‘Fact-checking’ Tassie journos get protest blog wrong

A week before the News Limited newspaper is due to host Australia’s Single Width Users Group conference, staff at the Hobart ‘Mercury’ are protesting over plans to move subbing to a Melbourne hub.

But their argument that “editing is far more than just checking for commas” has been blunted by a mistake in the address of their blog at http://saveourmercury.blogspot.com/  on the blog itself (adding an incorrect .au).

The ‘Save Our Mercury’ campaign has moved into public awareness mode, and apparently follows a stop-work meeting on March 10. The blog reports that a meeting of 32 ‘Mercury’ editorial staff voted unanimously to oppose changes “in an effort to keep the Mercury local and not lose the voice of Tasmania to an office in Melbourne”. They claim copy editing of news and sports stories is to begin in July.

The moves follow a trend towards centralised subbing and layout facilities in Australia and elsewhere: Fairfax uses remote subbing in Brisbane for its Melbourne and Sydney metropolitan titles, APN’s east coast dailies rely on a subbing and layout unit in Maroochydore, and journalists in Sydney produce pages for the UK’s ‘Daily Telegraph’.

Apart from economies of scale, the system solves problems with recruitment and training, and at APN – where the Sunshine Coast is a much-favoured lifestyle destination – editors have the choice of designing pages locally or using the central resource.

In Hobart, however, there is discontent about the plan, which follows redundancies two years ago. Focus of the journalists’ ire of editor-in-chief Garry Bailey, several of whose family members have been associated with the Hobart daily.

His cousin, Wayne Bailey, who oversaw a $32 million plant upgrade at the ‘Mercury’ in 2009 as production manager of the Davies Brothers print site, and has since been promoted to News Limited deputy national production director, is likely to be a SWUG delegate.

The conference opens this Friday evening with a welcome party on a cruise boat, and gets down to technically-focussed business on Saturday and Sunday. A visit to see the KBA press – capable of printing 96 all-colour pages – and Ferag mailroom at the Davies Brothers print site is planned.

Meanwhile, the journalists’ campaign continues with a lengthy report on the www.tasmaniantimes.com blog site and through its own blog and Facebook pages. Some posts are supportive, one describing the ‘Mercury’ as “the only newspaper I have ever enjoyed reading”, while others are less so.

While this report was being prepared, ‘Tegan Hewitt’ posted, “Don't move the Mercury to Melbourne... move it to Siberia!!!”

Mild weather is for the SWUG weekend – 10° overnight and a daytime high of 18-20° – but for some, it may seem a little like that, even though the SWUG welcome is traditionally warm.

Peter Coleman

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