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Death by 550 cuts: The demise of quality journalism in Australia

Margo Kingston should be writing this story. However, she’s out of reach for the next ten days, so I will do my best – this is such an important matter that Richard Tonkin and I agreed to get something up on the site quickly.

On Tuesday morning, staff at Fairfax received an email from the CEO David Kirk and his deputy, Brian McCarthy. It read, in part:

We are announcing today a major restructure of corporate and group services and significant initiatives to improve the overall productivity and performance of many of our businesses.

Media markets continue to change rapidly but, notwithstanding our positive performance in adapting to these changes in our industry, to continue to succeed we need to continue to change.

These initiatives are a logical next step in the way we manage our business in response to the structural changes going on around us. This is a far-reaching program, designed to comprehensively restructure and reposition the business for years to come. We wanted to make a major change today across the company in order to accelerate our building of a strong and dynamic integrated media business.

The chief element of the restructure comprises 550-odd redundancies – 5% of Fairfax’s full-time staff. The first scalp – a major one – was that of Andrew Jaspan, editor-in-chief of the Age for the past four years. Apparently Mr Jaspan was told of his sacking only a few minutes before its public announcement.

Not surprisingly, Fairfax journalists have called a strike until next Monday:

The MEAA's Chris Warren says the journalists are angry at management.

"The anger behind the strike is all driven by not just the jobs cuts, but the clear view that there's no strategy behind the job cuts," he said.

He says the journalists are concerned about two major issues.

"The first is the ongoing collective agreement to discuss the failure of the company to make a decent offer on that," he said.

"And secondly, it's driven by this really deep frustration at the failure of the company to clearly articulate the strategy it has to continue to produce quality newspapers, magazines and websites with significantly fewer staff."

More than 200 staff at The Age newspaper walked off the job this afternoon.

Eric Beecher, publisher of Crikey (and a former editor of the Sydney Morning Herald) wrote yesterday:

Once you de-code the mangled spin, the real significance of yesterday's announcement is that for the first time in its history, Fairfax has made a public declaration that profits come ahead of journalism [emphasis added]. That its role as a major custodian of Australian quality editorial is secondary to its responsibility of maximising the financial outcome.

At one level this is neither surprising nor wrong. Fairfax is a public company whose primary duty is to shareholders who have invested in the company with purely financial motives.

Until yesterday, Fairfax had maintained the pretence that the two aspirations -- profits and public trust journalism -- could coexist. Until yesterday, Fairfax CEO David Kirk perpetuated that charade with his absurd rhetoric about Fairfax newspapers being different to others afflicted by the problems of the collapsing newspaper industry.

Yesterday Fairfax came clean. If you're looking for custodians of high-resourced fourth estate journalism in Australia, they effectively said, don't look here. We're businessmen and our overriding responsibility is to the pockets of our shareholders. Find someone else to deal with the societal responsibility stuff.

At least that's clear. Now the question is: can the quality, well-funded journalism that constitutes a pivotal plank of Australian democracy survive?

The time has come for governments, politicians and other public policy makers who genuinely believe in the place of quality journalism within the infrastructure of Australian democracy to understand that if they leave its future entirely to the marketplace, and to News Corporation, it will almost certainly be gone within a decade.

What will be left will be celebrity/sport/human interest pap journalism and relatively small independent outfits (like Crikey) whose revenues will never allow them to replicate the resources that have made newspapers like the Herald and The Age indispensable partners in the ecosystem of democracy for more than 150 years.

Does anybody else think that this matters?


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Letters page used to be my favorite

The letters page used to be my favorite. I stopped reading the Age when the words for the letters page were cut right back. The letters became very dull and nothing complex was really covered any more. I stopped believing that the Fairfax and Murdoch press were really in the business of journalism when, whilst doing a thesis on something I had supposed unrelated, I realised that they were just corporates pushing population growth and trying to flog properties.

No-one has commented on the role of local papers. These are syndicated as well, but I think they have quite a lot of readers still.

It's all really sad if you know anything of the early history of the Age, with David Syme and anti-free marketing etc. Some of the people on the board of management of the Age seem to be quite unpleasant and anti-democracy and anti-Melbourne.

I have noticed in the past few months that there has been some attempt to report what is happening in popular protests at the government, but the Age would have to keep this up for much longer to get me back.

I believe that there was some suggestion at the 2020 conference about guaranteeing editorial independence, but that it didn't get up. If you could get some decent editors and they felt secure, that would make a difference.

It is also ironic that now that we have much better defamation laws in this country, which permit much stronger reporting, no-one is there to take advantage of them.

Just wondering how Rupert did it

Hi Fiona, nice point. nice to see WD is still churning out quality articles and not about to mass sack whlle I was away.  :)

Here is something I have not understood. Amid plenty of fanfare the American citizen Murdoch took his company to the Americas too and Newscorp became a Delaware based company.

Then what about this:

....The maximum permitted aggregate foreign (non-portfolio) interests in national and metropolitan newspapers is 30 per cent, with a 25 per cent limit on any single foreign shareholder. The aggregate non-portfolio limit for provincial and suburban newspapers is 50 per cent...

How did Murdoch get around it?

Just wondering.


Doomed Fairfax

You are correct Paul Walter, the SMH is rapidly declining and the talk from the remaining journos is all doom and gloom

It looks like Murdoch will win the newspaper wars but only for a brief time - his end is nigh as well.

