Fairfax cuts journalists’ jobs – global trend is down

The decision by Fairfax Media this week to cut another 100 jobs from its New Zealand news operations continues a downward trend in journalists jobs that’s worldwide.

One small bright spot though; Fairfax journalists in Australia are not lying down over this. They are organising union meetings and have a good website at Fair go, Fairfax.

Alan Kennedy, a long-time Fairfax employee who recently retired, is scathing of the company’s management and he’s right, of course:

[Fairfax journalists] are seeing an increasingly incompetent management team still paying themselves astonishing salaries, cutting and then cutting again as they pursue a model that is bringing diminishing returns. The one-trick ponies in management cannot see past making savings through retrenchment, non hiring and in their current manic campaign to slash the salaries and conditions of the most experienced staff.  [Alan Kennedy]

Newspapers like those owned by Fairfax are reacting to changing circumstances, but it is a short-term response. It is really a “cut nose,” “Take that face!” exercise. Profits are sliding so cost-cutting measures are put in place. This leads to a further decline in quality – despite what the company says – which can only mean further losses in sales and advertising and a bigger drop in profits.

Of course, Fairfax is not alone in going down this slippery slope. Last year New Zealand’s other large news media operation, APN, announced similar cuts to its newspaper staff and the outsourcing of most of its sub-editing operation to a company called Pagemasters. Ironically, Pagemasters major shareholders include APN and Fairfax Media.

Fairfax is hoping for $50 million in savings from its 5 per cent staffing cut. The news was reported in a very straightforward way in the Fairfax-owned Sydney Morning Herald, which concentrated on the share price bounce and finance market reactions.

The copy reads like a close cousin of a media release issued by Fairfax Media announcing a “business improvement plan”.

This is the third wave of business improvement initiatives we have undertaken over the past three years. Over the course of the 2006 and 2007 financial years we achieved $52 million in ongoing real cost reductions. Cost synergies associated with the merger of Fairfax Media and Rural Press and the acquisition of Southern Cross radio produced a further $53 million in savings ($45 million Rural Press, $8 million radio). All of these synergies will be realised by the end of this financial year.

With the new organisation structure in place and line management operating effectively, now is the time to launch a third wave of business improvement which will deliver benefits over the next two years.

Media companies fit for the modern media world need to be lean and agile. This far-reaching program will position us well for the next stage of our growth and development.” [Fairfax media release]

Journalists’ union leader, Andrew Little was less sanguine in his media comments:

“Fairfax’s proposed redundancies will be a huge blow to already strained newsrooms and to New Zealanders’ democratic right to be properly informed about their country’s major issues,” said Mr Little, national secretary of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union. [NZPA]

New Zealand and Australia now join the long list of countries in which newspaper companies are shedding staff. A recent post at Julie Starr’s Evolving Newsroom carries the bad news.

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