Staff at the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times started an “unprecedented” week-long strike on May 3, and staff at the Newcastle Herald and Perth website WA Today stopped work overnight, following Fairfax Media's announcement that it will cut 125 editorial jobs —a quarter of its journalists.
Fairfax wants to cut costs by $30 million in the face of declining advertising and print circulations. Interestingly, this is reported to be the same amount that Fairfax executives — including chief executive Greg Hywood — could claim in recent bonuses.
Campaign spokesperson, Sydney Morning Herald science editor Marcus Strom said: "This is money they're taking out of the company into their own pockets, at the same time they're taking money out of the newsroom."
Dozens of striking Fairfax staff in Sydney camped outside a hotel where Hywood was due to give a business presentation on May 4.
"We are determined to get our message through to the company, to the people of Sydney, to the investors, the advertisers, that the board has to change its strategy," Strom said. "It has to stop treating journalism as the bastard child."
These cuts are the latest in a long string of journalist job losses in recent years, with thousands of Australian journalists having been put out of work as traditional business models collapse.
Last month News Corp Australia flagged job cuts to frontline editorial staff nationwide in a bid to save $40 million. Recently, Channel 10 announced job cuts were likely after recording poor revenues. Fairfax axed 120 editorial jobs from its newsrooms in Sydney and Melbourne a year ago in an earlier cost-cutting exercise.
The email to Fairfax 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.”
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. The company also signalled a change in editorial focus, meaning Fairfax titles will publish fewer state-based stories.
Strom said the industrial action is journalists saying "enough" to the cutting of jobs.
"We're just devastated that the company once again reaches for cuts because they haven't worked out they need to invest in journalism,” he said.
“The board has to invest in journalists. The board cannot cut its way to a sustainable business model, it cannot cut its way to growth. It has to invest in the future of journalism.”
Fairfax's cuts, announced on World Press Freedom Day, have been criticised by the global journalists association, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which represents more than 600,000 journalists in 139 countries.
The IFJ general secretary, Anthony Bellanger, said in a statement: “On the day that we stand together and celebrate the brave work of journalists across the world, we are now standing in solidarity with our Fairfax colleagues and their continued fight for their jobs. We call on Fairfax management to take immediate steps to remedy the situation, without losing more jobs.”
In a poignant gesture, the courageous Journalists' Union of Turkey, which is confronting a government purge of the media that includes the arrest and detention of more than 100 journalists and the closure of dozens of media outlets throwing hundreds of journalists out of work, has offered its support and solidarity to Fairfax journalists. "It is quite right for journalists to defend quality journalism and the staffing levels it requires. The Türkiye Gazeteciler Sendikası sends full support to our MEAA colleagues on strike at Fairfax Media."
Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation said: “We are witnessing a closing of democratic space around the world, and the exercise of free speech and good journalism are vital to democracy itself. The decision of Fairfax management is wrong and misguided, and the international trade union movement stands with you every step of the way in your campaign to reverse it."
The National Union of Journalists–UK and Ireland said: " On behalf of NUJ members in the UK and Ireland we extend solidarity to your members and congratulate you on the swift response to the announcement of unilateral action on the part of the company. We wish you will well in your strike action and assure you of our strong support.”
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: “Independent and fearless journalism that holds power to account requires investment and support from management. These cuts are a short-sighted measure that undermine the journalism readers want and expect from these mastheads.”
"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.”