I ran into Piers Akermann at the opening of yet another Tony Bilson restaurant at Circular Quay on Tuesday night. I mentioned that the famous Trotskyite and former Sun Herald political journalist Alex Mitchell had referred to Piers as an "old lag" on Crikey. Piers claimed he had never read Crikey but had "heard of it".

Poor Piers, you can't dislike him personally but the man has absolutely no sense of humour. I couldn't say I'd read his 'letters to the editor" on Crikey disputing certain points over the years. After all, he's really just an actor, acting out the role of the outraged right wing columnist. Nice work if you can get it.

But the media as we know it is on its last legs. Webdiary, Crikey etc is where it will be at.

Steve Lewis just nuked Costello


What a hoot.   Pistol Pete and MUP have been playing footsie to try and make everyone buy Pete's memoir and Steve Lewis nuked them all in one fell swoop.

Hysterical when you think about it and is an illustration of why secrets should not be kept.

Fairfax is becoming so dated

I believe the current management of Fairfax really are on a death wish. I couldn't stomach this week's Saturday issue - no Mike Carlton or Alan Ramsey (or David Marr!). I know plenty of people hate these two, but they are big drawcards from a customer point of view. Ramsey's on leave but there is inside word that Fairfax would love him to retire - not because of his writing but because he's on staff and paid well!

Why haven't Fairfax got a downloadable subscription edition like The Australian - which delivers an exact copy of the printed edition to your computer - there for when you wake up and switch on your comp? Several newspapers and magazines around the world do likewise and are getting thousands of customers who are concerned about paper waste but want that traditional newspaper look. I subscribe to four. Fairfax is becoming outdated.

Dead dog ponging

Haven't Adele Horin, Grattin, Coorey and Carney been pissweak lately, also.

Almost like reading a Murdoch publication. As I said somewhere else, it's looking a bit tricky when Gerard Henderson is by default the progressive writer on the payroll.


For yonks the most interesting, enjoyable and entertaining sections of such as SMH have been the readers contributions, either in "letters" or such as "heckler"....

We chroniclers of our age.

An increasing trickle of evidence to indicate the soul relationship F Kendall and myself share.

At least as far as the caustic and black humour laden "letters to the editor" section is concerned, with its air of long suffering fatalism, sense of acrimony and victimhood and acute tone of outrage, emnity and wrongedness. 

It's already happening, Ian MacDougall

AAP,AP, Reuters already feed stories en masse to virtually every newspaper in the world. Inevitably they are simply printed as is, or slightly rewritten by a "staff reporter".

To add to the woes of newspapers, these agencies themselves have dominated and destroyed a myriad of small news agencies around the world - such as 2 or 3 man operations in the north of England who for decades supplied local content with plenty of research to large city dailies. Same same, USA and Europe.

In turn these handful of agencies have cut back on staff so real research and fact checking just isn't done. And that is why you get a police press release that sweeps the world and is reported word for word in sensational headlines - that a child's body was found at the Haut de la Garenne former children's home in Jersey. Indeed, we had the BBC standing near a mysterious marquee that implied all manner of horrors lay within with a broadcaster solemnly announcing that "beneath me lies the body of a child and possibly a dozen more"

Of course, as we now know, it was a piece of coconut shell the size of a 20 cent piece. And the same story continues as police, anxious to cover their tracks on their wild goose chase, continue to supply these agencies with tripe, knowing no newspaper bothers to ask questions any more.

We had the same here with Dr Haneef - until thankfully the Australian told us the truth. And that is what is lost with experienced investigative journalists when newspapers begin to fill themselves with the dross of Paris Hilton's exploits or Brad and Angelina's babies .

But that is also why good writers are needed. Such as Mike Carlton, to appeal to a certain audience and yes - even Miranda Devine - who likewise draws her own readers. Good newspaper men know this and will adapt to the changing scenario, whether it means delivering their content via the net or newsprint.

It's no coincidence that US publications are a million miles ahead of Fairfax and doing this well - maintaining their profits and keeping their readers. Bean counters just count beans.

My sympathies are with the management

I read the Fairfax newspapers everyday but I haven't bought one for at least 5 years.

I haven't contributed a cent to the Fairfax bottom line in that time but have enjoyed their largesse instead.

Whatever you think of their content, their current business model is 'f...ed' if folks like myself don't put a penny in. I also religiously don't read their ads so the ultimate demise of Fairfax may very well be attributed to my indifference to everything else but the articles.

However, all this is cyclic and if Fairfax disappears or changes some one else will fill the void assuming they can find a sustainable business model.

Having said that, I do buy Time (occasionally), Scientific American (often) and some specialist magazines that cater for my interests (not the ones where you look at the pictures while claiming to read the articles. If I ever get one of those I always look at the pictures). 

And so we say 'farewell' to those faring not so well

Roger, greetings.

Me too. Every morning I visit the SMH, The Age and two or three blog sites, finally coming to rest at Webdiary. But Fairfax still get a little smidgin of money out of me, because when I do buy a paper, it is invariably one of theirs.

From this article in the Age this morning:

Cutting back on editorial costs may boost the share price in the short term, but in the longer term is likely to feed into a downward spiral, where reduced quality leads to a loss in reader sentiment and ultimately into lower readership and reduced revenue.

The major dailies are in a bind:

a. Print revenue is falling.
b. They can't make money from their websites or the internet, except perhaps for classified ads, which are also losing to eBay and other online auctions;
c. Yet they have to maintain websites and make most if not all of the copy that matters available on them, just to maintain the public profile of the paper. So they all have websites, where their advertising like pop-ups are counter-productive and a consumer turn-off;
d. As their race to the bottom continues, opportunities open for other players; mainly if not exclusively, those well positioned online.

