News faces up to need to cut costs... at its tabloids at least

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The inevitable has happened: After regularly holding Fairfax Media to account over cuts to its editorial teams, rival News Corp Australia has had to face up to the need to balance its own books.

The company reported a second-quarter loss of $287 million in February, and has announced further substantial staff cuts, especially to photographic teams on its metro tabloids, in response. While total numbers are not being quoted, it has been reported that 45 staff will lose their jobs at the Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and 40 job losses are expected at the Herald-Sun in Melbourne.

These come on top of a reported ten redundancies at the Gold Coast Bulletin, also in Queensland. Former News staffer Amanda Meade, now at Guardian Australia was told "dozens of people" had already been quietly made redundant at News sites this year.

There is no mention so far of cuts at flagship national broadsheet The Australian.

Meanwhile, readers of that title have been kept abreast of cuts at Fairfax, where the loss of more journalist jobs has been "proposed" as part of moves to save $30 million a year in the newsrooms of The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and websites brisbanetimes and WAtoday.

Newly appointed Australian metro publishing managing director Chris Janz told staff last week that proposed changes would see the completion of major structural editorial changes "required to secure our metropolitan mastheads". The cuts follow 100 announced a year ago. Journalist were also - somewhat strangely - told by Janz what was expected of them in terms of their political and pro-business line, guidance that might normally come from editors.

In February, Fairfax sought to dispel fears that it would cease publication of its metro daily print editions, saying that while alternatives had been explored, continuing with Monday to Friday print editions was the best outcome.

At News, savings were also expected following the integration of the former APN regional newspapers in NSW and Queensland, although the company later played down the 300 originally mentioned.

In reports of the Gold Coast cuts and elsewhere there has been mention of "modernising" newsrooms, which elsewhere has meant making more use of the EidosMedia Méthode editorial technology. which is designed for multiplatform publishing.

New former APN ARM acquisitions up and down the east coast - of which the Bulletin is not one - have been produced on a modern CCI system centralised on the Sunshine Coast Daily site in Maroochydore, but including remote layout and page sharing.

For the highly-pictorial News metro tabloids - Melbourne's Herald-Sun, the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, Adelaide Advertiser and Brisbane Courier-Mail - the idea of having most photographers on staff is being retired in favour of a "hybrid model" where a core team of "photographic specialists" are complemented by freelance and agency photographers.

It's easy to see savings with this approach as more photographic content is already coming from agency sources and social media, and the use of freelances - maybe former staffers - will reduce overheads and enable editors to make greater demands on self-employed photographers.

It's unclear whether the changes will see the widespread use of journalists to take their own photographs - as they do at the former APN newspapers - and shoot video.

Like Fairfax, News has also made top management changes, most recently with Damian Eales put in charge of print publishing - covering eight metro and Sunday titles, 18 regional dailies and more than 100 community papers - as chief operating officer, publishing, alongside digital chief Nicole Sheffield and new recruit Siobahn McKenna (broadcasting).

News has also appointed Lou Barrett as executive general manager of network sales and Dominic Hatfield as chief technology officer. The departure of operations managing director Geoff Booth and three other team leaders was also announced last week (see story).

The bottom line is that News, like Fairfax, realises it needs to stay in print - indeed has made much of its commitment to the platform - but has less revenue from it, and less than it hoped for from digital. Cutting costs is the only way to balance the books, but readers are easy enough to upset and lose.

At the GXpress office on the top end of Queensland's Sunshine Coast, we keep an eye on local output with subscriptions to The Australian and the Courier-Mail, and a complimentary copy of the Noosa News, now all News Corp publications, and regular flits into some of their websites.

I've been contemplating cancelling the Courier-Mail since Col Allan had his way with the News tabs, and will spend less time with the Noosa News if standards fall. Yesterday it managed to fill half a page with a story about national and global restaurants, none of them remotely local.

As United Airlines learned yesterday with the response to its removal of a passenger from one of its flights, customers are easier to lose than gain.

Peter Coleman

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