Fairfax Journalists Are On Strike For A Week; Here’s What You Need To Know

Journalists all around the country are asking for your support.

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Journalists at one of Australia’s largest media companies, Fairfax Media, have voted to go on strike in opposition to plans announced this morning that would cut 125 editorial positions.

Management at Fairfax Media, which publishes The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and The Australian Financial Review, today unveiled a plan to cut $30 million from the company’s budget by cutting 125 editorial positions and reducing expenditure on casual staff. Rates for freelance contributors would also be “reviewed” with the current fee per word model shifting to a flat fee per article.

Many Fairfax staff members expressed their shock and anger at the huge extent of the cuts, which equate to a loss of approximately one quarter of the company’s newsroom.

Staff at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age held stop-working meetings this afternoon and voted to go on strike for seven days. Last year Fairfax staff walked out for 24 hours to protest staff cuts. The current strike period includes the release of the federal budget next Tuesday. The budget is generally considered one of the biggest news days of the year.

Newcastle Herald and Brisbane Times staff have also voted to strike in solidarity.

One Fairfax journalist working within the metropolitan media division told Junkee, “We have done strikes before and it didn’t change anything, but never for a week and covering the budget. Imagine the budget without AFR coverage.”

“All journos lose a week’s salary if we strike the whole week. It’s very painful for us personally,” they said. “I think management could find places within Fairfax to save $30 million before slashing editorial.”

During today’s meeting, staff voted to reject the cuts proposed by management. They called for senior management to take a 25 percent pay-cut, opposed forced redundancies, and called for voluntary redundancy rounds to be open for at least three weeks.

Young Journalists Support The Decision

Jenny Noyes, a news editor at Fairfax’s Daily Life in Sydney, told Junkee, “I absolutely support the decision to strike for seven days. We wanted to send a strong message to management and to the people of Sydney that we care and we’re willing to put our wages on the line to try and protect the journalism that we do and our city needs.”

“There are quite a lot of young people directly affected by this,” Noyes said. “Casual staff are on the chopping block and often that means young people. The video team have been told they won’t be producing original content anymore. That’s a whole lot of young people with skills who, if they aren’t made redundant, are coming back to a job that is just repurposing other video content.

“That’s one area where it’s mostly young people and it’s an area they’ve been told that their jobs won’t exist as they currently do.”

Jack Fisher is a video journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald. He told Junkee that “the biggest thing as a young person is the huge amount of institutional knowledge that is about to walk out the door if the company succeeds in getting rid of 120 full-time staff.”

“The young people at Fairfax are the people I expect to see doing journalism for the next half a century and fulfilling all the important functions the Herald has,” he said. “This is not the first time this has happened. Already, young people at Fairfax are without the institutional knowledge that has been lost under previous cuts. That’s why we’re particularly dismayed to see management make this change.

“We’re the most unionised newsroom in the entire country. When you’re a young person and you come into The Sydney Morning Herald, you have a chance to witness and learn from that solidarity. There’s no question our younger staff are always willing to stand by our older colleagues because we’re the ones who benefit from the knowledge they have to offer.”

What Impact Will This Strike Have?

Fairfax management will now have try and put out the news every day for the next week without the bulk of their editorial team. That means management might have to do some journalism themselves, but it could mean the company relies more on freelancers.

However, some journalists are discouraging freelancers from picking up the slack.

Striking journalists at Fairfax are sending a message to management and their readers by withholding their labour. They’re attempting to demonstrate their value to the public and to the community. If freelancers or casual staff temporarily take up the jobs of striking staff they can undermine the collective action being undertaken. Strikes tend to be more successful when they involve most, if not all, of the company.

Fairfax journalists are also asking the public not to buy The Age or The Sydney Morning Herald while staff are on strike as an expression of support.

The biggest impact of the strike will clearly be on Fairfax’s budget coverage. “The budget’s next Tuesday,” Noyes told Junkee. “We wanted to send a really strong message to management, our readers, subscribers and advertisers that this is what you’re going to be missing. You’re going to be missing our expert, considered and balanced analysis of extremely important political news.

“We care about Sydney and The Age care about Melbourne, and we hope that our readers care about us. They can show that they care by participating in the campaign and writing to Greg Hywood, the Fairfax CEO, and asking they reconsider their strategy of cutting jobs and find more creative ways to invest in journalism.”

Osman Faruqi is Junkee’s News and Politics Editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @oz_f.

Feature image via Eamonn Duff/Twitter