Fairfax’s Canberra Times looks set to relinquish its title as Fairfax’s last daily broadsheet paper, with a move to a tabloid … sorry, “compact” format announced to staff and the media yesterday.
Also revealed was the loss of 12.6 full-time positions — one in six jobs at the Canberra paper, of which 10 are expected to be journalists. Staff at the Crimes Fyshwick office were called into a meeting with management at 2pm yesterday, where Rod Quinn — a former editor-in-chief of the paper turned Fairfax executive — outlined the changes.
Staff have been bracing for a restructure for more than a year. In 2013 The Canberra Times was made part of the Australian Community Media arm of Fairfax, which includes community and regional papers. The division has been undergoing radical changes to a new system called NewsNow, in which reporters perform roles traditionally filled by photographers and subeditors, in addition to their reporting duties. Papers operating under the model have carried far more shared copy from both the regional stable and the metro papers, weakening the distinctive reporting of the local papers. NewsNow’s rollout has also been accompanied swingeing job cuts — the one-in-six jobs going at the Crimes suggests the paper has gotten off relatively lightly compared to others.
NewsNow was expected to come to, or at least affect, the ACT eventually. But the model revealed to staff yesterday wasn’t quite NewsNow, though it has been dubbed by some as “NewsNow in disguise”. While the paper will stay on its current content management system as opposed to moving to the standardised NewsNow CMS adopted elsewhere, the cuts to professional photography have caused concern, as has the fact that journalists will now have to write to set word counts, filling space in a paper laid out earlier in the day.
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Currently, Canberra Times copy is often subedited in-house by editors and producers. The paper is subbed externally, in line with what happens at other Fairfax papers. Under the proposed model, this will cease, in favour of the in-house subbing done by producers and editors (there will be seven producers under the new model handling this).
Photography will also change. Casual photographers are being terminated, and all but four full-time photographers are expected to go. Journalists will be required to take their own pictures. Also on the chopping block are admin staff in the library and reception desk.
Two weeks ago, Canberra Times staff went on strike in solidarity with their colleagues at the metro papers, who are facing 120 job cuts. Yesterday, the house committees of the SMH and The Age put out a statement expressing their “shock and dismay” at the proposal to cut their newsrooms. “We will all be lessened by these losses, which will diminish the quality journalism Fairfax staff, and our readers, hold so dear,” the statement read. It also condemned “reporters … asked to do work outside their job description — namely, to take their own photographs and sub their own stories”.
The Canberra Times was the paper with the largest circulation decline in the last round of figures. Its figures were down 18.7% in the year to December — it sells just 18,837 copies on an average day. And that figure was only the latest in a string of bad circulation results — it’s down 10,000 daily copies in the last four years. Journos point to the fact that the website’s audience is growing quickly — perhaps helped by a redesigned website now being tested on the SMH and Age — but the falling circulation in recent years has no doubt had a big effect on revenue.
The smaller size — while perhaps a disappointment to traditionalists — didn’t particularly faze the journos Crikey spoke to. Some applauded it, saying it would give the paper a marketing boost. The Sunday edition, which like the daily is printed on-site, is already a tabloid. Er, compact.