Fairfax Media gives notice on Pagemasters contract, up to 40 jobs in the air

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 2.03.38 PMFairfax Media is set to end the subediting of its newspapers by Pagemasters, in a move which has seen 40 journalists told their positions will be redundant from July 10.

Fairfax has been gradually outsourcing subediting of its newspapers – including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times – to AAP’s Pagemasters and increased the scope of these contracts during the publisher’s wide-ranging cutbacks of 2012 and 2013.

Many of those employed by Pagemasters are former Fairfax Media and News Limited staffers who lost their jobs during the cuts.

Fairfax has now given notice that it does not intend to renew the contract when it expires in just over two months’ time, although Pagemasters says it is hope to ease the blow with “new project work”.

The move comes as Fairfax continues to build its offshore subbing hub in New Zealand, where it has already outsourced production of a number of its local titles.

“We have received notice on the existing contract, which is due to expire in July. We continue to be in negotiations with Fairfax for a new contract beyond that but that is yet to be resolved,” Peter Atkinson, managing director at Pagemasters, told Mumbrella.

“We had some meetings with our staff last week to advise them that Fairfax had given notice on the current contract which will mean that some of our current staff will face redundancies. But we remain hopeful that we will be able to strike a new deal with Fairfax moving forward but that is still subject to discussions.”

“It is likely there will be some redundancies but we don’t yet know the scope that they will be.”

The AAP subhub has long been a controversial area with some media observers criticising Pagesmasters, which subs the daily news content of publications such as The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Canberra Times, for a decline in quality at the Fairfax mastheads.

The role of a copy sub editor is to check and edit editorial copy after it is written. Pagemasters also designs and lays out pages from several Fairfax titles. According to Pagemasters’ website: “We provide design and editing services for Fairfax Media, supplying complete page production for the news, business, sport and features sections of the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Canberra Times.”

Pagemasters carries out similar services for News Limited’s community and regional titles, along with APN’s New Zealand stable.

AAP is jointly owned by Australia’s major publishers.

Atkinson last week sent an email to affected staff at the organisation, warning that even if Pagemasters is able to secure a new deal it would not include a ‘rolling over’ of existing arrangements set out in its “Moonlight” contract, meaning that all positions covered in the contract will be redundant from July 10. The Moonlight contract covered news pages for Fairfax. A parallel contract covering feature subbing, ‘Sunshine”, was moved from Pagemasters to Fairfax NZ last year.

Atkinson’s email to staff:

Dear all,

Two meetings were held today in our Sydney and Melbourne offices to update staff on developments with our Moonlight sub-editing contract.

As most of you would be aware, this contract is due to expire in July at the completion of its initial three-year term.

Fairfax has given notice to Pagemasters that it does not intend to renew the contract, although the two companies remain in discussions over a potential new arrangement for production of the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times. However it is clear that any potential new agreement would not include a “rolling over” of existing arrangements.

Therefore, staff were today advised that all positions in the current Moonlight contract will be made redundant by July 10, 2014. We are working with Fairfax Media on a transition plan and, once finalised, details will be provided to staff.

In the week commencing May 5, 2014, Group Managing Editor Antony Phillips and Group HR Manager Amy Singh will hold individual meetings to discuss details of your severance package, notice and any job opportunities that may be available at that time. In the interim, any other job opportunities within the Pagemasters and AAP group will be circulated for your consideration.

We will continue our discussions with Fairfax and are hopeful that some new project work will result. However, Fairfax Media has made it clear that this would be on very different terms and conditions to our current contract.

If and when these details are agreed, we will of course offer opportunities for current staff to apply for these roles.

The Pagemasters boss told Mumbrella he was still hopeful of securing a deal with the publisher.

“We have some proposals being considered by Fairfax and we are hopeful we will know about those in the next few weeks,” he said.

Fairfax Media did not respond to invitations to comment.

Journalists’ union the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) said it was aware of the situation and was working with its members.

A spokesman for the MEAA said they did not believe Fairfax’s New Zealand operation had the capacity to take on the news sub editing contract.

“We have a question in our minds how much more work Fairfax can take on in its New Zealand operation,” said an MEAA spokesman.

“We don’t know whether they’ve got enough qualified staff employed at the moment to take this contract on.”

Nic Christensen 


  1. Matt B
    23 Apr 14
    8:04 am

  2. It would be lovely to think that Fairfax is reacting to the drop in quality in their papers since outsourcing most of their subbing to PM (I cannot remember a day since they switched that there hasn’t been some type of error, be it spelling or grammar, in the iPad edition of the SMH…), but sadly you have to think that this is just another gambit to drive the price of production down.

    It seems to me that Fairfax should be going back to having an internal subbing and layout team – you could hire a lot of subs by getting rid of a layer of upper middle management IMHO…

  3. Lindsay.
    23 Apr 14
    1:20 pm

  4. It is hard to spot any positives in the SMH since the sub-editing was moved. May be there has been an improvement in costs, but that is more then offset in reader dissatisfaction. Perhaps those running Fairfax are just not interested in the quality of the product which they are asking readers to spend money on.

  5. Waitandsee
    23 Apr 14
    1:35 pm

  6. Watch them hire back the subs they’ve paid out. Stupid.

  7. Chris
    23 Apr 14
    2:44 pm

  8. Does this mean fairfax is going to stop publishing a daily print paper and move it all online?

  9. Damo
    23 Apr 14
    3:13 pm

  10. @Waitandsee What are you basing that on?

    The MEAA’s response is laughable… but that seems to be the standard for Australian unions these days when their members face job losses.

    25 Apr 14
    9:36 am

  12. the CEO of Fairfax said, “Cost cutting is in the company’s DNA”

    To quote his own paper “FUKT”.

  13. John
    25 Apr 14
    1:03 pm

  14. An insider told me at least a year ago that Pagemasters’ SMH gig was in grave danger over its repeated failure to meet the performance benchmarks mandated in its contract. I believe these were reviewed every six months or so and that each time Pagemasters’ quality control was found to br seriously wanting. Very much a culture of “let’s go, let’s go, it’s OK, we can fix it in the second, send it NOW!”

  15. Kevin Kevin
    8 May 14
    8:01 am

  16. If there’s any problem with quality, don’t blame Pagemasters. The SAME Fairfax subs have been handling The Age at Pagemasters for the past three years as handled it previously at Fairfax – they just transferred across to Pagemasters when Fairfax sacked them. People who blame Pagemasters are ignorant. Fairfax’s sinking papers have been full of literals and factual errors for years _ much as some people would like not to admit it, The Age has been on a downhill run since the days of the great Graham Perkin and Les Carlyon. In relatively recent times, the Internet and Anthony Catalano have taken away Fairfax’s ads. But long before that started to happen, Fairfax’s pathetically weak management let stuck-up, disgruntled, dysfunctional, trendy, latte-sipping Leftists poison the papers’ editorial content destroy their credibility. In recrnt years The age has read more like a uni rag than a so-0called “quality” newspaper. Graham Perkin would turn in his grave.

  17. Bec
    8 May 14
    9:03 am

  18. You should all be so lucky.

    Here in Canberra Fairfax has a monopoly and they’re not firing any of them, despite the copy belonging in a rural rag. It’s circulation is certainly less than a rural rag. (Sub 25k or something.)

    I’m not sure how the Canberra Times keeps going, unless they’re patting themselves on the back for all the visits who are just trying to bypass The Age/SMH paywall. There’s probably a correlations between the front-to-back local government advertising and a lack of hard-hitting local politics yarns.