Fairfax staff shocked over changes
Mon, 18 Jun 2012 6:09p.m.
By Tony Field
Major changes are on the way at the media giant Fairfax as it slashes jobs and starts charging for online access.
It is cutting 1900 jobs in Australia, and will begin charging readers for access to its online editions of the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age.
Fairfax says it has no plans to do the same with its New Zealand titles, including Stuff.co.nz and the Dominion Post.
The organisation built a media empire from its newspapers but the company says readers' behaviours have changed for good.
“We have all seen our audiences consuming news in different ways and more than happy to have them consuming it on any platform we can provide for them,” says Fairfax executive Garry Linnell.
It is cutting 1900 jobs from its 10,000 staff over the next three years, with 20 percent from the editorial team and more from the closure of two printing plants.
It is putting its Australian digital content behind a paywall as it starts charging users to read both the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age newspapers, and both those papers will be now be published in tabloid size.
Fairfax journalist Ben Schnieders says staff are not happy.
“Staff are shocked and dismayed at what's happened today. These are major job cuts and we are very concerned by what's occurred.”
But media buyer Harold Mitchell says it is a good decision.
“This is absolutely the right move to make, and it is not before time because by 2020, 80 percent of the world's media will be digital,” he says.
“It had to happen. This is a company that will save itself by doing it.”
Workers are not so sure.
Fairfax New Zealand chief executive Allen Williams says the organisation has considered making New Zealand readers pay, but says its online content will remain free for now, at least.
“In terms of where they are in the digital curve, they are probably more advanced than we are here, with the access of digital devices, the ultra fast broadband.”
Around 50 Australian sub-editing jobs are being moved here, but unions say Fairfax has cut 80 jobs in New Zealand over 18 months.
The restructuring of Fairfax’s Australian operations is being partly paid for by the sale of $200 million worth of Trade Me shares.
Fairfax sold the shares in Trade Me to a variety of retirement fund managers, both in Australia and here in New Zealand.
Devon Funds Management bought some of the shares.
“[Fairfax has] kept a majority shareholding, so they are still at 50.1 percent, so they can maintain control of the business and still get access to dividends and some of the cash flow,” Devon’s Chris Gaskin says.
Whether Fairfax has to sell even more if its stake in Trade Me could depend on how keen Australians are to pay for their news.
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