This was meant to be Fairfax’s big, though awful moment. The time when it showed the market that while agony was necessary, it knew what it was doing and there was a vision.
But the vision thing is being dimmed with a succession of what might be described as WTF moments over the past 48 hours, capped (and it has to go first because it so extraordinary) by chairman Roger Corbett’s comparison of subeditors to horses and carts yesterday.
Corbett said: “We didn’t go out and ask for the digital age, it has been thrust upon us. People used to make slide rules, horse and carts, a variety of things. They’re not building them because we now have motor cars or calculators.”
WTF indeed. What Corbett doesn’t seem to grasp is that the subeditor is at the heart of a news organisation’s credibility and that is the main thing Fairfax has to sell in the new media age.
Those who work in the newsroom absolutely know that in their bones, but it has also been backed up by rigorous overseas research.
Credibility is not the redundant horse and cart. It is the main strength of traditional media. It is the optical fibre whizzbang thingy. It is the old/new toy. And you can’t have it without good subs.
The only question is whether Pagemasters can provide it — and cheaper than in-house subs. Perhaps it is possible. After all, the culture of subbing has been debased over recent decades by newspaper managements. Maybe dedicated production hubs can reverse that. Certainly News Limited is putting a lot of energy into trying to create good culture in its NewsCentral subbing hubs. It’s the first time some subs have felt valued for years.
Some of the other mixed messages emerging over the past 48 hours are a product of the delicate legal industrial situation Fairfax is in, and, let’s say it, a less than entirely frank approach by union and management.
First we have Fairfax Metropolitan publishing CEO Jack Matthews’ firm statement to staff on the day of the long knives, Tuesday this week:
“We will be entering into a three-year contract with Pagemasters and we will be rigorous in our ongoing evaluation of their work and will ensure that they meet our high standards.”
So that sounds pretty firm and definite.
So WTF was going on when that evening, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance issued a statement saying that it understood Pagemasters was only “a proposal” and no contracts had been signed and negotiations to change management’s mind were under way.
Which led to CEO Greg Hywood reiterating that he was going ahead, but prepared to negotiate.