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May 3, 2017

Editorial bloodbath: Fairfax cuts run deep, staff walk off the job

Fairfax is cutting more than a quarter of its remaining journalists, and it is cutting its state-based editors.

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.

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16 comments

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16 thoughts on “Editorial bloodbath: Fairfax cuts run deep, staff walk off the job

  1. paddy

    Watching the slow motion trainwreck called Fairfax is really very sad.
    I guess only the highly paid execs, contemplating their bonuses for slashing $30 M off the budget, can ignore that rapidly approaching cliff.
    Dark days ahead.

  2. graybul

    Indeed sad! . . . . and beginning of across the board reinvention of traditional commerce, industrial hubs adopting, adapting or; shutting up shop.

    And ex employees . . . faced with a government focussed upon demonising welfare recipients whilst chanting JOBS, JOBS, JOBS . . . . and hoping, hoping; that voiceless, jobless families without bread on tables, will quietly, quietly, embrace their lot.

  3. paddy

    Looks like the journos aren’t going quietly.
    Just called a 7 day strike.

  4. Stephen Mills

    Thank God the Travel and Food round is safe.

  5. Gwen Clark

    I stopped subscribing when they kindly suggested that Baby Boomers should move out of their houses to *somewhere* so that younger generations should have access to their backyards. Ignoring totally that older houses with a proper backyard are usually demolished to make way for dual dwellings. They attack Baby Boomers and older readers again and again, publish(ed) right wing troglodytes like Paul Sheehan and wonder why they lose readership. Compared to Crikey, The Guardian and the New York Times ( all to which I subscribe) the general quality of their journalism is already very poor indeed. I’m not in the least surprised that they are in trouble.

    1. Northy

      If Fairfax was no longer around, who would expose corruption in NSW state and local politics? Who would fight for our vital institutions such as ICAC? Who would shed light on the worst of corporate behaviour? Who would fight for social justice and a fair society? Who would expose tax dodging on a massive scale, and bring attention to issues such as family trusts? Crikey is well meaning, but it simply doesn’t have the reach and resources of Fairfax. No other outlet in Australian media with as much sway as Fairfax focuses on these issues.

      1. AR

        Northy – give it a rest, every time the plain truth about FauxFux is written you leap in with the same stuff.
        If the SMH was still capable of doing any of those things you mention it once did there would be no crisis.
        Your Uncle Hywood has been shedding journos. for a decade. It’s over, tell him when you get your next cheque that the game is up.

  6. bushby jane

    The assumption is that their revenue is the problem, so why don’t they try to sell more newspapers, they sure are hard to find whereas News papers are everywhere.

  7. Duncan Gilbey

    Restructuring (or “Rightsizing”) and cost slashing has been going on in the rest of the workforce for the last 30 years, with Fairfax journos cheering from the sidelines.
    To paraphrase the Niemöller poem:

    “First they came for the State Owned Enterprises and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not part of a State Owned Enterprise.
    Then they came for the Car Industry, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not in the Car Industry.
    Then they came for the Welfare Recipients, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Welfare Recipient.
    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

    What goes around…

    1. AR

      Which applies triple for the inevitable purge of the remaining churnalists at NewsCorpse – not a tear should be shed for them considering how they’ve enabled this neolib nuttiness.

  8. AR

    What function does Fuaxfux serve? It began slashing journos. years ago then pretended to wonder why people stopped buying it when they wanted news.
    It feels like a free suburban throwaway so why pay money for crap squeezed between ads and lifestyle food & travel advertorials?
    Then the prime example ““state-based topics” should have been “state-based editors” on the chopping block. yes, exactly, newspapers need journos & half awake sub editors to be worth buying.

  9. John Hall

    I am an Age & Crikey subscriber. The Age is getting very Aged in its content – these cutbacks looks like it may be becoming a Zombie publication. Sad for Melbourne.

  10. klewso

    “Leader”?
    Is it me or is “media news” more an issue for ‘media’ than it is for the great unwashed?

    1. Bob's Uncle

      I think the very real prospect of News Limited having a virtual monopoly over printed news in Australia – while the Murdochs take over what is left of Channel 10 – could end up effecting a lot more than just those who work in the media.

      1. klewso

        Granted and no doubt – welcome to “Queensland gnus” – but there are other things happening at the moment of more import and “headline act” worthy.

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