More than 200 journalists have departed Australian media companies in the last six months, according to estimates by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), the union which represents journalists. The most recent round of redundancies follows the tsunami of lay offs, sparked by restructures at Fairfax and News Limited this time last year which saw the axing of an estimated 1,000 to 1,200 jobs across the sector.
Chris Warren, the federal secretary of the MEAA, has accused major media outlets of an, “end of financial year clean out”.
Warren told Encore that publishers and broadcasters are being driven by a need to ensure budgets are in order for the new financial year.
“There is a bit of an end of year financial year clear out on at the moment. There have been cuts at Bauer, the Illawarra Mercury, News Limited, Fox Sports and Sky News which are driven by the need to get these costs onto the books by the end of the financial year,” he said.
Several media outlets including News Limited declined to respond to Warren’s remarks however a spokesman for Fairfax Media labelled the comments “callous”.
The spokesman said: “It’s a callous line from the unions – we are talking about people and their jobs.”
However Warren has thrown the ball back to Fairfax saying: “They think it’s callous huh? I’m not the one sacking journalists.”
Steve Allen, media analyst at Fusion Strategy, said immediate budget pressures were not the only factor behind the cuts as the Standard Media Index shows significant falls in advertising revenue, particularly for print and magazines.
“The SMI data keeps reporting the continuation of around 20 per cent declines in advertising revenue,” he said. According to most recent SMI figures from May, revenues have fallen 25 per cent for newspapers while magazines saw a fall of 17.7 per cent in 2012-13.
Allen said: “They just have to change their cost base. There is no choice if they are to stay afloat. There is a need to increase efficiency because the revenue from print advertising is in decline.”
While Warren concedes immediate budget pressures are not the only driver for the recent redundancies, he hopes media owners will cease the run of axings in the new financial year.
“I think we are coming to a hiatus and yes we’ll have these jobs go now but then the companies will hopefully try and set themselves up for the new financial year,” said Warren.
“The next challenge, if there is one, will be for the media companies to assess how they’re going in the new financial year.”
Although a large number of journalism jobs have been lost in the last 12 months, Warren says there are positive signs of growth in the new media and not-for-profit sectors.
Citing the success of US start-ups such as Buzzfeed and Mashable, he said: “Broadly, we are seeing growth of not-for-profit business and a couple of new ventures in Australia. The Global Mail, The Guardian and The Conversation are examples of that.”
“There are positive signs for the future new media landscape. The problem at the moment is that none of that replaces the jobs that have already been lost.”
Fusion Strategy’s Allen agrees. “Is digital going to be the saviour? Not the slightest chance,” he said. “Is it going to relieve some of the pressure and reuse some of these quality journalists? Unquestionably.”
This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.