Journalists at The Sydney Morning Herald will be expected to produce up to three times as many stories as they currently do when the paper shifts from a broadsheet to a “compact” format in three weeks. And they’ll have to do it in less time.

SMH readers can expect more photographs, more graphics and more stories when the papers become tabloid-sized on March 4, according to an internal email sent to staff by weekday editor Richard Woolveridge. Similar changes are likely at The Age, which is converting to a tabloid on the same day.

Early pages will go “off stone” — that is, be finalised for printing — at 2.30pm, meaning much earlier deadlines for some reporters.

In the email sent out yesterday, Woolveridge acknowledges this will put “new demands on copy flow” but says there will be an upside as well:

“It will be a challenge but the good news is that, unlike the very small broadsheet papers we have had of late where not all stories are afforded the treatment they might otherwise be given, this new world will be far more accommodating.”

One SMH veteran, however, wasn’t convinced, telling Crikey: “Staff are really worried about it. There’s not enough of us. It’s already exhausting so you can only wonder what it’ll be like under the new regime.”

Herald staff are expected to meet with management next Tuesday to discuss the changes.

A well-connected source told Crikey the compact SMH is expected to have 60 to 64 pages plus sections. According to the source, the “pinch test” — where casual readers decide which paper to buy based on its thickness — will be weighing heavily on Fairfax management. Especially so given the compact SMH will cost almost twice as much as The Daily Telegraph. The relative thinness of The Sun-Herald (around 80 pages compared to The Sunday Telegraph‘s 120-plus) is seen as a factor in its poor circulation.

Staff have also been told many more pictures will be needed “so please let your creative juices cascade and pitch ideas”. Woolveridge, who is leading the transition to a compact format, writes:

“Weekday papers will have between 17-19 early general news pages. Each one of those pages will need between one and three stories, and most will require illustration with photos or graphics. We would also like to use more chunkies in the form of ‘balcony briefs’ (or upper storey stories which stretch across the tops of a spread).

“So, in a nutshell, whereas, there were some 18 stories and 10 briefs in today’s EGN broadsheet pages, we’re going to need to generate at the very least double that number, and preferably three times for choice and balance, to fill the equivalent compact … I am sure with the abundance of professionalism on the floor we will quickly get into a rhythm, but while we learn the steps of the new dance, your help would be greatly appreciated.”

A senior Herald reporter told Crikey they would welcome more room in the paper because stories are currently “being chopped really short”. But they fear editors will rely more on generic AAP wire copy to fill pages.

Around 70 editorial staff each from The SMH and The Age were let go in a major Fairfax redundancy program last year.