Opinion

Fairfax strike disrespects journalism’s supporters

Fairfax Media editorial staff members have every right to be upset about the threat to their livelihood, but industrial action is not the answer, writes Momentum Media’s Aleks Vickovich.

For anyone who believes in the function of the Fourth Estate, there is no joy at the announcement that Fairfax is initiating another major round of editorial job cuts. The company and its journalists have been responsible for some of the most fearless and significant stories of our times. From the expose and ultimate demise of Eddie Obeid to corporate wrongdoing within the big four banks, their service to national dialogue cannot be overstated.But the decision to strike for seven days to “send a message to management that we are sick of their bullshit,” as one reporter anonymously told Buzzfeed, adds credibility to the idea that the mainstream media is out of touch.

Striking sends a message not only to management but to shareholders, advertisers and ultimately, to readers.

These are the individuals who pay journalists their salaries and continually offer support in the face of an evolving and challenging media landscape.

And yet, striking does nothing to respect these people or help the company achieve greater profitability so as to make Fairfax shares more valuable.

In fact, by contributing to a momentarily sub-par product that fewer will buy, it actually does the opposite.

Great media brands and workplace culture are created by leadership, staff and consumers working in unison through the good times and the bad. The negativity generated through striking is a damaging act that has potential repercussions for years. Yet the current staff seems to be able to only think for themselves and their short-term destinies.

There’s no doubt the traditional media revenue model in under pressure and like most industries, media is in the midst of disruption. Smart and forward thinking media businesses took action a decade or more ago and Fairfax, let’s face it, didn’t move fast enough. Other media businesses are thriving in the new environment with niche audiences and advertising or subscription models.

While it may be sad therefore, Fairfax’s demise is not some gross act of social injustice, but the result of bad business decisions and refusal to adapt – not just from management but editorial too.

By walking out on the job, the situation in the short term will get even worse. The quality of production in coming days will almost certainly be diminished, providing less value to readers and even less incentive to purchase a product that too few already do.

That breach of trust implicit in striking is even worse considering that the next seven days includes the Federal Budget, analysis of which they will sorely need. Luckily there are other journalists outside the Fairfax stable who will still be turning up to work next Tuesday.

But worst of all, it makes them look like the very caricature that populist politicians across the globe are using to their advantage.

Striking is an act of martyrdom, a piece of economic theatre designed to tug at heartstrings and portray the image journalists are some kind of oppressed and endangered species.

If you live in the bubble of ABC’s Media Watch you probably agree that they are.

But out in the real world of diminishing wages and housing unaffordability, this call for help from the media reeks of upper-class sanctimony.

Journalists are not oppressed coal miners, they are well-educated members of the professional class. Should they be made redundant they have skills that are sought after in the private sector and contacts in high places.

The work we do is a privilege, not a right – and one that is subsidised at great expense by others.

The Fairfax staff has every right to be upset. The charge that management does not value editorial functions as much as others and should strip its own remuneration before that of journalists may have some credibility and deserves some answers.

But as journalists know better than anyone, there are better ways to seek answers than throwing a tantrum like petulant children and giving media critics and dictators a leg to stand on.

Fairfax journos deserve a fair go. But so do shareholders, advertisers and readers. Loyalty takes a long time to develop but can be lost in a heartbeat.

Aleks Vickovich is an award-winning journalist and a Managing Editor at Momentum Media.

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