Fairfax management has recently decided to sack its in-house sub-editors, and out-source the role to the company PageMasters:
Fairfax to look at outsourcing options
Fairfax sets new outsourcing deadline
Fairfax confirms outsourcing plans with 82 jobs to go
Fairfax journalists to discuss strikes
In one way, this move is an understandable response to the impact of the rise of the internet on advertising sales revenue for newspapers. But in another, it is a weird attempt to reduce costs by outsourcing an essential step in the process of producing a daily newspaper–a bit like committing Harakiri in order to lose weight.
Subs aren’t seen by the readers of a newspaper, but they play several essential roles, from scanning reports from external news services (“wire services”, as they were once called) to copy editing, last minute layout changes, etc.
They also interact with the journalists writing stories, and they tend to be “old hands” at the newspaper game, with the wisdom as well as the cynicism that goes with that.
To my mind, this proposal is a bit like removing interaction between experienced nurses at a hospital and newby dTo my mind, it would be a bit like removing interaction between experienced nurses at a hospital and newby doctors. I’d prefer to go to a hospital where experienced nurses restrained the enthusiasm of inexperienced if well-trained new doctors. Outsourcing won’t get too much in the way of the base functions, but it will end that interaction between old hands and new journalists, and I expect that the papers will become much weaker for it.
This is ironic, because a major reason why newspapers have suffered from the internet is that people can get a lot of online commentary from sites like mine for free–and they rely on the newspapers more for the news feeds that subs play a major role in maintaining. If a newspaper loses its subs–or has the same subs as its competitors because they outsource the role to the same or similar organisations–then they lose one unique feature that made them desirable when compared to the world of free online commentary on the Internet.
So I support the actions of Fairfax journalists to resist this move, or at least to reduce its severity and keep some of that old-time wisdom in house. If you’d like to support them as well, here is a letter Fairfax journalists sent asking for support:
Dear Fairfax, Sydney Morning Herald and The Age reader, We write with an urgent request for your help to limit damaging cost cutting at the Fairfax mastheads, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. We believe these cuts will have a long-term negative impact on the quality of journalism at these unique and important publications.
We urge you to email today the individuals below and join our online campaign calling for a more well thought out approach to change.
We are committed, and will continue to be committed, to providing you with the robust, critical, independent, quality reporting that has long been associated with these publications but we need your help. Please pass this email on to your friends, colleagues and relatives.
Editorial staff at The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
Join our campaign on:
Facebook: Future Proof Fairfax http://on.fb.me/mfEiHD
PLEASE SEND THE FOLLOWING LETTER BY EMAIL TO
Dear Mr Hywood and Mr Matthews,
Fairfax staff recognise there is a need to change, particularly when confronted with a rapidly divergent media environment. For Fairfax to be commercially AND editorially successful, staff must be included in the decision making process from the beginning. At the moment you are failing to do this. Cutting costs without consultation and targeting areas that are crucial to the integrity, independence and quality of your mastheads and publications is not acceptable. Your approach is damaging to staff morale and to the Fairfax brands in the communities they serve. As a diligent reader of your publications, I urge you to rethink your approach.
One reason for my support here is that, decades ago, I became friends with some subbies from AAP, and helped them out during the journalists’ strike back in the late 70s (or was that the early 80s?). I also worked with them when I arranged several seminars on journalism back when I worked with the Australian Freedom from Hunger Campaign and the United Nations Association–one seminar on the coverage of the collapse of India’s Janata Party, another on Australian and Chinese news coverage of each other’s countries, and a third on Australian and South East Asian news. I came to understand and respect the roles they played in putting newspapers together. It’s hard for me to imagine newspapers without them on board.
Finally, the only real solution here is to attack the problem: the rivalry between free information on the Internet and the commercial roles of newspapers. The only long term solution will be micropayment systems, which so far have been singularly unsuccessful. I’ve recently added a Flattr link on my site, which is about the only viable micropayment system out there right now. Of course I’d perfer to have readers pay a micropayment (a fraction of a cent) per click, and if that could be implemented across the Internet then the financial problems that lie behind decisions like this might evaporate.
But that, if it ever happens, is far in the future. The Fairfax journalists–both those losing their jobs as subs, and those who are trying to imagine their newspaper without them–are losing now. Please support their campaign to reverse–or at least reduce the scale of–this management decision.