Staff at the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have voted to strike for a week following Fairfax Media's announcement that it will cut 125 editorial jobs —a quarter of its journalists — as part of a $30-million restructure.
Staff were informed of the job cuts by email and in a meeting with editorial director Sean Aylmer on May 3. They have been given until May 9 to nominate for a voluntary redundancy.
Fairfax wants to cut costs by $30 million in the face of declining advertising and print circulations. The 125 positions to be cut will come from the Fairfax newsrooms across the country.
The move follows an announcement last month by News Corp Australia, which flagged job cuts to frontline editorial staff nationwide in a bid to save $40 million. Fairfax axed 120 editorial jobs from its newsrooms in Sydney and Melbourne a year ago in an earlier cost-cutting exercise.
The email to staff said: “While we will be looking across all parts of the newsroom, at the end of the redundancy program we expect there will be significantly fewer editorial management, video, presentation and section writer roles.”
Aylmer told staff the company will also cap rates for contributors and pay them per article, not per word, cut third party deals such as syndications arrangements and slash payments to casuals, aimed at cutting $3 million from the budget. He also signalled a change in editorial focus, meaning The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial Review, Brisbane Times and WA Today will publish fewer state-based stories.
Sydney Morning Herald state political reporter Sean Nicholls told media: "This threatens the very existence of our newspapers, let alone the very quality of our newspapers. The one-week strike action should be a huge wake-up to this company on what's at stake.
"We thought long and hard about whether to do that and decided on this course of action because it should drive it home to people, and I hope it does, to think about the coverage of a federal budget without the balance and objectivity that Fairfax provides every single year and has done for decades — that is what is at stake.”
Nichols slammed the cuts, saying it is “shocking and we condemn management who have tried to cut their way to quality, which is absolutely impossible, and the fact that they have failed again to try and find an alternative solution.
“A media landscape in Sydney and Melbourne where the only commercial media outlet you can turn to is a Murdoch media outlet, a virtual monopoly, that is an appalling situation and threatens the very pillars of democracy."
Investigations editor Michael Bachelard said: “What we are doing is an action to protest against this move by management and to make our feelings absolutely abundantly clear. What management does with that is up to them but we felt we had no choice to express our dismay and how disheartened we are with these cuts.”
He said supporters of Fairfax should subscribe to the paper to support its staff, but he conceded there are “economic problems with print media”.
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance said in a statement it was appalled at the decision that indicates that “yet again, Fairfax is opting for savage cuts that will only weaken its business further rather than investing in its products and working to achieve smarter outcomes.”
MEAA CEO Paul Murphy said: “None of the other parts of the Fairfax business are worth anything without the journalism and yet it is the journalism that Fairfax always cuts.
"This will only undermine and damage its mastheads further, alienating its audience and leaving the editorial staff that remain having to work harder and harder to fill the gaps. This is a dumb decision.”