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Fairfax stoush: can anyone be accused of worse timing?

Fairfax Media editorial director Sean Aylmer appears to have chosen the wrong time to start a stoush with staff – a week out from federal budget day.

Aylmer announced on 3 May that 125 journalists would have to walk the plank. Was he unaware that the Coalition government will bring down a much anticipated budget for the country on May 10?

If this was not bad enough, Aylmer has also set 10 May as the last day for journalists who want to leave the publisher voluntarily to apply for the same.

Thus, at a time when the newsroom should be planning budget coverage, Aylmer instead wants journos to be thinking about their futures and whether they could afford to walk out the door.

Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood has been saying for a long time, every time the axe is wielded, that there will be no hit to "quality journalism" even as the journalist roster gets thinner and thinner.

Have a look at this: Phil Coorey, a talented journalist, was made to look very shabby by this exhibition of shocking editing.

Hywood must be one of those old UNIX nerds else he would not believe that less is more. UNIX nerds could be forgiven for thinking this way, because there are two utilities with the names less and more which do exactly the same thing.

The sacking of 125 journalists will leave Fairfax with hardly any resources to continue doing what it has been doing since the 1850s.

Newspapers in most parts of the world are facing problems as the Internet eats into their earnings. This has been happening for the last 20 years.

Fairfax Media has shown that it has only one solution: reduce the headcount. This is the same method employed by uneducated people in labour camps in the Middle East. You don't need a business or management degree to implement such savage solutions.

In the midst of this, there is more than just a touch of chutzpah among senior executives. Only that can account for the fact that Hywood accepted a $2.5 million bonus in March, supposedly for his good performance.

If the man has done his job so well, then why is the company shrinking like The Incredible Melting Man?

The job slashing is coming close to being an annual exercise. In 2012, 1900 people were turned out. In 2014, 70 went. In 2016, another 80 were sent out. And now it's 125.

And we're told that quality will stay the same. This is denialism of a very special kind; even climate change deniers would not go this far.

The irony of the situation is that Fairfax once had some of the best content online, some of the better journalists in the country, and traffic to kill. But successive fools were placed at the head of operations over the years and they have run down things.

The writer worked at The Age for nearly 17 years from 1999 onwards.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

 

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