Fairfax implements new style writing courses and looks at hot-desking

Fairfax editorial editor Garry Linnell.

Staff at Fairfax Media’s broadsheet newspapers are to be given “refresher” writing courses ahead of a transition to a new newspaper format.

Mumbrella has learned that as part of the transition all reporters are being giving training in how to write with a “shorter, even more energetic style of writing”.

While some staff have expressed concern about the classes, which are being conducted by respected senior sub-editor at The Age Bruce Johnson, Fairfax editorial director Garry Linnell has defended the move.

“It’s not a training course in writing for a down-market tablet, as your informant suggests,” Linnell told Mumbrella.

According to emails sent to staff by both The SMH and The Age’s editors, Sean Aylmer and Andrew Holden: “The goal is a shorter, even more energetic style of writing, and cleaner copy. The session covers lively intros and getting the best out of direct quotes.”

Linnell said the courses are focused on retraining journalists to write across multiple platforms of mobile, web, tablet and print editions.

However, editorial staff at Fairfax have told Mumbrella the classes appear to be a push towards a more populist form of writing with reporters also being told to target “middle Australia” as the company prepares to move its weekday editions away from the broadsheet format.

“It is well known that (Garry) Linnell has spread the word that the SMH must now appeal to ‘middle Australia’,” said one Sydney Morning Herald reporter.

“All our editors bang on about it. Is that the same as mid-market? I don’t know.”

Earlier this week Linnell lashed out at former editor-in-chief of The Age Andrew Jaspan over his claims that the Fairfax broadsheets were moving “mid-market”.

“The Age tried mid-market under Andrew Jaspan and it failed,” Linnell told Mumbrella on Tuesday.

Linnell has since told Mumbrella that the focus on “middle Australia” is not new.

“The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have always delivered independent, quality journalism for affluent, well-educated middle Australia. Nothing changes,” said Linnell yesterday.

Mumbrella also understands that Fairfax editorial managers are weighing up a push towards hot-desking for some staff where they would share desks and workspace. Although relatively uncommon in Australian journalism, the move has increasingly been adopted by large media organisations elsewhere including at the BBC’s new headquarters in London.

In an email, obtained by Mumbrella, editor of The Age Andrew Holden told staff: “There is NO desk hitlist. If your job is desk-based with files and particular people near you, then that’s what you need. You don’t have to plead or protest to keep that.

“But we also know it is possible to share areas – the photographers and subs demonstrate that every day.”

Holden went on to write: “There is no hidden agenda here, no desire to destroy the value of a collaborative newsroom, but I can’t blame the company for wanting to find ways of reducing costs so that it can keep paying for journalism.”

Mumbrella understands Fairfax is considering leasing space to neighbour Google in Sydney and NBN in Melbourne. The company would not comment on any moves to sublease space.

Nic Christensen


  1. Jack B. Nimble
    1 Feb 13
    1:12 pm

  2. The Financial Review is hotdesking, if it hasn’t already started then it’s starting soon, as AFR journos have already been briefed on this.

    As to the style courses, well why not? You’re going to a smaller format, hence less page-space for articles, and that impacts everything from news items to features to double-page spreads. The Courier-Mail journos all noticed this when they moved form broadsheet to tabloid years back, it makes sense for Fairfax to ensure SMH and Age journos are prepared for this and write accordingly. Besides which, it never hurts to have a refresher course, especially for some that’ve been there for too long and are too used to churning out self-indulgent prosaic screeds rather than sharp, tightly-penned and constructed pieces.

  3. Liz Van Dort
    1 Feb 13
    2:51 pm

  4. It’s worth noting that the shorter, punchier style also works best in online/figital formats.

  5. Robbo
    1 Feb 13
    3:17 pm

  6. Their skills are fine, it’s their angles they gotta work on
    Less editorialising in the leads would be a good start – and drop the personal bias.
    Report in as ‘punchy’ a style as possible, but leave your agendas at home.

  7. With da times
    1 Feb 13
    3:50 pm

  8. Why not indeed. Training is always beneficial and writing fr digital is definitely different than writing for print.

    Hot-desking eh? Struth, next thing you know they will allow their journo’s to work from home… 😉

  9. Caroline Overington
    1 Feb 13
    5:09 pm

  10. “The goal is a shorter, even more energetic style of writing …”


    “The goal is a shorter, more energetic style of writing …”

    You don’t need the “even.”

    Then again, they should have gone with “the goal is snappier writing”

    Just sayin’

  11. Lyn
    1 Feb 13
    5:16 pm

  12. I can see how writing courses may be useful when this sort of drivel is served up daily: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/kill.....2dobg.html

    “Inspector Nuttall said police had not yet received the results of those tests, but the accident appeared to be a terrible accident.”

  13. NS
    1 Feb 13
    5:25 pm

  14. Linnell needs a few lessons in basic PR though, he always gets caught repeating the negative

    “It’s not a training course in writing for a down-market tablet, as your informant suggests,

    i wince every time he plays into the hands of Mumbrella’s anti-trad media stories

  15. Jaffabella
    1 Feb 13
    5:26 pm

  16. ‘They’ will NEVER allow their journos, or any other employee, to work from home even though it is manifestly in the company’s interest to save on infrastructure, power bills etc. Australia’s paternalistic/bullying workplace culture cannot conceive of losing that much control. Heaven forbid an employee should stop to go and make a cup of tea without bundying off…

  17. Louise Kelly
    1 Feb 13
    5:29 pm

  18. The journalist used to write in a cold distant voice that spoke for the masthead of the press. Today we are seeing a more social “beating heart” style of writing where the journalist becomes storyteller and reveals themselves in their writing. It is all part of the move to personal branding as part of the social revolution. I like to see the older writers train to bring some life experiences to younger more socially minded audience.

    Good topic, I blogged about it myself earlier on this week:


  19. Ann
    1 Feb 13
    6:55 pm

  20. Hot desking has been in Australia for 15 years, no big deal

  21. Goodness me
    2 Feb 13
    9:52 am

  22. Newspapers have been running writing course forever. Sharing desks is also hardly novel. Whats the big deal?
    My fear is that fairfax management has destroyed the brand online and abandoned the business in print that at least had a chance of paying the bills. Abd what has happened to the Fin? It mimics the oz of all things!
    Hopefully the ad market will come back at some point but you would have to say that it will be too late for most of the Fairfax we know.

  23. Mike
    2 Feb 13
    12:33 pm

  24. New style writing courses at Fairfax?

    “People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.”

    – “Fairfax Operations Manual”, 2013 – oops! – “1984” by George Orwell.

  25. With da times
    2 Feb 13
    8:33 pm

  26. @Jaffabella

    Then they are not a flexible employer then, if that is the case. Surely Fairfax must allow employees to work from home? They are a media company, not a bank?

    9-5 could be a thing of the past as the lines continue to blur with technology and more and more systems moving into the cloud. Why on earth wouldn’t you allow your staff to work from home if it suited both parties? If the work gets done well, why not?

  27. NJK
    3 Feb 13
    9:23 am

  28. “EVEN more energetic” – SMH’s current style is a lot of things. Energetic isn’t one of them.

  29. Kate
    4 Feb 13
    1:35 pm

  30. Digital staff at Fairfax are already hotdesking. It’s being slowly rolled out across all floors.

  31. Aussie
    6 Feb 13
    10:54 pm

  32. Have Opel just launched over here in Australia? I know that Holden is GM over here and all that, however:

    I just watched an Opel advert on SMH, before a video???

    Is that a network bodge or is the Opel brand coming to Australia?