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Strike action as Australia's Fairfax slashes 70 jobs

Journalists at the Australian Financial Review, Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne's The Age went on strike on Wednesday after management proposed axing another 70 editorial and photo jobs.

SYDNEY: Journalists at the Australian Financial Review, Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne's The Age went on strike on Wednesday after management proposed axing another 70 editorial and photo jobs.

Staff voted overwhelmingly for the snap 24-hour strike, which also includes Fairfax Media stablemates The Canberra Times, The Newcastle Herald and The Illawarra Mercury, after learning of the plan.

"Fairfax Media on strike for 24 hours over slashing numbers of photographic and other staff," veteran Sydney Morning Herald reporter Kate McClymont tweeted.

Fairfax said some journalists were taking unprotected industrial action but the company would continue to publish across print and digital as usual.

"The company is disappointed that some journalists have chosen to take this unlawful action," it said in a statement.

"The company had commenced a meaningful consultation process about the proposed changes and has planned further briefings with affected employees and their representatives."

The proposed job losses were revealed to staff in a note from Allen Williams, managing director of Australian Publishing Media at Fairfax, early Wednesday.

The losses are likely to include 25 editorial positions, along with 30 photo jobs and 15 in lifestyle sections. Another 10 positions in editorial production will move to report directly to newsroom editors.

"The changes we are proposing are similar to the more progressive and efficient models being used by other media organisations around the world," Williams said in the note seen by AFP.

"We must deliver our high-quality content in the most efficient way possible."

The arrangements would see more copy-editing and page layout work done by external contractors, with production jobs going from Sydney and Melbourne by year-end.

Under the proposal, the lifestyle-oriented Life Media would restructure some of its divisions to make greater use of freelancers to deliver editorial content. On the images side, more work will be outsourced to external service provider Getty Images.

Fairfax sent shockwaves through Australia's media sector in 2012 by announcing it was sacking hundreds of staff and putting its newspapers -- the only serious rival to Rupert Murdoch's vast Australian News Corp. holdings -- behind a paywall.

Like many media groups, it has struggled with the transition to digital and is trying to combat sliding print advertising and circulation revenues.

The journalists' union said the latest redundancies represented "an assault on the quality journalism that has been the hallmark" of Fairfax for more than a century, and showed the company was incapable of deciding on production arrangements and sticking with them.

"The only decision the company seems capable of making is to keep cutting staff," said Christopher Warren from the Media, Entertainment, Arts Alliance.

"When do we reach the point of no return? Why isn't more effort being made to protect and promote editorial quality and utilise smarter ways of working? At what point does Fairfax stop being a news organisation and merely become a commissioning agency that outsources everything it does?"

Last August Fairfax reported annual revenues were down 8.2 per cent at A$2.0 billion (US$1.86 billion). But chief Greg Hywood said the company was "meeting or surpassing all critical milestones" in its transition online, which has also seen its mastheads go tabloid.

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