Daily Tele opinion editor Hildebrand: We can’t even afford to pay our own columnists

joe hildebrandCost savings have left Sydney’s biggest newspaper the Daily Telegraph with a budget to pay for just one opinion article per fortnight, the title’s opinion editor Joe Hildebrand has revealed.

During a video hangout with Mumbrella to coincide with tonight’s launch of his new ABC2 TV series Shitsville, Hildebrand laid out just how tight budgets have become at News Corp.

Hildebrand currently edits the Saturday news features section of the Telegraph, the newspaper’s daily opinion pages, is the acting letters editor and writes a weekly column.

During the hangout, he was quizzed about one of Mumbrella’s most commented upon articles of last year, featuring an email row between Hildebrand and journalist Matt Smith. The pair fell out after Hildebrand took offence over what he saw as Smith’s poor response to offering him exposure by running an article.

In yesterday’s live video hangout, Hildebrand told Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes: “The piece wasn’t good enough to merit paying for it, but I’ve always made a point of giving young journos a run if I had space in the paper. There were countless other things I could have run that day.”

After expressing disappointment at not being paid, Smith had urged for his Twitter handle to be included in the article. Hildebrand said: “He got a bit snarky.  And I thought ‘You little fucking self important brat, go fuck yourself’. He’s certainly not my boss, so if he tries to tell me what to do he can quite frankly blow me and the horse he rode in on.”

Hildebrand went on: “The debate is completely academic. If I told you the budget I have which I’ve perpetually blown by 200 or 300  per cent…

“I can’t even afford to commission a full article a week for the entire op-ed pages or the features section.

“We used to have Bill Woods who was a very good and very popular columnist who was a huge hit with readers and we could only afford to have him fortnightly. And we had Kellie Connolly the other week, she’s also very popular, very good. We had to slash what we paid them because we couldn’t afford him. I was only able to persuade the bean counters above me to keep them under that.”

Hildebrand said the coup of former politician Peter Costello moving from Fairfax Media to News Limited added to the pressure. He said: “Obviously we’re paying him. He left the (Sydney Morning) Herald. We’re managing to share the cost with (News Corp’s Melbourne paper) the Herald Sun – it’s the only way we can afford that.

“And as a result of that we’ve had to cut Bill Woods and use him as a pinch hitter. So we couldn’t even afford to keep our own columnists.”

Hildebrand was asked for his advice to journalists looking to break into the mainstream media.

He said: “Be smart. Know what you’re talking about. Learn how to write a good story. Learn how to write a news story. Learn how to put the important stuff up the top and the less important stuff down the bottom. Don’t sit around your lecture theatre having debates about journalistic ethics over wine and cheese, get out there in the field and do what you have to do to get the story. Roll your sleeves up. You will have to  work for free, possibly for a long time. You will be horrendously exploited, you will be yelled at. Don’t expect anybody to say how great your piece is every time you file it because chances are it won’t be, and even if it is they probably won’t say it.”

He warned: “If you really want it there are a tiny amout of journalism jobs going and they are ever dwindling.

“If you want to be paid for it and want to be part of an organisation which is already getting smashed by the internet and smashed by competitors who can effectively afford to work for nothing… if you want to work for a place where we actually do serious stuff… you’re going to have to be better than the current lot were before you.

“You’re going to have to keep getting better and better because the jobs are going to get fewer and fewer.”

Hildebrand’s Shitsville airs on ABC2 tonight. He is also due to become a regular panelist on Ten’s new morning show.


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