It is with great sadness and a sense of irony that I’m launching my Blog in the week Australian journalism is dealt one of the biggest blows this century. Fairfax has announced a radical overhaul of its operations that will see the loss of 1900 jobs. It’s a harsh reminder of the rapidly changing world in which we live and how the repercussions of the Internet continue to take their toll on traditional communication methods – mostly newspapers.
It’s still not clear exactly which workers will lose their jobs and the majority may well be those employed at the printing plants at Tullamarine and Sydney, which are to be closed. Which means, of course writers will also be thrown onto the sacrificial heap, as the world turns its back on the printed word.
While I feel enormously for those who will lose their jobs, I’m also saddened by the wider ramifications. What about the younger generation of aspiring journalists? Imagine hearing this news if you were a Year Twelve student, gearing up for exams and eagerly studying till your eyes are red, spurred on by the ambition that you’ll one day see your by-line in the pages of a newspaper or magazine? Imagine trying to stay motivated, knowing jobs in the industry are being halved by the minute? That your chances of success are about as likely as winning Tattslotto?
It also raises questions about the nurturing of our future writers. When you win a junior position at a media organization (or a cadetship, as it was known when I started out in the biz) you had role models you aspired to emulate and people who encouraged you, despite your clumsy first efforts. There was a structure of training that instilled basic skills and an understanding of the true responsibilities of being a journalist.
The changes at Fairfax also raise concerns about media ownership and the power of those on the board. As Gina Reinhart’s stake in Fairfax increases, so too does the sounds of warning bells. Mrs Reinhart has stated she would not agree with protocol that directors NOT interfere with editorial direction. Quite frankly, I find this startling. Why would she say this, knowing her words would be quoted publicly, and that if she did increase her share percentage, this knowledge would be severely detrimental to the reputation of the business? Surely she must be surrounded by a plethora of advisors who have a well-thought out plan? So what could be her motivation for making such a controversial declaration?
While we are well aware many newspapers around the world are politically ‘guided’, for most, there is at least some pretence of editorial independence. If Mrs Rinehart wins the power to sack editors on a whim, why would she not agree to the protocol and then just keep changing the editorial line-up until she finds an editor whose views match her own? An abhorrent concept, but at least publicly, there’d be a declaration of independence. I’m all for seeing women in positions of power and taking control of major organizations, but ultimately it’s the ethics, not the sex of an individual, that count.
I’m praying for a miracle. That Mrs Rinehart will reveal there’s been a huge mistake and she’s been severely misrepresented through a misunderstanding of her words. That she plans to throw a few billion into the newspaper industry, revitalizing it with such a rush of new life that the upcoming generation will embrace the newspaper tradition and ensure its longevity. One can but dream…
On a trivial note, I will be ordering my home-delivered newspapers for as long as possible. I’m an avid reader of Blogs and cyberspace information, but there’s no way I’m going to start paying for on-line newspaper content. There’s too much other free stuff out there. It’s about as appealing as the concept of paying for water. And let’s face it. Nothing beats the smell of newspaper ink as you turn the pages while sipping your first cup of tea at breakfast.