The competitors who are well positioned are the public broadcasters: in Australia, the ABC and SBS. They can use, but don't absolutely need, outside revenue. For the ABC, this comes from the various marketing operations, like ABC shops. For SBS, it comes from advertising.

I think that as this process inevitably continues, major dailies will atrophy. A possibility will open for news agencies like Reuters and AAP, perhaps utilising and in alliance with operators with massive search capabilities, like Google, to take front line positions. (Google, Yahoo and the like may even be able to move in and take over agencies like Reuters.) After all, they have little difficulty making money out of the internet. In fact, they're awash with cash.

Such developments may with time encourage a more cosmopolitan and global outlook among those who spend a significant amount of time online, making us more like true citizens of the world.

Dodos and The Pony Express

Hello Ian

The fact that news has been commodotised because of the impact of television and the internet leaves the paper publishers with precious little wiggle room. How can you sell a service when content is available at the click of a button and/or given away for nothing?

Modern society places no store on erudition or sophistication except in those enclaves that respond to threats to our well-being such medicine, environmental science etc. 

Philosophy, which relies on a disciplined mind to master, is beyond the reach of most. I doubt that many people can see the difference between an opinion based on personal bias and a balanced view point. In today's world one is as good as the other.

That is the resultant outcome of the "dumbin' down" that has replaced the "3 R's". Anyone, today, who read's Enlightenment writers such as Jackson, Payne may be excused for believing that these persons were exceptional in their ability with the English language. In fact, it was the accepted norm for anyone who had received an education in those days.

Where is the demographic that Fairfax is going to sell to?

Not so soon, Malcolm B.

I have a feeling Mike Carlton will be back sooner than later. The heaving piles of the Sun Herald and yesterday's SMH at my local supermarket tonight  - with a sold-out Tele - was probably the norm everywhere and must have freaked out Fairfax management.

So who will you be voting for? I  must confess I tramped the streets many years ago for Clover Moore and, foolish me, Frank Sartor after both were sacked along with the Sydney Council. Little did I know I was helping to unleash a mini Napoleon with Frank, but Clover's been pretty good to date. But two roles seems rather greedy to me - local MP and Lord Mayor.

I've always liked Meredith Burgmann but the idea of voting for a Labour mayor - even though she could probably stand up to the Michael Costas of the world - still doesn't bear thinking about at the present. I still think those property developers wil be lurking in the shadows.

A scab and the thirty pieces...

Most here would be aware that the Oz's media section almost stands alone as a worthwhile contributor to  Australian life, relative to most of the newspaper.

From Brad Norrington, in today's (3/9) Oz media, comes an update, "Fairfax pushed to reinstatement Mike  Carlton", which will be a source of sorrow for generous-spirited Michael  de Angelos and a cause for at least some celebration for Malcolm B Duncan.

Readers learn that  a "written undertaking" involving

" ... no recriminations for any matter arising from the industrial dispute"

has now been reneged upon by  Fairfax senior executives mentioned in the article.

We learn that:

"Carlton's back page spot in Saturdays Herald was taken by  columnist Miranda Devine."

Where I come, from we have a word for that...

Hush, hush, whisper who dares

Michael de Angelos, don't tell anyone, we wouldn't want to make it public or spoil anyone's chances - and he's furious at me after the way I clobbered him at yesterday's meeting - BUT I think the best candidate going for Lord Mayor is Chris Harris from the Greens. Now, as you know, I've spent a lot of time in politics round this area (I hate Clover Moore with a passion see Duncan v Moore, [1999] NSWLEC 152; [1999] NSLEC 170; [2000] NSWLEC 64 - cost me $17K that lot but a fella has to do it) and I'm fairly savvy about them.

I have no interest in standing for local government myself, never have never will (and that's despite a lot of people asking me to do so) - just not interested. No power to change anything. I can do anything a local government politician can just by being on the Committee of the Residents Association.

Rather be in Parliament. You all know that's the game plan. May never happen but it's seriously worth the effort trying. Local government - give me a rest - I reckon I lost a stone in the last three days just putting up posters for the public meeting. Have you ever met the public? "Spooky" as Dame Edna says.

But what I do want you all to do is vote for Jo Holder #1 (there goes another Duncan kiss of death) . You have no idea what she does for the community. She co-ordinated the campaign for the reversal of the changes to the traffic restrictions after the Cross-City Tunnel. I just bullied. She's good at what she does, and I likewise. I don't endorse her because she's a Labor [sic] candidate, I endorse her because she is a true battler for the community. You and all you know should vote for her. Her politics are left, her hair is short, she wears slacks, she lives with a very pleasant Rayon (a feller), and she's almost impossible to shut up. She's also a really great kid.

In short: don't vote for parties, vote for effective individuals - you'd be hard put to find two better than Jo Holder and Chris Harris.

Well, there's my neck out. I think the cat is going to vote for the duck but that's probably just a foodie thing.

A sad shake of the head.

Yes, you know Marilyn Shepherd is right- you look at a newspaper like Haaretz and wonder what is wrong with Australia, it can't produce something even to that level. And as David Davis says, the European countries can do this sort of thing, too - very Kaffeeeklatsch!

Ian made a pertinent point too. The interests of good faith investors, against the imperatives of footloose asset strippers and their honchos.

