Fairfax journalist Paddy Manning fired over opinion piece

Senior Fairfax business writer Paddy Manning has been dismissed in the wake of penning a 600 word critique for rival outlet Crikey on the company restructure which brings the Australian Financial Review and the BusinessDay sections of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age closer together.

Manning's tweet to the original piece.

Manning’s tweet to the original piece.

In the piece the experienced reporter, who has previously worked at both The Australian Financial Review and The Australian, described an article in the AFR which was sponsored by the Commonwealth Bank as “a perfect example of why the business sections of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age should not be merged with the Financial Review Group.”

Manning then went on to denounce The Australian Financial Review’s journalism which he argued was “built on a fundamental contract between company and reporter: high-level access in exchange for soft coverage.” He was fired last night.

Last week Fairfax announced a major restructure which sees the business sections of Fairfax metro newspapers The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age move under the purview of Brett Clegg, the current CEO of the Financial Review Group.

The move has led to concerns among some journalists that there would be a move towards copysharing between the two publications and that BusinessDay, which is seen as having a more critical view of business than the AFR, might lose some of its independence. Last week Mumbrella reported that at this stage there will be no copy sharing between the two business news desks.

In the Crikey piece Manning wrote about the growth of advertorial content:

“Such creeping advertorial — touted as commercially necessary but also fundamentally ideological in its inevitable pro-business slant — has been noticeable in BusinessDay for at least a year…

“The result has been to cramp space for news, features and the opinions and analysis of BusinessDay’s own reporters and columnists, who are guided by a code of ethics and have no vested interests to push.

“The BusinessDay masthead was pinched from The New York Times but has gradually united the business teams of the Herald and Age, has gelled online and is now head and shoulders above any Australian rival in terms of readership, attracting more than two million unique readers a month…

“BusinessDay writes for the consumer, not for industry. We are not the trade press. With exceptions like Neil Chenoweth that nevertheless prove the rule,The AFR’s business journalism is built on a fundamental contract between company and reporter: high-level access in exchange for soft coverage.”

Fairfax has declined to comment on the both Crikey opinion piece and the dismissal of Manning.

Mumbrella understands the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance is representing Manning and that there a stop work meeting this afternoon at The Sydney Morning Herald where the matter will be discussed.

The stop work meeting was pre-arranged and was not called specifically because of the sacking.

1pm update: Crikey reports that Manning was told to clear his desk immediately. It quotes an anonymous journalist as saying: “He had tears in his eyes, he was shaking. He was devastated, absolutely devastated.”

5.30pm update:  The MEAA has issued a statement following what has been described as an “emotional” stopwork meeting at The Sydney Morning Herald. The meeting saw three resolutions passed which included: support for fired Fairfax journalist Paddy Manning, a request for Greg Hywood to address staff about the editorial impact of the restructure and staff concerns about “creeping advertorial” and a demand that the full organisation chart for the restructure be provided by the end of the week.

The full text of the union statement can be read below.

Nic Christensen

Statement by MEAA following stopwork meeting at The Sydney Morning Herald this afternoon:

This meeting expresses support and respect for our colleague Paddy Manning and hopes for a satisfactory outcome from negotiations with the company. (CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY)

This meeting requests Greg Hywood to address us about the company’s editorial restructure and the possible impact on the Charter of Editorial Independence in light of suggestions of creeping advertorial. (CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY)

This meeting condemns the company for its failure to consult prior to announcing the latest restructure.

We reiterate the concerns already put to the company about the future employment of business journalists.

We also seek undertakings from the company that editorial judgement will not be overridden by commercial demands.

And we seek clarity about the impact of changes on Domain, Life Media topics and BusinessDay.

We note that a full organisation chart for the restructure is yet to be provided. We demand that it be provided to the union by the end of this week along with the schedule on consultation for the implementation of the restructure. (CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY)


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