Among the journalists with a combined 150 years’ experience made redundant by News Corp in Victoria last month were four reporters at the troubled Weekly Times. The agricultural paper, produced out of News Corp’s Herald and Weekly Times building in Melbourne, has been rocked in the past year by the departures of experienced and award-winning staff amid bullying allegations against former editor Natalee Ward.
Ward took a redundancy in July after less than a year in the job, following an externally-investigated bullying claim, and other complaints about her management style made to human resources. During Ward’s tenure, those to leave included the grains editor, politics reporter, livestock editor, business reporter and editor, and machine and features editor.
Then, two weeks ago, the already-reduced staff of The Weekly Times was slashed again, with the dairy writer, property editor, a regional reporter (not based in Melbourne) and another senior reporter made redundant.
The Weekly Times is one of the country’s widest-read agricultural newspapers, and the cuts come as the country grapples with a drought affecting its target audience.
The journalists’ union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, says about 150 years’ experience has left News Corp in this round of redundancies. Its Victoria and Tasmania director, Adam Portelli, told Crikey the cuts at The Weekly Times were especially concerning given its recent turmoil.
“There’s been well documented morale issues at The Weekly Times in the past so it’s disappointing for us that News is cost cutting rather than investing in journalism, especially at The Weekly Times,” Portelli said. “These regional specialist news roles are essential to regional and urban readers. It’s concerning to us that News Corp, among others, has cut back on those specialist roles … The cuts at The Weekly Times represent a disregard for regional Victoria.”
Portelli also said the process itself had been handled poorly by News Corp. “They haven’t been particularly transparent and they appear to have been conducted in a fairly brutal fashion,” he said. “We had one member contact us in tears after having been directed to attend a meeting, and half an hour after that meeting be told her job would cease to exist … the actual process has left a lot to be desired. It’s more a case of common courtesy and respect.”
He said that when people are made redundant in such a way, their experience is often lost to the whole profession.
“When you have people who have been employed by the company for a dozen or two dozen years and they’re then told their job is redundant like that, they walk out of the place jaded and cynical and in a lot of cases we find never to return to the profession again,” he said. “There are ex-News Corp journos in other places or working as freelancers, but there’s a percentage who will no longer work in the industry. Part of that is because of the way in which they exit places like News Corp.”
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
News Corp has confirmed between 10 and 15 redundancies across The Weekly Times, Geelong Advertiser and Herald Sun, but would not confirm whether there would be any cost cutting at The Australian or Leader community newspapers.
In a statement, a News Corp spokeswomen told Crikey:
“As a result of a review of our editorial operations in Victoria, a number of positions across our publications have been made redundant. We appreciate this can be a difficult time for those involved. We are committed to continuing to provide our readers with the most trusted, unique and expert content these mastheads represent.”
NOTE: This story has been updated to include a comment from News Corp received after deadline.