The razor gangs at Fairfax and News Limited are circling newspapers’ foreign bureaux, with The Australian poised to close its sole remaining US desk within weeks.

The Oz has already shut down its London bureau and will not replace veteran Europe correspondent Peter Wilson who took redundancy late last year. Crikey understands current Washington correspondent Brad Norington is highly unlikely to be replaced when he concludes his stint following Barack Obama’s inauguration on January 21. This would leave the broadsheet without a full-time US correspondent — a dramatic shift since late 2008, when it had bureaux in New York, Los Angeles and Washington.

And it puts the paper at a disadvantage to Fairfax, which has two US-based correspondents: Nick O’Malley and chief correspondent Paul McGeough in Washington.

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The Oz is expected to replace its correspondents with copy from News Corp stablemates The Times of London and The Wall Street Journal. Rent, travel and staffing costs make foreign bureaux extremely expensive for newspapers to maintain.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age may also scrap the position of Europe correspondent. Former Europe correspondent Karen Kissane, who took redundancy last September, finished up in December and has not been replaced. The position has not been advertised internally at the SMH (which takes turns with The Age to send reporters on foreign postings). The paper’s foreign editor Connie Levett told Crikey this morning that “discussions are ongoing” about the role.

It means Charles Miranda, who reports for News Limited’s tabloids, is currently the only full-time Australian newspaper correspondent in Europe at a time when the continent’s economic woes continue to have a major impact on the global economy.

Crikey understands one option being considered at Fairfax is relying on freelancers in Europe, with full-time reporters flown overseas when big news breaks. Former Fairfax Europe correspondent Paola Totaro remains in London with husband Robert Wainwright.

In a bid to lure wunderkind James Chessell from The Australian in 2011, The Australian Financial Review boss Brett Clegg promised Chessell the paper would open a London bureau for him this year. Luckily for the bean counters at Fairfax, Chessell’s wife, who has family in the UK, has taken up a new job in Sydney. Chessell, who is the AFR’s deputy editor, won’t leave for London until 2014 at the earliest.

According to sources at The Fin, Clegg had grand plans to open bureaux in Indonesia and India but has had to shelve them because of the poor advertising market. This leaves The Fin with two correspondents in China and one in the US.

The Australian‘s editor Clive Mathieson told Crikey this morning the paper has yet to make a final decision on its Washington bureau, but would be well served by copy from overseas papers.

“We are in the very fortunate position of having content agreements with The Wall Street Journal and The Times,” he said. “They give us great copy and breaking news … We’d rather have correspondents in every part of the world but it isn’t possible. Newspapers around the world are having to make hard decisions about where to allocate their resources. We still have the biggest network of Asian bureaux.”

Although an Oz foreign affairs source says only a “wild optimist” would expect the paper’s Tokyo bureau to remain open when Rick Wallace completes his stint there, Mathieson says the paper has no plans to close that bureau.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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