Doesn't Gordon Gecko's Wall Street have an increasing resonance, as the decades pass?

Michael, you probably feel a little better after the deputy PM 's remarks on TV also yearning for a responsible press/media.

Predictable Alan Curran

And that's why you aren't a newspaper editor.

Today's letter to the Herald


I feel obliged to report that on Saturday at a public meeting at the Reg Murphy Community Centre, attended by over 100 Residents of the 2011 Postcode Area, called to discuss the 311 Bus route, as well as resolutions passed to call on the preservation of the existing route, a resolution was unanimously passed by the community present to support the action of Herald journalists in taking strike action against current management.

The Greens were there, members of the Labor [sic] Party were there, but the rest, including the Liberals, the Independents, and the Lord Mayor were absent. Their absence was not only noted: it will not be forgotten come election day.

We need strong communities and we need a strong and independent Press.

Mind you, on a personal note, I shan't miss Mike Carlton.

Yours etc.,

Malcolm B. Duncan Chairman, 2011 Residents Committee Traffic Sub-committee PO Box 1211 Potts Point NSW 1335

That's in Australia

McGeough and Fraser are of course in Australia, not Israel.


You got it right, Paul Walter. The exposure of the completely false case against Dr Haneef-done by the Australian (in one of its finer moments) is a great example of what a free press should be about.

Contrast that with today's Fairfax website (I didn't bother with the paper edition – what's the point without Mike Carlton and Alan Ramsey?) and all I can see is series of reprinted press releases and cadged items with opinion pieces from The Guardian and the UK's Telegraph. Do Fairfax bosses think on-line readers don't have the nous to surf to those sites themselves if they wanted to read this stuff?

Journalism is one of those crafts (along with photographers) where the older those hacks get, the more invaluable their experience is. It's something that takes decades to learn and the bean counters seem intent on ridding themselves of older employees. It is pure vandalism and is the most bizarre financial mistake they could make.

Talking to some Fairfax employees over the last few days has been quite depressing. They are so alarmed – it isn’t just the loss of fellow employees but the fact that that management haven't a clue what they are doing to the product.

Good news

Michael de Angelos, a newspaper without Mike Carlton and Alan Ramsey. Now that is worth getting up in the morning for.

A media critique of the Georgia issue


This is a fascinating piece by Bromwich that should be read aloud by everyone. Note the difference in reporting in the so-called free press of the US and the actual reporting of the actual free press of Israel who for all her faults has journalists with the guts to march outside the square.

Levy and Amira Hass, Uri Avnery and Avika Eldar, Meron Rappaport and a few others in Israel write some of the best work anyone will ever read and in the article by Levy that is mentioned he utterly nailed Israel and the US to the wall while Paul McGeough and Malcolm Fraser are the only two in Israel to tell it like it is.

All the hand wringing over Russia while we stampede around the world killing, maiming and taking what we want is the greatest of all hypocrisies.

no way Jose

Let’s keep it simple.

So far we can divine that there has been a commonality of interest between Fairfax and the society in which it operates. Example: last year, with the case of Dr Haneef.

Just out is the news that AFP have finally given away haunting Haneef.

Now, without a free press operative, isn't it at least arguable that this unfortunate would be locked away more or less permanently and forgotten ( the first of many with the precedent set ), as happens to folk in dictatorships. In that case our democracy is dead and to paraphrase Orwell; "We are the dead".

Now, the premise for the existence of a free press and media, with its privileged position within democracy, is that it earns its livelihood bringing us the news, not parasiting away in some sort infantile of victimhood entitlement way as some sort of hostile alien entity that petulantly survives exclusively on the proposition of our painful demise. Rather than as useful component of "us" Fairfax becomes an enemy we are obliged to deal with ,out of self preservation, like folk going to the doctor for treatment to heal themselves of a virus We are obliged to oppose it if not for ourselves then for our children!

It has ceased being what it was and being a part of a social contract which it has transgressed.

Yeah I know, I wish we'd had a successful revolution as well

Michael, I didn't say Fairfax got into online media late.  At least that's not the impression I meant to convey.  At least in Australian terms they were ahead of News Corporation but that's not a good measure since Rupert himself said his own organisation missed that particular boat.  Now of course Murdoch is playing catch up rather well.  Rather well indeed!   I was just saying Fairfax got the online strategy wrong over time. They started out online better than where they have ended up.  Webdiary is the case in point.  That was not celebrity news, online polls and silly little blogs.  No, when Fairfax first went online they had a journalist, Margo, interacting with readers in an intelligent way.  They were ahead of the curve to start with.  Then they threw it all away and became no better than the Florida Times Union, the main newspaper of Jacksonville, Florida.

It's like when David Jones becomes Myer.  The staff don't care and there's no pride.  They're no longer protecting a legacy.  Fortunately David Jones in its 170th year is nowhere near becoming Myer, thank God. The Herald though has become the Florida Times Union.  Hang on, that's not fair to FTU.  The Herald is more like oh well who cares.  It is what it is and its going down.

 Red letter day Marilyn.  We agree on something.  I will say no more lest I run the risk of ruining the moment.  Blue moons, red letters and all the rest of it.

Richard says "Do you feel the rights of the less-profitable are less important than those of the cash cows:?  If so, from what I know of you I'd be deeply suprised. "

I say, no I don't. There is no inherent good associated with cash cows. There's no running away from the fact though that journalists need to be paid and high quality, independent journalism is expensive.  In that sense an udder hanging around begging to be milked comes in quite handy.  Handy to the greater good of course!

