Big news within the news industry is Fairfax’s announcement that they will be outsourcing subediting of their major mastheads to AAP subsidiary Pagemasters. This is on the heels of News Ltd’s decision to centralise its subediting, and suggestions that it plans to do away with local subeditors in Tasmania, managing subbing for titles like the Hobart Mercury from Melbourne. So why does this matter?

Subeditors aren’t just glorified spell-checkers and pun obsessed headline writers, they’re an important part of the process that ensures the quality and accuracy of everything that hits the page of our newspapers. If you’ve ever compared the online output of some journalists with columns or articles of theirs from the paper it can be quite apparent how important the subs are to making sure that the paper is readable. Our major news organisations often make the point that they provide better information to the public than bloggers can, and in the cases where that’s true it’s not because the only gifted writers interested in current events are all journos, it’s because news organisations have a process in place to keep up the quality of the paper. Subeditors are a part of this process.

One of the great things about newspapers remains their ability to project a voice, or consistent style, that becomes familiar to the readership. As someone who lives on the NSW / Victorian border I can assure you that The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald are both very different papers. How will this be affected when the subs are removed from the rest of the paper? And how can Fairfax ensure that the paper’s quality will remain high once Pagemasters are responsible for their finished product? Anyone who has seen a part of their organisation outsourced has horror stories about things that were simply never looked after the way that they were by in-house staff, that extra bit of work at the margins that an outsourced provider doesn’t need to care about to meet their KPIs. It’s also inevitably a one way transition, once you lose a chunk of an organisation it’s unlikely to ever see it come back in a meaningful way, no matter how badly things might have become.

Fairfax has declared that quality journalism will save it, but the question needs to be asked whether that just means people with bylines, or if it’s the entire process within the newsroom? It would seem that Fairfax is betting on the former. Is this the first step in Fairfax journos becoming glorified bloggers?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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