Where have all the journalists gone? Just days ago, the SMH announced that it was downsizing (or is it rightsizing now - I'll need to consult my corporate wankspeak dictionary to find out) its editorial staff. Initially through voluntary redundencies, and then presumably through more forceful means, the Herald hopes to slash 35-45 from its newsroom workforce, for a saving of $4 million annually. John Fairfax Holdings, publishers of the SMH, made the ASX announcement on Tuesday, and The Australian followed up on Wednesday with a piece that had only the faintest hint of "Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyaaaaah-nyah".
There are two separate issues that arise from this decision. Firstly, what does it say about Fairfax, and secondly, what does it say about opportunities for Australian journos.
First, the first one. It's no secret that Fairfax are doing it tough at the moment. The chairman, Fred Hilmer has announced he is standing down, and the search is on for a replacement. The classifieds market - "the rivers of gold", to use an overused cliche - are slowly being eroded by the internet. Fairfax's online division, f2, has cost the best part of $100 million, and it's too early to tell whether the media empire did its dough on a rickety New Zealand venture. So is the SMH decision a further sign of the problems that face Fairfax, or is it simply generational change? Also, can we count the days now until we hear rumblings about The Age and SMH merging their Canberra bureau? The speculation has done the rounds before (check out the speculation in this ancient piece on Nine's Sunday in 1998), but surely it can't be too long until it's a reality.
Next up, the second one. It's getting tougher and tougher for journalists to get a gig these days. So many of the graduates from journalism and writing courses around the country seem to find themselves working in PR or advertising and so few of them make it to the newsroom coalface. Is it any wonder given that that is where job security and opportunities lie? With the ABC cutting it's cadets programme, Fairfax cutting staff, News Ltd requiring an unhealthy devotion to Rupe, it seems that opportunities are limited. Surely these room in a mature, cosmopolitan media market like Australia for another national daily?