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May 13, 2016

Michael West among Fairfax redundancies

Hard-hitting business journo Michael West is among those saying goodbye to Fairfax.

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Senior business reporter Michael West, whose work appeared in the Business Day sections of the Sydney Morning Herald and Age, is leaving Fairfax today.

West confirmed his compulsory redundancy but declined to comment further. In a tweet after this piece was published online, West wrote: “Told my skill-set not aligned with Fairfax strategy going forward.”

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West is one of the country’s most hard-hitting investigative business journalists. His detailed coverage of the tax and accounting practices of big business has been crucial to providing politicians with the information and ammunition necessary to go after tax-dodging businesses in recent months. The type of journalism he does is complex and often bitterly contested. His stories often need the careful eye of a lawyer — the type of journalism that needs a big media business to afford it.

In Australia, this type of costly investigative business journalism mostly falls to Fairfax. Fairfax’s executives say they’re proud of it. In a recent opinion piece CEO Greg Hywood spruiked the company’s focus on investigations. “At no time in Fairfax Media’s long history has the company devoted more resources and support to this area. That won’t be changing,” he wrote.

While all of Fairfax’s journalists investigate things to differing levels, West’s redundancy will have multinationals breaking out the bubbly, with one fewer check on corporate malfeasance. And it is good news for News Corp; West, a one-time News Corp employee, has been a major thorn in the company’s side for years, covering its financial dealings and tax-minimisation strategies. His work has been heavily disputed by News Corp, which has often put great pressure on Fairfax over it. In recent disputes, Fairfax has stood firm.

In its most recent redundancy round, the company has cut a swathe through the ranks of its business journalists. The Financial Review, which has been insulated from previous rounds, is bleeding staff. Most of the cuts, many of which are voluntary redundancies, are from Sydney, and represent a thinning of the ranks of the dedicated business rounds reporters who power the Fin’s Companies and Markets section.

Veteran economics editor Alan Mitchell is out, as are international editor Tony Walker and Asia Pacific editor Greg Earl. Property guru Robert Harley is gone (a blow to the paper’s most extensive and lucrative section). Media editor Dominic White is departing, as is Jared Lynch, who used to write on media and marketing but now covers several industries. As is aviation reporter Jamie Freed, financial services reporter Shaun Drummond, accounting editor Agnes King, personal finance reporter Kate Cowling, and workplace reporter Rachel Nickless. Financial services reporter Ruth Liew, agriculture, construction and manufacturing reporter Tim Binsted, court and legal affairs reporter Marianna Papdakis, and gaming and resources reporter Perry Williams are all leaving. Deputy opinion editor Mark Lawson, who also covers climate and energy, is leaving. Ky Chow, hired from Sky News four years ago to head the Fin’s multimedia team, is leaving. The paper is down a cartoonist in Rod Clement. As we’ve previously reported, workplace columnist Fiona Smith is also leaving. Business Day, which has been sharing stories with the Fin, has also been hit. Digital editor Chris Jenkins has taken a package. Stephen Cauchi, a twenty-year veteran who has most recently been covering markets, is out. And senior Business Day columnist Malcolm Maiden has also put his hand up.

At the Sydney Morning Herald, another investigative giant has taken a redundancy package. Gold Walkley winner Anne Davies, the papers’ investigations editor, departs after 22 years on June 10.  At The Age, Lawrence Money, responsible for the obituaries, says he’s “taking the dough”. Senior writers Suzanne Carbone and Jill Stark, both at the same paper, are leaving, as are opinion editors Paul Austin and Sushi Das, environment editor Tom Arup, and reporter Alana Schetzer. The Sydney Morning Herald‘s national affairs editor Tom Allard is leaving — he’s a former Indonesia correspondent too, which gave him an uncommon insight into our most populous neighbour. Supreme Court reporter Mark Russell has also taken a redundancy after 13 years at Fairfax. Senior arts writer Philippa Hawker has also left, despite her readers starting a public petition to save her job.

Clement is not the only cartoonist to go — the arts departments of the metros have been hard hit. Age journalist and illustrator John Spooner is out, as is Sydney Morning Herald illustrator Rocco Fazzari. 

The Queensland and West Australian outposts have also had departures. WAToday’s Aleisha Orr is leaving, and at the Brisbane Times, reporter Kim Stephens is out.

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