The New Newsrooms of Fairfax and News Ltd

What Does it Mean For Media Managers?

The muffled scream was followed by yet another body being thrown down the lift well. Metaphorically speaking this has been the fate of some top newspaper editors lately, as media organisations grope towards online news as a means of survival.
Top Editors at The Age and Herald Sun in Melbourne joined their ousted colleagues at the Sydney Morning Herald as, to mix a metaphor, the tumbrels of the new regime rolled on.
Some Fairfax journos struck over outsourcing sub-editors’ jobs to New Zealand, a largely symbolic step with no discernible effect.
Early next year The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald weekday editions go tabloid (at least in size), as the giant presses bought for papers in both cities fall silent.
For Corporate Affairs people and PR managers there is much to be said about the advantage of both Fairfax and News Ltd moving toward single newsrooms.
A one-stop point of contact will be available as Fairfax opts for its journos to come under Topic Editors who are, in the jargon, “platform neutral” and report to the national News Director.
Topic Editors are bosses of reporters covering everything from entertainment to sport, justice, investigations, foreign news and federal and state politics.
Interestingly, the Fairfax plan is said, according to in-house documents, to “evolve and adapt based on what our audiences want, our content strategy and commercial imperatives”.
This plan sets out a seven-day model, starting at 6am and running until midnight. Integral to it are Platform Editors who focus on sites, newspaper, mobile phones or tablets, answering to the Editor-in-Chief.
So print, once king, is on a par with the web, social media and tablets. Magazines get a similar slice of the pie.
A key reason for the revolution is that although Fairfax has 60 per cent of its net readership online (with shrinking print), only 40 per of its online material was from its staff.
So out went the leisurely 10am news conference, in came a 5am conference to generate stories that are fresh when on-line readership begins to peak at 7am and runs strongly until 9am.
The next surge is at noon, with workers on lunchbreaks catching up with the news.
So the push is on for more exclusive stories, with greater pressure on reduced staffs.
Behind all this, of course is money, and survival. For every three cents Fairfax spends on the net it earns $1. In print, it costs $2 to earn $1.
The ABC, although free of the commercial imperative, is having a radical shake-up, with reporters learning to deliver their reports, commentary and analysis for online, radio and TV, working across the corporation rather than for individual programs.
Networking newsgathering is growing, with reporters breaking stories online on News Radio and News 24 at the expense of analysis programs.
Will any of this work, or will putting huge resources into online be for newspapers, as one commentator says, as useful as a band-aid on a bullet wound?
Part of the answer lies in whether readers will pay for news online.
Specialist papers such as the Australian Financial Review, Financial Times and Wall Street Journal succeed with paywalls because their readers don’t mind shelling out for vital business and economic news.
Readers of the Herald Sun show that a populist tabloid formula of footy and crime does not attract cash to the web. After being badly burnt early with a paywall the New York Times now only charges those who want to read a lot.
This is likely to be the Fairfax approach. But, as newspaper companies try to turn into technology businesses that also have papers, it may be too late.

Share this post