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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

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