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May 9, 2014

Six ways to fill a paper when your staff are on strike

Fairfax managed to fill its newspapers yesterday, even though its newsroom was on strike. How did senior editors manage? Crikey's media reporter looks at the tricks of the trade ...

Fairfax’s editors have had quite some practice over the years in how to make do when their journalists decide to down tools, as they did on Wednesday to protest against a decision to axe most of the company’s photographers and several dozen more jobs. They returned at 3pm yesterday,

The casual observer could be oblivious to the fact the journalists were missing in action — there was still plenty of readable, informative content in the papers yesterday and today, even if the big names were noticeably absent.

So how did Fairfax’s editors do it? Crikey scoured the editions affected for the tricks of the trade.

1. Send in the B-team. If your stars are off manning the barricades, you can always find someone else to cover the crucial proceedings. Luckily for Fairfax, plenty of Australian Financial Review journos didn’t strike and could be sent out on new beats for the day. The Fin‘s Samantha Hutchinson made an appearance at the Independent Commission Against Corruption hearings, prompting this tweet from gun corruption-sniffer Kate McClymont on Twitter (we’re sure Hutchinson is a fine journalist, but almost anyone can be described as a the “B-team” next to Kate McClymont) …

2. Reheat the leftovers. If no one’s filed and you’re really in a pinch, you can just run a yarn from yesterday. Crikey was perplexed at seeing Phil Coorey’s page 4 yarn about Ian Harper today in The Age. It seemed … familiar. Indeed, a dig through yesterday’s Australian Financial Review revealed why. Coorey’s May 8 piece had been given a new headline, but otherwise was reprinted, almost word-for-word, in the next day’s paper (AFR, top, The Age below) …

3. Trawl the back catalog. Only a poorly run publication doesn’t have some measure of work sitting around that can be run anytime something falls through. Yarns that aren’t time-sensitive can be bought out to fill the pages, and no doubt some of the pieces in the papers fit this category. It also helped that given the strike started at 3pm, some journos had already filed. Crikey understands yesterday’s front-page piece by James Massola and Mark Kenny on the spending plans in the budget was filed just before the stop-work meeting.

4. Give the editors space to shine. If the editors have less copy to look over, why not put them to good use? Senior editor Mark Hawthorn doesn’t file very often, but today was the day for it, as his piece on green energy cuts in Victoria demonstrates. Mind you, we saw less of this than we expected — last time staff went on strike, then national editor Mark Baker filed no fewer than four heavy-hitting stories over two days.

5. In a pinch, wire copy will do. In yesterday’s Age, the sports section had 12 authors, and a full half of them filed for wire services, their contribution obscured behind an Australian Associated Press (AAP) or Agence France-Presse (AFP) designation. Even the business pages had two AAP yarns, and another republished from Project Syndicate. All papers make use of wire services, but there’s little strategic advantage in leaning heavily on copy everyone can, for a price, also run in their papers. If you need to though, the copy is clean and reliable.

6. Outsource, outsource, outsource. Newspapers rely on columnists to make sense of the news and to be the public face of the paper. But if they’re not around, you can always approach a few public intellectuals. Yesterday’s Age had three columns in the comment section — one by the Melbourne Law School’s Joo-Cheong Tham, another by author Nick Dyrenfurth, and only one by a senior columnist, Kenneth Davidson. Funnily enough, Davidson is the co-editor of left-leaning Dissent magazine — it’s hard to see him being pleased about being published in the strike paper. The CBD column — a Crikey favourite — was missing from the business pages of both the SMH and The Age. But a Michael Pascoe piece from Wednesday filled up the business analysis quota. The AFR’s Chanticleer columnist, Michael Smith, was a coauthor of one yarn and sole author of another — he’s generally found just in the Fin. Today’s papers brought op-eds by Age columnist Gay Alcorn, alongside others by the Grattan Institute’s Andrew Norton, and Washington-based journalist Will Potter, taken from The New York Times.

Additional research by Crikey intern Clovelle Car.

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3 thoughts on “Six ways to fill a paper when your staff are on strike

  1. wormwoodscrubs

    “Yarns that aren’t time-sensitive can be bought out to fill the pages.” It’s ‘brought out’, just so you know.

  2. Gavin Moodie

    Persnickety part 2: excessive nominalisation.

    Rather than

    ‘All papers make use of wire services . . .’


    ‘All papers use wire services . . .’.

  3. AR

    If the constant repetition of “yarn” is indicative, it does show how little we need the dead tree dinosaurs.
    I’m not wildly keen on “oblivious to” but it’s hard to remain oblivious of Myriam’s poor grasp of syntax. And parsing. And narrative context. And… oh, well, I guess it was Friday and Eurovoid beckoned…