17 Jun 2015

Fairfax presses ahead with restructure

5:41 pm on 17 June 2015

Media company Fairfax has confirmed its staff restructure in a move it says will create more jobs - but sources say it will leave some people paid less and on poorer conditions.

Sinead Boucher, Fairfax NZ Group Executive Editor.

Sinead Boucher, Fairfax NZ Group Executive Editor. Photo: Fairfax NZ

The company announced the proposed restructure on 28 May and Fairfax New Zealand executive editor Sinead Boucher today confirmed it, saying 159 jobs would go but 174 would be created.

However, staff said many of the news jobs were paid at lower rates and offered poorer conditions than current contracts.

"Reporting capability will be boosted and editorial operations organised into focused, local teams and specialist national topic areas," Ms Boucher said.

The new structure would have a digital focus.

"We are boosting our reporting capability in small and large communities, and reorganising our newsrooms and teams so they can deliver the highest quality content - in all its forms - to our audiences. It's a different way of operating, geared towards building a dynamic, responsive newsroom."

Ms Boucher this week told stuff.co.nz the new roles would be "pretty much all focussed on reporting".

She said the proposal was expected to reduce costs but that was not the reason the changes were being considered; instead it was to "recalibrate the way newsrooms are focussed".

Affected staff were today told their roles would be disestablished from 6 September, with the new roles effective from 7 September. Staff could apply for the new roles or take redundancy.

Fairfax Media owns the Waikato Times, The Dominion Post, The Press, The Sunday Star Times and many other newspapers, and website stuff.co.nz.

Stuff the core of the business

The Fairfax Media restructuring plans confirmed today are part of on-going "digital-first" strategy.

Old job titles like chief reporter and sub-editor disappear. New jobs for news and channel directors, bureau chiefs, production co-ordinators and visual operations managers have been created.

The stuff.co.nz platform will become the core of the business.

Under a previously-announced Fairfax project called News Rewired, new editors in social media, community news, sport and lifestyle journalism were appointed in May; and local newspaper editors have become regional editors, gathering news to be published online as soon as possible as well as in the papers.

This past week, the last remaining Fairfax Media local paper editor finished up at The Nelson Mail.

In his farewell editorial, Paul McIntrye said Nelson - other regions - were lucky to have a daily paper.

They would simply not exist in many other countries based on population figures, he said.

"Fairfax may own the Mail, but it is your paper. We editors are merely caretakers. I truly believe there is a place and a thirst for good, quality journalism in New Zealand. It's absolutely vital, but I fear it's being eroded in the relentless chase for audience numbers."

Tim Hunter was a senior business journalist at Fairfax until May, and he is now working for the National Business Review. Last week, in a piece called "What's really going on a Fairfax?" he wrote:

"This tends to be seen as a standard job cuts, cost-cuts, lowering standards, sunset industry sort of story -- which it isn't, because Fairfax NZ is not like other media companies."

The company is still making money, he said. The Australian parent company has pulled in almost $440 million in dividends from New Zealand over the past four financial years, including revenue from the sale of its stake in online auction website Trade Me.

Tim Hunter said that Fairfax has "built a new online-only basket, stuff.co.nz, into which it has placed all its eggs" rather than compete head-on with the Herald, or develop titles like the Dominion Post, The Press and the Sunday Star-Times.

"As a result, it is going hell for leather to be the No 1 free website in the country in a media version of the old supermarket motto "pile em high and flog em cheap".

Last week, Fairfax released a statement which said stuff.co.nz had overtaken Trade Me in terms of unique audience (according to Nielsen research figures). Sinead Boucher said:

"Usage is the ultimate engagement metric. In New Zealand, the digital world is now defined by Google for search, Facebook for social, and Stuff for content."

But newspapers still provide most of the income.

The NBR's Tim Hunter estimates stuff.co.nz would bring in less than $20 million in revenue. Worldwide, bigger publishers than Fairfax New Zealand are still struggling to work out how to turn eyeballs into dollars.

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