I don't know as much of Peter Lalor as I should. I do wish we'd had a successful revolution in this country.  We would have been better off establishing our independence at an early point and preferably at the point of a gun.  It would have been so cool to see the British kicked out of yet aother continent.

If this is the Eureka Stockade of Australian journalism, who is the Peter Lalor and where is the fort?  More importantly where is that sexy flag?  If you're going to set up the fort outside Fairfax HQ at Darling Harbour, I'll come down and have a beer in it.  I'll even wear the shirt with the flag on it.

I fear the result will be exactly the same as the original Eureka Stockade. You have to remember, Richard, they didn't win.  I know winning isnt everything but in the context of a revolution it sure counts for a lot.  I mean doesn't the loser of a revolution usually end up dead or in jail?

Will the real Peter Lalor of Australian journalism please step forward? 

I agree with David, ain't that sad

The great parody was Chris Warren claiming that the Murdoch rags were leading the way in quality journalism.

To quote Pilger "it is beyond parody".

A bit of a ramble David Davis

You got something right – the Media Alliance isn't the sharpest union around and its largely powerless position is one mainly of its own making. I belonged to it for years but dropped my membership when they consistently refused to go into bat for freelancers and contributors. They, and the employed members, have always been a pretty selfish bunch.

For instance, the majority of journalists sold out the photographers on a very important point of the new media – the on-line resale of material. This mainly affected photographic sales that would have produced an ongoing source of income for photographers (certainly one they were entitled to) – photos being the thing that sold well and around the world. Copy hardly ever sells. Fairfax under a smarter management than today put forward a clever offer – to every worker at Fairfax. They could all have an equal vote and accept a one time offer of payment in lieu of residual payments over the years. Journalists, being in much larger numbers, voted for the one-off payment despite knowing the effect on photographers and despite the pleas of photographers.

The Media Alliance stood back and refused to enter the fray. Now it's come back to bite journos badly who for some reason couldn't see what was pretty obvious to me, having never actually been an employee of anyone and the original "contactor" of John Howard fame since the age of 20. Now they are finding they are all contractors as any employee on the usual conditions is replaced by a youngster on a 3 year contract .

Now they couldn't rustle up half a dozen freelancers to fork over membership if they tried. And the numbers will be dropping further as each media employee is turned into a contributor or freelancer.

Another example of their wackiness: recall the drama over a paparazzi and the actress Nicole Kidman and a listening device outside her home when Kidman took out an AVO over the paparazzi. The Media Alliance were into the media claiming terrible harassment and that photographers were being prevented from doing their job. I phoned the union and questioned whether they thought it rather ironic that they were defending the paparazzi (non-union) against one of their own members who donated hundreds of thousand of dollars to an actors' school that would produce more members in time ie: Nicole Kidman ,a Media Alliance member. They hung up on me.

You are incorrect though about Fairfax not getting into on-line media fast . A former Herald editor, Alan Revell, convinced Fairfax to spend $200 million long before the net became popular. He gave Fairfax the best and first leg up and as usual with bean counters (the last lot) because it wasn't an instant hit he was kicked upstairs to a meaningless title and job before being snapped up by a much smarter crowd in the UK on a huge salary.

And again this shows the folly of Fairfax's sorry history under a decade of non-newspaper bean counters who simply don't understand newspaper culture.

Of course the net is the future but the competition being much larger, the product is going to have be that much better. And that means having great talent – not some 20 something who is learning the ropes and is able to re-type a government or private press release or some AAP /AP copy. Good journalistic talent will be far more relevant yet Fairfax, for quick profits is ridding themselves of it.

People seem to confusing this as a battle of the unions and bosses when it's anything but. It's about a business with 100 years of superb success, for some falsely perceived financial advantage, tossing out its best and most experienced talent and replacing them with students straight out of a journalism school into a business where the first thing this new talent must usually do is forget everything they were taught and learn by experience. Except they won't be around to get that experience.

It would be no different if a baker or bootmaker sacked all his experienced talent, even whilst the money was rolling in because of them, and replacing them with apprentices without the skills. And then wondering why customers won't buy their wobbly boots or tasteless bread.

As I said, there are shares (if I had them) I would be selling today whilst profits are high: Fairfax and News Ltd. Already the Fairfax website is looking grim as its on-line talent is diminished and it's just a matter of time before it resembles the ghastly News Ltd website which one should access in the early hours and spot the mistakes which often aren't corrected until midday. Or the other utterly boring rubbish they present-an update of the whereabouts of Garry Glitter, seemingly unable to realise no-one in Oz gives a stuff.

Horse and buggy rubbish

The union is a joke. It is like horse and buggy era drivers striking over the decline in their industry as cars are introduced. Well at least superficially it appears that way. Only one thing is certain, the union has no role to play. Let's be clear. This is a failure of business strategy.

The whinging is that ad revenue has moved online. The rivers of gold are no longer in print. Well, whose fault is that? It's theirs (ie Fairfax) because they did not see the threat early enough and did not convert enough of that ad revenue online themselves.

In Switzerland, newspaper revenues are growing steadily despite a decline in the hard copy circulation. They have been able to adapt their strategy to capitalise on the internet. There's an article about it here. Switzerland has diverse, quality media. Another country worth looking at in that regard (and particularly in terms of diversity) is Sweden.

