Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood has run a scythe through the senior ranks of his two major mastheads, edging out three senior editors as part of his vision to smash the media giant’s cost base.

Sydney Morning Herald editor-in-chief Peter Fray and editor Amanda Wilson gave emotional send-offs at Fairfax HQ at midday, while in Melbourne editor-in-chief of The Age, Paul Ramadge, also signed off.

This afternoon, Fairfax metro editorial director Garry Linnell announced that national business editor and former BRW kingpin Sean Aylmer will replace Fray as SMH editor-in-chief. Darren Goodsir, the Herald‘s online editor, will become Sydney news director — effectively a deputy editor position. Both roles span all platforms: print, digital, online, mobile and tablet.

“We are going to wipe the floor with the opposition,” a fired-up Linnell told Herald staffers while spruiking the changes.

Fairfax insiders describe Aylmer, who previously worked for Mark Bouris’ fianancial services firm Yellow Brick Road, as a personable pragmatist. “He can get along with arseholes as well as nice people,” said one former colleague.

Goodsir — who launched the National Times, Fairfax’s online opinion portal — previously worked as SMH chief of staff, transport editor and urban affairs editor, and national security reporter.

In Melbourne, the buzz has Sunday Age ed Gay Alcorn or senior editor Mark Baker assuming the new roles, however other sources disputed the likelihood of Alcorn’s promotion. Ex-Washington correspondent Simon Mann’s name has also entered into considerations as has Andrew Holden, a former Sunday Age chief sub who now edits Christchurch paper The Press.

Last week, Fairfax announced that it would hive off a fifth of its staff base and fully integrate digital newsgathering into its operations. Editors would be appointed to geographic regions rather than in individual mastheads.

Fray, known as one of the most likeable figures in Australian journalism, has been in the top editing job since October 2010 and acted as publisher since the start of this year. He previously served stints as editor of The Canberra Times and Sunday Age.

Fray told staffers today: “It is for me a good time to go … If there was a time for me to leave the mothership, that time is now.”

He spent four months as a visiting fellow at the University of Sydney last year. In a keynote speech to the university last November, he argued that doomsday predictions about the future of the media were premature and would be proved wrong by a new compact between journalists and editors.

“There is no question that the media is at a point of transformation, but this is an opportunity for reconstruction,” he said. “The new compact relies on a redefinition of journalism which incorporates its traditional watchdog role and celebrates its many other functions. At the heart of this new compact are editors — and their audiences.”

Wilson, who started her career as a News Limited cadet, became SMH editor last January — the first woman in 180 years to fill the role.

The Herald‘s hacks took to Twitter to voice support for their departing leaders. “Tears in the newsroom,” wrote crime editor Lisa Davies. “Very sad to hear of @AWilsonSMH and Peter Fray’s departure from @smh,” tweeted court reporter Louise Hall. “I enjoyed working under both editors.”

SMH environment editor Ben Cubby described the pair as “superb newspaper editors”.

In an email to Sydney staff, Linnell wrote that “we are saying farewell to two champions of our profession, and their decision to leave brings to a close two very distinguished careers with Fairfax”.

In Melbourne, a “shaky” Ramadge — who replaced Andrew Jaspan in 2008 — thanked a laundry list of supporters including Don Churchill, Ron Walker and Mark Baker. He told staff the strategy at the company was “right” and he was hoping to pursue other opportunities.

“Paul’s voice was shaky at the start, thought he would tear up,” a long-serving Age journalist told Crikey. “He shook hands with staff, then hugged others — the women.

“Senior people are tossing up redundancies, wondering if the entitlements will be there once Gina waves her fist or if Tony Abbott gets in.”

Linnell eulogised: “Under Paul’s leadership, The Age has won many major awards for journalism, ramped up its reputation for hard-hitting investigations and exclusive news and the team has produced outstanding coverage. We now have more progressive Saturday and Sunday newspapers, stronger coverage of the higher education sector, a broader spread of voices on the opinion pages and online, and a newsroom of journalists well equipped for print, digital and broadcast work.”

Greg Hywood said Ramadge “had shown the way for The Age during a period of great upheaval in the industry. His unwavering commitment to investigative journalism and breaking news has set The Age apart during his tenure. He can feel proud.”

Ramadge arrived at The Age in 1996 as night editor (replacing Crikey’s Jonathan Green) during the Bruce Guthrie era. He held nearly every position at the paper, including deputy editor, Saturday editor, sections editor, assistant editor (news) and night editor. He was formerly editor-in-chief of The Herald in Newcastle and also edited the Dubbo Liberal for a short period.

Ramadge copped some criticism for failing to engage properly with Melbourne’s community, at one point becoming obsessed with the Committee for Melbourne to restore the paper’s bleak city credibility. Herald and Weekly Times chief Peter Blunden was considered much more in tune with Melbourne’s scoop-dishing elites.

Meanwhile, the axe has fallen in other areas, with theatre critic Cameron Woodhead taking to Facebook to reveal his column had been cut in half and was to be shared in future with The SMH.

One senior staff member said the mood at Media House had reached rock bottom: “It’s pretty horrible, because you never had to think about it, and then it’s shoved in your face like that. The culture of the place is changing … maybe I should become a Generation Y videoblogger or something.”