Fairfax’s cuts reflect state of newspapers around the world

Australia’s Fairfax Media Ltd. is the latest newspaper publisher to cut print offerings and focus on digital. Many say the cuts will hurt editorial quality, but most agree that without the cuts, large publishers would go under.


“All the world’s newspaper companies are experimenting with what sustainability looks like,” Margaret Simons, head of the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advanced Journalism,  told Reuters“There is no business model that can support the hundreds of journalists that are employed by companies such as Fairfax.”


Fairfax announced its latest restructuring plan last week, in which it will cut 1,900 jobs from the editorial staffs, printing operations and other areas. Approximately 20 percent of its 10,000 employees will be laid off over three years. It also plans to put The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald behind paywalls online and reduce them from broadsheets to tabloid formats by March 2013It will also shut down two printing plants.


According to theAudit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), Monday to Friday circulation of The Sydney Morning Herald for the first three months of this year sank 14 percent from a year earlier, to 180,960. Daily circulation at The Age fell 13 percent to 165,061


Given to the slump in newspaper circulation, Fairfax is looking to leverage its opportunities in digital. It stated in the announcement that The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald websites attract about seven million unique users each month and that about 65 percent of readers of the two newspapers access them digitally. It did not forecast what it expected the numbers to be once a paywall was put in place.


“No one should be in any doubt that we are operating in very challenging times. Readers’ behaviours have changed and will not change back. As a result, we are taking decisive actions to fundamentally change the way we do business,” Chief Executive Greg Hywood said in the statement.


ZDNet blogger and former Financial Times staffer Tom Foremski opined that it is hard to ensure quality reporting without a large number of well-trained journalists.


“The problem is we don’t have a value recovery mechanism for quality journalism. Clicks are the currency for most of today’s media but a click is a click regardless of the quality of the content it surfaces … The clicks I get from an original piece of reporting won’t pay for that day’s work. And I’m just a guy with a laptop. I don’t have a staff of reporters, editors, photographers, admin staff, printing presses, office buildings, pension plans, delivery trucks, etc, to support. So if I, with my modest expenses, find it hard to justify original reporting, how will newspapers do it?


And while newspapers can no longer afford to employ large staffs, the journalists that are left are still trying to get more done with less – a battle most feel they are losing.


“We certainly feel on the editorial floor like it’s the perfect storm because we’re seeing around a quarter of our numbers reduced and possibly within a 60-90 day time frame and that’s going to be particularly hard to achieve because we already feel like we’re running on the smell of an oily rag,” Stuart Washington, a journalist on the Sydney Morning Herald, told the Guardian.


Fairfax is not alone in restructuring announcements. In the U.S. last month, The Times-Picayune in New Orleans cut its print version to three days a week. Lots of newspaper websites put paywalls into practice.


Image: Herald Sun

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This entry was posted in Circulation, Fairfax Media, Internet, newspapers. Bookmark the permalink.

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