Readers will have seen all the agony at Fairfax this week, as it attempts to sack the subs and outsource their work to the AAP subsidiary, Pagemasters. Today a few more details became available. First, for all the talk of quality guarantees and conditions of service in the arrangements with Pagemasters, it emerges that the contracts are not actually signed yet!

In this context, this statement issued by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (the journos’ union) must surely be making Pagemasters nervous. It suggests that management might seriously consider other options, including an in-house subbing “hub”, ala News Limited’s centralised subbing operations. (Though I suspect the union is being unduly optimistic about its chances of negotiating a different outcome). The statement asserts:

The company has assured the Alliance that the matters announced yesterday were “a proposal”

and that no contracts have been signed with Pagemasters.

Yeah, right.

Some other thoughts. This is not exactly a visionary move. It is being made only because Pagemasters exists. News Limited has moved earlier to hub sub editing, but the Pagemasters deal places Fairfax’s production in the hands of a monopoly provider, which is not necessarily a wise thing to do.

And how is quality to be measured?

Too many dull headlines per page? Too many literals? Too many libels? And how many is too many? And what happens then — Fairfax fines a company half-owned by Fairfax? The announcement said Fairfax would have the option of cancelling the contract if the work was not up to scratch. So how would it then get the paper out, having sacked all its subs? Outsource it to India?

Seems to me that with the subs all gone, Pagemasters would have Fairfax over a barrel. What happens when the contracts come up for re-negotiation? What kind of a position will Fairfax be in? Not a strong one, I would have thought.

Which is doubtless part of the reason why News Limited decided to do it all in house.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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