The public relations industry has been the big winner from this year’s massive redundancy rounds at Fairfax and News Limited, a Crikey survey has found.

Around 1000 editorial jobs have been lost this year according to the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance — including around 280 at Fairfax and 500 at News Limited. Crikey has compiled a list tracking where print journalists who left their organisations this year have gone, and will update it as more names come in.

Some 17 reporters on the list from The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, for example, have landed communications roles, double the amount still working in regular editorial gigs.

The drift from Fairfax to PR has been especially prevalent at the SMH and sister paper The Sun-Herald. Former legal affairs reporter Geesche Jacobsen has joined NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith’s staff, senior writer Liz Hannan is spinning for Health Minister Jillian Skinner, and Sun-Herald reporter Jim O’Rourke is a media adviser for Communities Minister Victor Dominello. Former SMH urban affairs reporter Matthew Moore will join Clover Moore’s City of Sydney Council next year as an adviser, while ex-media writer Julian Lee is spruiking the Community and Public Sector Union.

The shift hasn’t always been a happy one.

“I miss the Herald deeply, and journalism,” one ex-reporter, now working in the government sector, told Crikey. “I loathe my new job. My colleagues are lovely but boring. The work is unchallenging and everybody works at a snail’s pace … If the SMH is still hanging in there in two years’ time, I’m going back.”

Several jobs reflect the increasingly blurry line between PR and reporting. Ex-science editor Deborah Smith is a journalist at the University of NSW’s communications unit. Former opinion editor Joel Gibson is working as a news editor for Lachlan Harris’ One Big Switch campaign.

Down south at The Age, former law and justice editor Farah Farouque is advising the Brotherhood of St Laurence while ex-state political reporter Reid Sexton is a media adviser at the beyondblue depression initiative. Sunday Age political editor Misha Schubert is leading the charge at the You Me Unity campaign for indigenous constitutional recognition.

Sexton is positive about the transition to communications, not least because he believes in the charity’s work. “It’s interesting to see how it works from this side of the fence,” he told Crikey. “I reckon the job is pretty intuitive for anyone who’s been a reporter. You have a decent feel for what will make a story and what won’t, and where a story will get a run and where it won’t.

“One challenge has been shifting to a more long-term focus … It’s long-term and it’s collaborative and it took some adjusting to because instead of jumping from one yarn to the next you’re focused on a whole range of things that play out over time.”

Those who have continued in traditional media roles include Greg Bearup, who left Good Weekend for the Weekend Australian Magazine, and ex-SMH business columnist Ian Verrender who is writing for Alan Kohler’s Eureka Report. The Age‘s political writer Shaun Carney now pens columns for the Herald Sun while football writer Mike Cockerill is associate editor of the Football Australia website.

The Australian‘s former health editor Adam Cresswell is working as communications director for the National Health Performance Authority, while ex-China correspondent Michael Sainsbury is writing for the UK Daily Mail (and regularly for Crikey) from Beijing. Veteran Herald Sun crime reporter Geoff Wilkinson is now a member of Victoria’s Sentencing Advisory Council.

Many reporters are plying the freelance trade, often supplemented by casual work in communications or consulting. One Fairfax veteran who signed up to the new AAP Exclusive writers’ bureau says the freelance roster contains a lot of names but “not much work coming out of it”. There has also been a flood of ex-subeditors to AAP-owned Pagemasters, often on a casual basis.

Some reporters have used redundancy as a chance to embrace the digital era. The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Adele Horin — well-known for her regular Saturday opinion column — resisted new reporting tools such as Twitter while working at the Herald. Since leaving the paper she has taken weekly social media classes and become an avid tweeter. Horin is preparing to launch a blog in the new year aimed at baby boomers. She doesn’t know if she will be able to monetise the site, but sees a gap in the market for a site offering news and advice about ageing and retirement.

While breaking out on her own is exciting, Horin admits to missing regular deadlines, the buzz of the newsroom and mingling with younger colleagues.

“I was talking to someone from the Herald the other day [who now works in communications] and they said, ‘We didn’t know how lucky we were in journalism,'” she said. “We had a very good life.”

Peter Fray

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