Isn't what happened to the Herald a bit like what happened to Channel 9? There is no Sunday these days. With the Herald, it's hard to see the quality. Once you dumb it down that much, don't you drive away some of the better demographic people advertisers like to attract?

Isn't it part of a bigger strategy? Kerry Packer had the smarts to realise that although Sunday did not make money in a simplistic sense it was a marquee program. I'll never be convinced that quality can't bring in revenue. Look at the ABC these days. In the last year or two they have introduced some new programs that rate quite well and are of high quality. Well, at least they are not trash. These programs would be commercially successful if they were commercial! Think of Denton, Q&A, Australian Story, Hollow Men.

Since when did the Herald become Entertainment Tonight? They follow the strategy of Channel 9's trashy Today show and wonder why they end up with a downsizing scenario just like Channel 9's spiral. Trash does not always win. Big Brother was successful but eventually people got sick of it. A race to the bottom in quality can also be a race to the bottom in revenue.

Why all the talk about revenue? Simple, really. You can't pay for the bloody journalists unless you have the revenue! They don't have the revenue so the journalists have to go. It's about winding down. It's about dumb as a fence post strategy.

Facebook. MySpace and eBay are all online communities that all have their own secret sauce. They have something the Herald lacks. There is no sense of community with the Herald. The blogs they run are boring and don't establish an emotional connection. Emotional and financial connections can make money. Intellectual connections can make money. A community has to exist. Herald online and reader involvement as it stands has as much meaning as the stupid concept of an online poll. It's a bit of a laugh but it's not compelling. It's not compelling commercially or intellectually.

Everybody has their own idea of what Webdiary is, should be or could have been. The one thing to me that is very clear is that Webdiary was not just unique on SMH. Forces converged to create something like no other. It brought together community, entertainment, intelligence, interactivity and journalism. It was doing that way ahead of its time.

I suppose what was once ahead of its time is now in the mists of time.

In the beginning it wasn't just a blog for lefties to talk about leftie stuff.

The founder, Margo, had a wider vision.

Perhaps I'm raving by now but I have to think had Fairfax truly GOT Webdiary it would have been a key part of a range of measures that would mean they would be expanding rather than winding down, laying down and giving up.

I don't know exactly what is going on in Switzerland but it is clearly nonsense to suggest that the demise of journalism and media revenue is inevitable. It's as silly as saying poor strategy is inevitable. Swiss newspapers are doing quite nicely thank you very much.

When Fairfax turned their back on Webdiary they signed their death warrant! It was emblematic of a flawed strategy of dumbing down. What they didn't understand but, strangely, Margo did, was the importance of building a deep connection. Once that is built it opens up other possibilities.

Isn't this what branding is all about? Oh I mean groan city. Look at Qantas and that I Still Call Australia Home branding. All about a deep connection.

That's groan and cringe worthy but Margo's connection was real. Professional journalist mobilises and connects with smart readers way, way, way ahead of her time. Wow. Think about it.

I once said Margo was like David Jones. There's no other store like David Jones. David Jones is also doing quite nicely thank you very much as well! Kmart and all these other flawed strategies of the once successful Coles Myer are the other side of that coin The prices weren't particularly low and the value just wasn't there. David Jones offers value.

In this sort of society you have to offer value and the cliche "unique selling proposition" in order to be successful.

The language changes but that's what the Herald did for much of it's history.

Death of a thousand cuts indeed. It never had to be that way.

Margo, David Jones, the ABC and the Herald. It's all part of a liberal world we must fight to protect!

Oh and by the way, it is not the RULES that make Wedbiary special. It was the founder, the big media platform and the original diversity. The rules were a needless distraction that became another form of dumbing down.

Dumbing down to the left or to the right is all the same. Dumbing down is dumbing down and it can only end in tears.

Eureka stockade

David Davis, bollocks to your assertations of dumbing down and becoming locked into rules!  I'll rise to your bait (takes one to know one) and suggest that if you  think that the people who are giving their time to this place aren't doing so because they uphold the ideals instilled by the creator of this site  but are trying in any way to be power junkies, then you're barking up the wrong tree.

Let's raise the concept of altruism here (and I willingly rising to your bait) and assume for a minute that the journalists involved in this action might actually give a damn about making a stand for their ethics.  It does happen occassionally y'know, even in this world of selfish profit-making.  Personally I get extremely tired of people being assumed as dickheads because they act according to what they feel needs doing without tromping over everyone in their  paths to tear down  work to a ground zero which can be controlled and rebuilt according to their whims (where did that come from?) as I know that if I didn't tell such people to go jump into lakes I wouldn't be true to myself.    If people don't augment what's going everything, IMHO, has to start again, and often does, and it gets boring to watch the smug smirks of the petty people who have flexed the only muscle they can muster in such a manner of cultural destruction (ok I'm tired and rambling, but bear with me).  They're tragics, and my most polite assessment of them is that they impede any sense of cultural progession.  All IMHO.  I don't include you in such categegories as I know you actually give a damn about people's rights, but there's lots of people who rant for their own fulfillment and no other reason.  End of rant ;)

Do you feel the rights of the less-profitable are less important than those of the cash cows:?  If so, from what I know of you I'd be deeply suprised. 

To the Fairfax journos who give a damn enough to make a stand even though they'll probably end up jobless because of it, I can only salute.  It would be easier to be one of the vultures getting more food by circling the corpse and dropping the occassional bird turd, as there's no doubt a bonus in the Murdoch payroll for doing so.

