There’s a whiff of Steve Jobs’ ‘think different’ about Allan Browne’s assertion that the Fairfax needs “to be willing to do things differently”… except Browne is not Jobs (writes Peter Coleman).
Nothing personal: In shifting Newcastle and Ilawarra subbing to New Zealand, the Fairfax Regional Media chief executive and publisher is after all, doing the bidding of the Fairfax Media board.
And we’d be the first to acknowledge that the Australian metropolitan and regional publisher is capable of brilliance. It’s just that sometimes, you just wonder…
It’s been an interesting few days for the group, with its share price hitting an all-time low and the continuing refusal to allow its biggest shareholder a board seat. Increasingly, there’s a sense that chairman Roger Corbett is the one driving decisions, rather than its chief executive Greg Hywood, and that fragile Fairfax is becoming an experiment in media change.
Nothing new in that: Across town at News Limited, they’re used to hands-on chairmen leading from the front, as those who tuned into the live evidence to the Leveson inquiry heard… except that Rupert Murdoch still pretty much owns the outfit.
But back to remote subbing: The line Fairfax repeats is that its primary asset is quality journalism.
The line in Browne’s statement – from the ‘Illawarra Mercury’ website –that it’s “editorial production functions” that are being relocated to New Zealand, makes the subs sound more like latterday keyboard operators. In fact, with the software systems handling most of the chores, the subs at each seat are the last link between often inexperienced staff and what appears in print.
It’s a recurring criticism of newspapers that if you know anything about the story, it’s usually wrong. Readers react badly to the sort of errors which occur when non-locals subedit ‘their’ paper: Names of streets or the local mayor spelled wrongly; local and regional nuances ignored.
Example: I was glancing through the Darwin ‘Sunday Territorian’ at the weekend on the way back from a few days in Central Australia, when I noticed an item about newlywed Michael Clarke taking part in a motor rally across the road from the GXpress office.
Except that the News Limited title had the location as ‘Pamona’ rather than ‘Pomona’. Stupid, careless subs? Or stupid management which adds to the burden of what they are expected to get right by handing the task to people unfamiliar with the location?
It’s always easier to upset and lose a reader than to win one, and print newspapers are finding the task hard enough without depriving readers of the ‘localness’ that makes them identify with and feel the ‘local paper’ is part of the community.
Up in GXpress’s home state, it’s the same reality that has seen a newcomer come in to fill the presumed vacuum left by News’ closure of the ‘Noosa Journal’, no matter that the APN rival – subbed, to some criticism, down the road in Maroochydore – is a strong and effective local newspaper. Lindsay Bock, who launched and sold the ‘Journal’ – and before it the ‘Citizen’, sold to Fairfax – certainly understood that.
As one who has been enough of a grassroots editor in his time to have to run the front-office gauntlet of disaffected local readers after the paper has been published, I certainly do.
Remote subbing is not like remote prepress or production and is fraught with dangers.
If it’s so easy to sub-edit a newspaper anywhere, perhaps former grocery chief Corbett should put the task of subbing and layout of the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ out to New Zealand, or India, or somewhere…
And risk the scorn of his city contemporaries.
• Australian Fairfax Media journalists walked out at 5.30 pm today after voting to go on strike for 36 hours over the outsourcing. Journalists at The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian Financial Review, The Sunday Age and The Sun Herald walked out, joining colleagues from the Newcastle Herald and Illawarra Mercury.