News Corp reader revenues

Photography and production desks will be razed in cost-cutting efforts at News Corp’s tabloids across the country, the company announced yesterday.

The photography department at The Advertiser in Adelaide is expected to be cut in half, while 45 staff are expected to go at The Courier-Mail, and dozens from the Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph newsrooms. Some redundant photographers will be retained for casual shifts, and the papers will rely heavily on agency and freelance talent.

In briefings to newsrooms across the country yesterday afternoon by editors, staff were given no detail on numbers, or what the announced production restructure would look like. It’s expected reporters will be largely safe from cuts, but they will be under pressure to produce their own photos and video, and they will have to track the popularity of their stories online. Journalists were told yesterday they could approach the human resources department if they were interested in taking a redundancy. The Australian will not be targeted in this round.

The Gold Coast Bulletin had 10 jobs cut last week, and across the company late last year 42 journalists, artists and photographers lost their jobs in a round of cuts.

Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance media section director Katelin McInerney said in a statement the cuts would be self-defeating, damaging the quality of the newspapers:

“These are mastheads that pride themselves on being newspapers of the people and a voice for the communities they serve — these cuts serve no one. News Corp readers and the communities that these journalists deserve better. Once again it is front line editorial staff in already stretched newsrooms — the very people audiences rely on to tell their stories — who are bearing the brunt of these short-sighted cuts for short-term shareholder gains.”

Fairfax cut its photographers in a similar move in 2014, which led to strikes by editorial staff. And just last week, Fairfax announced cuts to its metropolitan newsrooms to save $30 million a year.

Through successive downsizing at Fairfax and rival organisations, News Corp executives and journalists have sneered and jeered about the losers going backwards while their titles were strong because News’ owners understood journalism. On Monday of this week, for example, Mark Day stuck the knife into Fairfax in his weekly column in The Australian:

“I have a great deal of sympathy for the journalists facing another round of retrenchments at Fairfax Media. Clearly, they face an uncomfortable time as their management decides who goes and who stays … Their chances of finding another job are slim. Journalism is hardly a growth area these days.”

There will be many across the News Corp Australia papers who will feel that Day’s musings now apply to them, as the Murdoch clan’s biggest group of assets feel the same blowtorch that has undermined journalism in this and other mainly English-speaking countries. News Corp has hung on for longer than it should — but its size and domination of the Australian print market has given it no protection against the slide in print revenues and the rise of Google, Facebook and other online social media businesses.

Day’s column is eerily prescient. In fact, News Corp seemed almost ashamed of its cuts this morning because The Australian, the most strident attacker of the media in this country, buried a weak effort from media editor Darren Davidson on the inside top of page 22 of the paper, deep in the business section.

News Corp Australia said in a statement the structural changes were necessary, but would not diminish the quality of their publications.

“Our core franchise is journalism and we will always protect and preserve that. These changes do not diminish our commitment to quality nor our faith in the long-term future of all our publishing platforms. At a time when trusted, credible news content is paramount, we must ensure our contemporary newsrooms are shaped to deliver the news, analysis, features and services that match modern reader needs, whether in print, digital, on mobile, or in video or audio,” editorial director Campbell Reid said.

In 2013, News Corp wrote down the value of its US and Australian newspaper businesses by between US$1.2 billion and US$1.4 billion. The impairments were ahead of the split in the Murdoch empire into two companies — 21st Century Fox and News Corp. News said its portfolio of newspapers in Australia were responsible for a major part of the write-down. That’s as former CEO Kim Williams was driving a wholesale restructuring program. 

Under Williams, who introduced a one city, one newsroom model in 2012-13, News Corp Australia dramatically cut job numbers. The metro tabloids lost dozens of staff. The Australian lost 53 positions, but it gained more than 40 in the $28 million acquisition of Business Spectator, which has now been folded back into the paper’s general business section. 

As Crikey pointed out in February the writing-down of the value of the long life assets of News Corp Australia by US$310 million (around A$410 million) gave us the tip that cost cuts were going to have to be deeper than the A$40 million outlined late last year by the parent company’s then-chief financial offer, Bedi Singh. That was a successive second round of cost cuts at News Corp Australia of around A$40 million. News releases its third quarter results in early May, and there will be a lot of interest in what management tells the usual analysts briefing about future cost cuts.

Meanwhile, News Corp found $36.6 million late last year to buy the regional dailies and weeklies owned by APN News and Media, which was 14.9% owned by News. News’ Australian boss, Michael Miller, is a former CEO of APN, a case of all in the family.

Fairfax Media’s most recent cuts (one of at least half a dozen rounds of cuts in the past six or so years) were a move management said was to delay the impact of the remorseless slide in revenue from dipping under the cost line for the metro publishing business covering The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review, plus associated businesses. News Corp Australia’s costs represent the company and its New York-based managers and board finally waking up to what has been happening in the print media — and that being a News Corp paper, with the so-called Murdoch touch, didn’t protect them from the reality that has shaken Fairfax, Seven West Media, the ABC and other local media in the past couple of years.

Peter Fray

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