This is the Eureka Stockade of Australian journalism, I reckon.  Maybe, David, you're not a fan of Peter Lalor?  I'd be astonished if you weren't.

Bloody hell this is Australia - mate.

"Whether a company downsizes or upsizes are decisions for the boss or management, not some union official who is way out of his depth."

This is very true Alan, but it doesn't mean the workers can't have a whinge; bloody hell this is Australia - mate.

Weird logic

Can't quite see what angle you are coming from, Alan Curran. Unions don't think they own a company. They know they represent the workers and are after the best deal they can get through negotiation at best or, at worst, withdrawing their labour.

In this particular case, the bosses of Fairfax are dabbling in a business about which they have absolutely zilch knowledge. Even I could run a business and cut costs by sacking staff, and if my product continues to sell at the same volume and price, I don't need to be Einstein to know I will make bigger profits. Now, I'm an admitted union lover and I'm completely uninterested in football but I know enough about business to know I'd never put a former footballer – David Kirk – in charge of a newspaper. Football club, yes. Nor would I put an old newspaper man in charge of a football club.

And this is where someone like me, and the late Kerry Packer, would be of the same mind – he knew to employ experts in their particular field, and that is why he had success after success. Likewise, when he died, his Nine network has now plummeted into a schemozzle in the hands of bean counters.

Hence the problem: if your product is one that customers buy out of choice – not necessity – like a newspaper, where your customers rely on a certain service (the journalists and photographers with decades of experience), and the quality of the product begins to fall – again, Einstein is not needed to know customers will drop off and, along with them, profit.

Put bean counters in charge and what you will have is, as Eliot with unintended insight said – a publication that will eventually cut and paste the New York Times or, as is more likely to happen because Fairfax are shareholders in the news agency AAP, more stories direct from AAP with that catch-all by-line "by a staff reporter".

Now, science does come into it, as the law of diminishing returns will dictate that when a batch of newspapers begins to repeat ad nauseum the same story – as is happening increasingly today where so much is being sourced from AAP (the smaller agency Reuters having been recently dropped by Fairfax) – that is simply rehashed slightly by "a staff reporter" who does no fact checking, customers begin to avoid wasting money on a product that is no different from the one on the shelf next to it.

This shouldn't be difficult to understand, even for you. Also easy to understand is that all newspapers by necessity will carry "star" columnists of varying hues. Not even I think that Piers Ackerman believes much of the tosh he writes, but he caters to a certain market. Likewise Mike Carlton who, despite what you (and no doubt Eliot) believe, is a huge drawcard for Saturday's SMH, just as the Australian carries Philip Adams to soothe the nerves of old lefties like me – although the Oz has become so lopsided in its right leaning bent that its circulation is wilting as well.

And despite what one thinks of Carlton (and it’s a major major mistake to lose him from a marketing angle), my spies at Fairfax disguised as plastic potted plants (live foliage was recently banned) report the reason they took the opportunity to lose him was to save costs (he was on a huge retainer) and not in anyway ideological.

As I say, dumbing down may seem terribly clever, but as the Packers found withtThe Bulletin, once the decline begins it is almost irreversible. Thank God it's not my money – you would have to be a mug to continue holding Fairfax shares now.

A sad day

Today we hear Mike Carlton has been sacked for refusing to file his copy. This is vandalism.

Sandra Harrison, the Herald's plucky photographic editor, has put it well. The shenanigans by the management are not only brutal but indicate a complete ignorance of how to run a newspaper – a unique style of business – but also indicate even more problems about jobs. I was told on Wednesday night by a Herald snapper of the plans to get rid of another five photographers from a department already decimated by managers despite Harrison's valiant efforts.

Clearly management believe they will be able rely on freelance photographers to back up with pictures. But this ignores the idea that most credible freelancers are ex-newspaper snappers who have left for a variety of reasons and, while some freelance for a time, they generally go off and get full-time jobs as most have families and mortgages and are unable to survive on piecemeal work.

In the meantime, the giant US Getty Images photo agency has been buying up smaller agencies around the world. They recently offered a million dollars to a good friend of mine in New York – one of the USA's most respected snapper of high society events. But his lawyers described the contract as so full of holes a pantechnicon could be driven through it without making a dent. And the terms – paying the million bucks over five years could cease for a number of reasons.

Getty's have been offering three year deals to publications around the world including Australia. It includes an agreement to supply blanket photographic coverage at a ridiculous price, usually as low as $15 a pic, the upshot being that after three years the customer would then be obliged to re-sign and pay normal prices.

This has all the hallmarks of predatory pricing, as the infamous paparazzi photographers have been discovering. Pictures are selling as low as $20 to major Aussie glossies (unless it's a major star in the bath etc). Many are giving up, so the pool of snappers is being reduced further, with most being young and believing it to be an easy route to riches but discovering otherwise.

Note that all newspaper websites now carry pleas to the general public to supply them with pictures. Even the TV news broadcasts are asking the same. Some hope – being in the right place at the right time – as opposed to a professional, who may stalk a good picture for days.

Shareholders may think the huge profits currently generated by Fairfax justify all this. They should cherish those profits while they can. Personally I'd be selling my Fairfax shares. I give them five more years of this foolishness. Once the rot sets in and circulation begins to decline it will become an avalanche.

FXJ, not to be confused with FJ, as in Holden

Michael: "Shareholders may think the huge profits currently generated by Fairfax justify all this. They should cherish those profits while they can. Personally I'd be selling my Fairfax shares. I give them five more years of this foolishness. Once the rot sets in and circulation begins to decline it will become an avalanche."

