With the huge shake-up announced at the Fairfax mastheads — Darren Goodsir leaving his role as editor-in-chief of The Sydney Morning Herald, James Chessell becoming national editor with responsibility for federal politics, business and world coverage for both The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Lisa Davies becoming editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and Alex Lavelle becoming editor of The Age — the fate of the company’s non-newspaper outlets has been somewhat lost.

In an email to Fairfax staff this morning, CEO Greg Hywood described the recent tumult as “a business success story”. He described Chris Janz’s promotion to managing director of Australian metro publishing as a step that would “secure our journalism, not for a year or two, but for the foreseeable future”. 

But notably absent from Hywood’s email was any mention of the online-only outlets WAToday and The Brisbane Times, for which Goodsir, whose editor-in-chief role is being entirely abolished, had responsibility. Fairfax confirmed this morning that those publications will report to editorial director Sean Aylmer, as would Davies, Chessell and Lavelle.

As ever, it raises questions about Fairfax’s priorities for its publications. While the restructure abolishes the EIC position for both The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, while The Australian Financial Review, the smallest of the three print publications, retains Michael Stutchbury in that role. Further, Chessell, a former Fin writer, is seen a big winner from the changes. He will be in charge of all of Fairfax’s national coverage, including the key areas of federal politics, business and world coverage, but he is not taking over responsibility for WAToday and The Brisbane Times

[Fairfax definitely (probably) (maybe) (who knows) not killing print]

Hywood’s email also confirmed that “the model we have developed involves continuing to print our publications daily for some years yet”. As Crikey reported in January, Fairfax has long been wanting to cease printing the weekday editions of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age altogether, while maintain the AFR as its only daily paper. However, as Crikey‘s Glenn Dyer wrote:

“… any reduction in the printing schedules of the SMH and Age could have dire implications for the Fin. Its paper circulation is effectively subsidised by the production and distribution of the two metro papers. Without that underwriting, the AFR’s profitability is far reduced. With Fairfax said to want to keep weekend editions of The Age and the SMH, it would be cheaper for the company to close the Monday-to-Friday editions of the AFR and continue with the loss-making weekend edition, which would still have most of its production and distribution costs covered. Internal estimates suggest the distribution costs account for 30% to 40% of the AFR’s daily production costs on a standalone basis. Without the internal subsidy, the AFR could have to be closed, or sold.” 

Goodsir was a popular figure, and following his 20 years at various Fairfax papers, his decision to leave the EIC position after three-and-a-half years surprised some Fairfax journalists. This continues the high turnover of editorial staff that has occurred over the past few years at Fairfax. Judith Whelan, who acted as Goodsir’s second in command for much of his tenure, went to Radio National last year. At The Age, the scandal-plagued exit of Mark Forbes shortly followed Andrew Holden’s departure for Cricket Australia.

While Hywood’s message to staff seems to indicate the abolishing of the EIC role will not affect the Fairfax print editions for the foreseeable future, there are, as ever, questions as to what the reduction in editorial oversight does to the quality of journalism.

“I wish Darren Goodsir well, I wish Fairfax well with their new structure, but the question is, and always will be — how will this affect the content?” Former Sydney Morning Herald editor Peter Fray told Crikey. “I, and I think everyone in the media, wants to see a diversity of voices, publications where journos can get jobs. But I would implore publishers to never forget that we need strong journalism now more than ever.”

Peter Fray

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