Fairfax job cuts

Fairfax metropolitan newsrooms will be slashed by a quarter in job cuts announced to staff on Wednesday morning. In response, staff in the metropolitan newsrooms and the press gallery have walked off the job as part of a wildcat strike that they say will last a week. 

In an email from editorial director Sean Aylmer to staff today, he said 125 editorial full-time equivalent positions would be cut in a voluntary redundancy program, including 10 staff who had already gone since a restructure was announced a month ago.

Redundancies will be open to all editorial staff in the news, business and life media sections covered by the enterprise agreement, starting tomorrow. Aylmer said:

“While we will be looking across all parts of the newsroom, at the end of the redundancy program we expect there will be significantly fewer editorial management, video, presentation and section writer roles.”

Aylmer also announced a management restructure, which would include the new roles of news director, a national creative director, a national head of video and a new head of travel and food. AM and PM editors will be replaced by news editors and the digital editor role will be “refocused”.

He said in the announcement there would be a reduction in state-based topics produced by the newsrooms, contributors’ payments would be capped, and the use of casuals would be “significantly reduced” to save about $3 million a year. Fairfax has subsequently said that “state-based topics” should have been “state-based editors” on the chopping block.

Contributors’ contracts will be audited, and they will be paid per article, rather than per word. Third-party deals, such as syndicated content, will also be reviewed.

Aylmer said in the announcement that the steps outlined were the result of consultation with staff over the past month on “creating a sustainable newsroom for the future”.

“The working groups, one-on-one discussions with the editors and online submissions have provided original, creative ways to save money and more efficiently structure our newsrooms,” he said.

Staff will be briefed in each city today and tomorrow, and the union will hold meetings today.

Expressions of interest in the new roles open tomorrow for staff.

The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the Australian Financial Review, Brisbane Times and WA Today will all face the cuts.

Fairfax announced last month it needed to cut $30 million in costs to stay in business, sending staff a five-page memo that declared the organisation needed to focus on stories that would be widely consumed. The $30 million figure was to include staff and non-staff costs.

Staff last month threatened industrial action if they were not consulted over the proposal, and were angered by part of the manifesto that pushed what they felt was a new ideological direction for the company. The memo pushed for a “pro-investor, pro-consumer view of business”:

“We believe in the merits of market-based solutions to economic challenges and an Australia that rewards aspiration and hard work. We want to be at the political centre of the rigorous debate over how best to achieve these important objectives.”

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), the journalists’ union, criticised the announcement, made on World Press Freedom Day.

MEAA CEO Paul Murphy said the cuts would only weaken Fairfax even further:

“None of the other parts of the Fairfax business are worth anything without the journalism and yet it is the journalism that Fairfax always cuts. This will only undermine and damage its mastheads further, alienating its audience and leaving the editorial staff remain have to work harder and harder to fill the gaps. This is a dumb decision.”

Fairfax had no comment further to the internal memo.

Peter Fray

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