Watch the chart of FXJ next week. I'm tipping a bouncy ride (I don't own any) as the smart-in-the-long-term money starts getting out and the cowboy short term money starts buying in. Asset stripping, here we come. Takeover, anyone?

Alan Curran is only half right when he says "when are people like MEAA spokesman Mike Dobbie going to realise that when you work for somebody, you work for them; you do not run the company? Whether a company downsizes or upsizes are decisions for the boss or management, not some union official who is way out of his depth." Alan is talking outdated theory. He means that when you are a worker (management included) for a company, you work for the shareholders. 

But the executive layer acts like a law unto itself, having cut itself free over the years from effective shareholder control. The obscenity of CEOs rewarding themselves (and wait for the predictable retort to that) with huge golden handshakes for running the share value of 'their' company into the ground is only just starting. Watch FXJ (Fairfax) for this at its most spectacular.

I remember reading a remark by the boss of a New York advertising agency, who said something to this effect: "This is a unique business. Every day at 5 o'clock I watch the entire assets of my company go down to street level in the lift."

I think a newspaper CEO who was not suffering from myopia would say something very similar. There is nothing quite so useless as all the presses and equipment of a modern newspaper if nobody wants to read it any more. The way it is going, the only market left for print media will be the unwired. What seems to be saving Fairfax is, as usual, the classified ads. Their online marketing of cars, boats etc is great. But they will never beat Murdoch in the tabloid market. He'll have them for breakfast. Correction, for a mid-morning snack.

However, without decent copy to read, Herald readers would be better off with The Trading Post.

Ironically, although I personally no longer subscribe to a paper, I buy them when I travel, which is a lot. Always the SMH in NSW and the Age in Victoria.


Not vandalism at all, Michael de Angelos.  In fact I've just emailed them offering to do his column.  On second thoughts, Claude could probably do it.

And Alphonse tells me it is a complete lie that he ever lay with Gordon Wood.   He was a bit evasive on woodies though.

Not sad, just reality

Michael de Angelos, when are people like MEAA spokesman Mike Dobbie going to realise that when you work for somebody, you work for them; you do not run the company? Whether a company downsizes or upsizes are decisions for the boss or management, not some union official who is way out of his depth.

In the next couple of years you are going to see more jobs lost as Rudd and Swan grind the economy into the ground. We are going to hear more complaints from union officials about jobs lost, but it is their own fault for spending such large amounts of their members' money getting Rudd elected.

Not a good investment for “Working Families”.

As for Mike Carlton, who the hell reads his rubbish anyway? Maybe he can get a job in London.

Data on the Clipboard. Do you wish to delete?

Don't they just cut and paste everything from the New York Times, anyway?

I mean, how hard can it be?

Fiona: That's enough spleen for one morning, Eliot. Read this, for a start. And when are you going to blossom into print for Webdiary? I mean, how hard can it be?

Margo lucky she left the SMH

The job cuts, which affect five per cent of the Fairfax workforce in Australia and New Zealand, are being made under a new business improvement program to save $50 million a year, the company said on Tuesday.

The first high profile victim of the 550 job cuts came on Wednesday when Age editor Andrew Jaspan was sacked after four years at the helm.

The cuts will include 180 editorial jobs.

Fairfax, which merged with Rural Press in 2007, recorded a net profit of $386.9 million for 2007-08, up from $263.51 million the previous year.

MEAA spokesman Mike Dobbie said staff fear journalism standards will plummet under the new management.

"People are worried about their futures and if they are going to have a job in a few weeks time," Mr Dobbie said.

"They believe the new management team that has come in since the merger with Rural Press is all about low cost and low quality journalism."

According to this report in this morning's Age, Fairfax profit last year was up $123 million on the year before. You think management and investors would be happy with that. It is hard understand the greed that motivates these business decisions. As the quality of journalism falls then surely profits will follow.

Our democracy depends on a robust press and good journalism. Lets hope that if Fairfax weakens the Australian press someone else steps up to the plate.

I think Margo was wise to leave Fairfax and the SMH behind when she did.

Links to keep up with the story

Here's the campaign website for anyone interested in following, and also the Facebook page.

If Fairfax goes tabloidesque, we're stuffed!  The marching of the editors suggests that something of the ilk is in the works.


Try to look on the bright side

Richard: "If Fairfax goes tabloidesque, we're stuffed! "

Try to look on the bright side. There will always be John Howard's favourite paper - at least, for a while. And there will always be the ABC, at least till the Liberal Party gets back into power.

For me, there will be more time with my family, talking to them on the phone instead of reading Fairfax on screen. (Yes, I know I'm part of the problem.) More time to spend in direct interaction with Jenny; more time for the garden; more time for going out into the paddock and seeing how the cattle are doing, shooting a few rabbits and the odd fox, catching some yabbies down at the dam, dodging the odd snake. Or tidying up the shed instead of cackling at the latest from Miranda Devine.

Life starts to take on a rosy new glow.

It reminds me of the lines from that wonderful old song by Ernie Ball and Karen Brennan:

We'll build a sweet little nest
Somewhere in the west
And let the rest of the world go by. 

(No, not the Ernie Ball so well known and loved by us guitarists for his picks, strings, instruments etc. He's another one.)

Oh yes, and more time for digging up links to stick into comments on Webdiary.

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