jack Matthews has a vision for the future of journalism, he has not articulated it within the hearing of anyone on the newsroom floors.

Despite all the emphasis on new delivery mechanisms, it is still the case that the vast majority of Fairfax revenue has a printing press involved somewhere. Moving away from that situation is an enormous management challenge.

As for the movements at The Age, how all the chiefs will work together, particularly given the lack of Indians, remains to be seen. Van Niekerk and Matthews had a falling out some time ago, although that is apparently now well and truly patched up.

The big question asked in Melbourne tends to be about the future of Melbourne publisher Don Churchill, who is not popular with journalists, has failed to impress thought leaders in Melbourne and was seen as vulnerable following his overseeing of the departure of key executives, such as Anthony Catalano, who have now become business rivals and enemies.

But I gather Churchill’s position is now more secure than it might have been a year ago. As well, there are no plans to get rid of a Melbourne-based publisher.

To summarise, the market has yet to make up its mind about Hywood. Observers are still waiting for some evidence that he has answers to the key problem of revenue, at a time when all online advertising is heavily discounted and the much promised “native” iPad application has yet to be launched (the present iteration is little more than a .pdf facsimile of the print paper).

“We shouldn’t judge Hywood too harshly,” said one observer. The challenges he faces are enormous, and fundamentally structural. The board he serves has failed to establish its capacity to do more than make things worse.

Hywood leaves soon for a trip to the US to look at developments there.

So far, he has demonstrated a will for action, an upbeat attitude and a plan.

He has not presented solutions. But then, he is only mortal.