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Australia: Fairfax staff up in arms as publisher decides to outsource subbing

Staff have been told the redundancies will lead to cost savings of $15 million a year.Photo: ABC News Online / Michael Janda

Staff at two of Australia's biggest broadsheet newspapers are considering strike action after their management announced another round of cost cuts, ABC has reported. Fairfax Media has announced that in-house sub-editors at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age will no longer proof-read, fact-check and rewrite stories before they go to print.

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The company's chief executive, Greg Hywood, announced the roles of news, business and sport sub-editors would be shifted to an external provider. Staff have been told the redundancies will lead to cost savings of $15 million a year, which will be used to hire a number of high-quality reporters and writers. Employees that ABC Radio's PM spoke to say they see the announcement as little more than another round of cost cutting. Stop-work meetings have been held on Tuesday, with more are planned for today, and some journalists are considering strike action.

Staff at a stop-work meeting at the Sydney Morning Herald have now passed a motion calling on the company to reject compulsory redundancies. It seems staff in Fairfax newsrooms - already crippled by hundreds of job cuts in recent years - are not prepared to lose another bastion of the newsroom without a fight.

The federal secretary of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Chris Warren, says losing the sub-editing desk can only lead to a decline in quality. "Both in the small things - that is in typos, errors, not the same knowledge about the story or about the history of the story within the paper - but also in some of the bigger things in terms of the presentation or the style of the paper," he said.

Fairfax is looking to spend $25 million to make about 300 jobs redundant from its production and printing divisions. Ninety of those positions will be sub-editors, whose work will be outsourced to Pagemasters, a subsidiary of Australian Associated Press, which operates independently to Fairfax.

Pagemasters managing editor Peter Atkinson maintains standards will not be affected under the new arrangement. "The models work very well both in Australia and abroad," he said. "We've had very good feedback about the quality of work we do and there haven't been any barriers posed by those issues of not being necessarily face-to-face full-time."

The announcement was timed to coincide with a trading update in which Fairfax's revenue problems were laid bare. The company says revenues in the second half to date are 4.5 per cent lower than a year ago.

The editor of The Age between 2004 and 2008, Andrew Jaspan, says Pagemasters does not do a bad job and has some sympathy for Fairfax management's tough position. "Something has to give and the critical bit in every newspaper is content creation, idea creation, which means reporters and editors," he said. "Frankly, we need to protect those and find a more efficient way of producing the papers, which is where Pagemasters comes in."

Mr Jaspan has faith that Mr Hywood - as a former journalist and editor - will do what is best for journalism. He blames the newspaper's predicaments on Mr Hywood's predecessors.

"Chief executives frankly didn't really understand newspapers or journalism, or how to edit them, and they made a whole bunch of terrible decisions," he said. "The last five years has been a real wasted opportunity, particularly for Fairfax who failed to integrate their online and print offerings into what could have been a much stronger offering now. [Fairfax] wouldn't have left them in this sort of position they're in now, which is forcing them to make these kind of chicane cuts."

Date posted: May 5, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 136