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Fairfax staff on strike until Monday, after company moves to sack 12.5% of news room

Fairfax media logoFairfax journalists are set to strike until Monday after the publisher today planned job cuts which will see the equivalent of 120 full-time positions axed, with staff looking to walk off the job.

The strike, which would be equivalent of 12.5% of the newsroom, comes after a stop-work meeting at the Sydney Morning Herald voted 115 to 3 to strike against the action which is aimed at reducing costs across news and business in its Sydney and Melbourne newsrooms.

The move will likely see walk-outs at the SMH, The Age, The Canberra Times and associated online publications, although not all publications have yet voted to walk.

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Tweet by Fairfax political editor Bevan Shields

The Age staff is expected to walk out later today leaving the newspaper’s management and editors to put out the newspapers for the next three days.

Management today said reduction in costs would be achieved through redundancies, tightening contributor budgets and reducing travel costs and expenses in what was described to Mumbrella as an “angry” staff meeting with Fairfax Media editorial director Sean Aylmer.

During the meeting Aylmer told staff that Fairfax currently produces some 9000 pieces of content a month, with half of that content being produced by contributors and freelancers, under the new plan this would reduce to 6000 pieces of content, with the ratio of staff-to-contributor content remaining unchanged.

Aylmer also told the room that journalists would need to focus on “effective” content, meaning stories which achieve strong online traffic.

The statement about “effective” content drew an incendiary response from journalists, who expressed concern about management’s focus on “click bait”, with staff noting that powerful and important journalism didn’t always drive clicks on Fairfax websites.

According to Brad Walter, SMH league and sports reporter, the cuts represents more than 12.5% of the newsroom – or 1 in 8 jobs.

Staff were informed of the cuts this morning after an email from Aylmer, Fairfax Media editorial director.

The email read: “We will shortly enter a consultation period with staff and the MEAA on a proposal to reduce costs across News and Business in the Sydney and Melbourne newsrooms by the equivalent of 120 full-time employees.

“We believe that we can do this through redundancies, tightening contributor budgets and reducing travel costs and expenses.”

As of 3pm today Fairfax shares were up 4.16% to $0.80.

Miranda Ward and Nic Christensen 

Update 3.40pm: It is understood the staffs of The Age, Canberra Times, WA Today and Brisbane Times have all voted to walk out.

Update 4.11pm: Fairfax has issued a statement on the walk-outs saying it will continue to publish its newspapers and websites “as usual”.

The statement:

Fairfax Media Limited [ASX: FXJ] advises that some journalists from mastheads including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Canberra Times, the Brisbane Times and The Australian Financial Review are taking unprotected industrial action relating to an announcement to staff today.

The company will continue to publish across print and digital as usual.Fairfax Media Chief Executive Officer, Greg Hywood, said: “We are operating in an ever-changing highly competitive media environment which involves rapid evolution of our publishing model. The initiatives we have proposed today are part of that adaptation and are necessary to sustain high quality journalism.”

The action follows the company making a proposal today to reduce costs across its News and Business verticals in Sydney and Melbourne newsrooms by the equivalent of 120 full-time employees through a combination of redundancies, tightening contributor budgets and reducing travel costs and expenses.

The proposal involves newsrooms becoming more efficient in producing quality journalism.

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