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Fairfax Media announces ‘proposal’ for 80 redundancies in regional Victoria

Fairfax1Fairfax Media has today confirmed a “proposal” for 80 redundancies of full-time equivalent positions across Victoria in a move that would see reporters file, edit and subedit their own work across the publisher’s regional Victoria newsrooms.

The redundancies includes 62 editorial roles, including management, sub-editing and photography with administration and some sales positions also affected.

“Journalists will report local news across multi-media, as well as be trained to write headlines, captions and fact-boxes. Quality-checking processes and procedures will be in place and our editors will remain responsible for managing risk and maintaining editorial standards,” said John Angilley, director of Fairfax’s community newspaper business, Australian Community Media.

Staff in Victorian papers, including The Border Mail, The Courier, Bendigo Advertiser and The Standard, were briefed on the changes today and consultation with employees is now underway, with the union representing the journalists today expressing grave concerns about the changes.

“We are very concerned about the loss of jobs here but we are also very concerned about impact of quality,” Paul Murphy, CEO of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) told Mumbrella.

“This is a system that was rolled out in south western NSW last year. There was an immediate impact on jobs… it has to also have an impact on quality and these publications are ones that are very close to the community. Accuracy and quality are important and the loss of production and photographic roles will have an impact.

The Border Mail reports ACM director Angilley said in a statement: “Local news and sales capability will remain well resourced. Our Victorian publications will remain the most trusted source of news and information in the communities we serve.

“Our Victorian publications will have journalists, photographers and sales teams working with new skills, capabilities and resources so they can continue to do what they do best — create quality journalism and connect advertisers to our audiences — well into the future.”

The proposed changes will see the newsrooms adopt new systems to create more efficient ways of working with a focus on digital-first editorial practices. The proposa comes after Fairfax’s local newspaper division was one of the worst performers in the most recent half yearly results, with total revenue down 7.4 per cent to $256.5m, while EBITA fell 28.1 per cent to $46.9m.

“Journalists will report local news across multi-media, as well be trained to write headlines, captions and fact-boxes. Quality-checking processes and procedures will be in place and our editors will remain responsible for managing risk and maintaining editorial standards,” Angilley said.

“Our full focus and attention in the weeks ahead is consulting with our staff in Victoria to ensure everyone fully understands the proposal and has the opportunity to share their feedback with us.

“No final decisions have been made. It remains business as usual in other parts of our business.”

Miranda Ward and Nic Christensen 

Statement from Fairfax Media: 

Fairfax Media’s regional publishing business Australian Community Media (ACM) is consulting with employees in Victoria about a proposal to introduce new editorial systems and new skills training for journalists and sales staff across the region’s newspapers and websites, including The Border Mail, The Courier, Bendigo Advertiser and The Standard.

Victorian staff were today briefed on the proposed changes, which are part of an 18-month transformation plan for ACM announced in August 2014, to build a modern, stronger rural and regional network of newspapers and websites.

Director of ACM, John Angilley, said: “Our Victorian publications will remain the most trusted source of news and information in the communities we serve. The changes we are seeking to make are all about setting our newspapers and websites up for the future.

“All 13 mastheads in Victoria will be redesigned and revitalised. There are no masthead closures. The Victorian proposal is the result of extensive consideration of the needs of the business.

“Our plan is to upgrade our newsrooms by adopting more efficient ways of working, new systems, digital-first editorial production practices, and a vastly better local sales approach. Local news and sales capability will remain well resourced.

“The transformation of our South West NSW business gives us great confidence that the changes we are seeking to make in Victoria will deliver the improvements we are looking for.

“Changes involve a flatter and simpler management structure, working more closely together in groups and across mastheads, sharing resources and adopting new technology.”

Training and skills development will be deployed across editorial and sales, with some roles reshaped and new career opportunities available. Recently appointed Group Managing Editor, Andrew Eales, and Group Sales Manager, Jade Morrison, will lead the editorial and sales teams, respectively.

Ballarat will operate a hub for shared services in Victoria, with local presences remaining throughout the region to accommodate reporters and sales staff.

“Our Victorian publications will have journalists, photographers and sales teams working with new skills, capabilities and resources so they can continue to do what they do best – create quality journalism and connect advertisers to our audiences – well into the future,” Mr Angilley said.

“Journalists will report local news across multi-media, as well as be trained to write headlines, captions and fact-boxes. Quality-checking processes and procedures will be in place and our editors will remain responsible for managing risk and maintaining editorial standards.

“Our sales teams will be equipped with new technology and trained in using best-of-breed sales solutions so they can spend more time delivering on customer needs.”

Should the proposal proceed, there would be a call for voluntary redundancies of around 80 full-time equivalent employees across the Victorian operations. That number comprises 62 newsroom roles including management, sub-editing and photography. The balance is made up mostly of administration staff and some sales roles.

“Our full focus and attention in the weeks ahead is consulting with our staff in Victoria to ensure everyone fully understands the proposal and has the opportunity to share their feedback with us,” Mr Angilley said.

“No final decisions have been made. It remains business as usual in other parts of our business as no plans for change have been developed in those regions.”

ACM’s transformation is continuing over the next 12 months. It involves detailed consideration of ACM’s six operating groups and developing proposals that would result in stronger, more sustainable locally-focused newspapers and websites.

ACM connects with local communities via hundreds of newspaper titles across Australia, including 16 dailies, and a digital network of more than 140 websites.

MEAA has put out the following statement:

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA), the union and industry advocate for Australia’s journalists, is appalled at the savage loss of jobs announced by Fairfax Media’s Australian Community Media arm, with 62 editorial positions to be lost at the business’s rural Victorian division. The losses will be among reporters, sub-editors and photographers.

MEAA’s incoming chief executive officer Paul Murphy said: “The scale of the cuts will be devastating for the rural mastheads and the communities they serve. When you lose journalists in rural and regional Australia, quality journalism is undermined. Local voices, local issues, local news – all these are lost. Media organisations offer up homogenised filler where there is less local and therefore less relevant news.

“When a masthead loses reporters and photographers there is a direct loss of local news reporting because there are fewer staff on the ground involved in newsgathering and the vital role of scrutinising the powerful and holding them to account; when you lose sub-editors you lose the guardians of quality journalism who help maintain standards and reduce errors.”

The changes in Victoria echo cuts already imposed in south-west NSW. MEAA has heard that the loss of sub-editors meant a loss of local knowledge and collective memory from communities, and has meant fewer people on the ground are able to “red flag” contentious stories. Also, the loss of photographic staff has meant local events no longer receive the same level of quality coverage and has meant reporters are now using their smart phones to take pictures for publication.

MEAA expects Fairfax to offer genuine consultation with unions and staff about how the voluntary redundancy process will be work to ensure that only those employees who want to go can go, and that those who remain are not burdened with work intensification due to the loss of people in the newsroom and other crucial resources.

MEAA will be holding meetings with members as soon as possible and intends to meet with Fairfax management shortly.

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