June 08, 2004


Today is Fairfaxís day of doom:

Fear and loathing have gripped the Darling Park headquarters of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun-Herald. Management has deemed up to 45 senior journalists must go by the end of next month to save $4 million a year. The staff say savings could be found in other areas, such as the fat level of management introduced under departing CEO Fred Hilmer. After negotiations with the journalists' union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, management yesterday released the final details of the redundancy program. Staff have until June 8 to apply. If the bean-counters aren't happy with the cash they can save from those volunteering to be cast off, executions will continue apace. Reporters, editors, sub-editors, designers, artists and photographers on a pay level of J9 or above (about $80,000) are in the sights of editors Robert Whitehead and Phil McLean.

Mark Day predicts trouble:

Having 57 per cent in the two most senior and costly pay brackets cannot be sustained in any balanced business, and in my view Whitehead and McLean have a business case to perform their slim-down.

But that's not how many of those inside Fairfax see it. They say it's an unconscionable dumbing down of the product; a vendetta against the best people in the building; a process devoid of creative awareness; and an issue worthy of stop-work discussions, if not strikes.

"Dumbing down" the Sydney Morning Herald? Talk about your editorial challenges. Management denies that any "list of the unwanted" exists, but it surely must -- you donít commence a staff cut without some idea of exactly which staff you want cut. Only 15-20 or so voluntary bail-outs are expected, according to Fairfax insiders, so we might shortly see some ominous shoulder-tapping.

A staff chop has been expected for some time, but it's still surprising to see Fairfax go through with it. The culture of the place isnít quite as hopeless as at The New York Times, but there are similarities; hereís former NYT boss Howell Raines in the May Atlantic:

Hiring mistakes are rarely shown the door at the Times, and the paper can be stuck with them for years. After a probationary period of fourteen weeks would-be staff members get tenure for life. In one famous case a supervising editor missed the fourteen-week deadline for dismissing an unproductive newsroom staffer. The supervisor told the staffer that surely he did not want to stay, on account of a technicality, where he was unwanted. The employee disagreed, said he could live with that, and is still there a quarter century later.

UPDATE. From Amanda Meade's Diary column in The Australian last week (no link):

Still no names to emerge from the Fairfax $8 million redundancy push, although the cost-cutting has already started, with columnists Chris McGillion and Peter FitzSimons losing their op-ed places ... but the comment of the week must go to SMH editor Robert Whitehead who has been telling people that columnist Paddy McGuinness did not resign at all. He sacked him first.

Posted by Tim Blair at June 8, 2004 03:53 AM

On ya hover bike Margo!

Posted by: Rob at June 8, 2004 at 05:12 AM

Dumbing down the SMH? Well, you could throw in random typographical characters at random. If that proves insufficiently challenging to Margo's readers, you could add Chinese pictograms and Celtic Ogham runes....

Or you could make Margo publisher...

Posted by: richard mcenroe at June 8, 2004 at 05:22 AM

Did someone really call you "America's best political commentator?" I would hesitate to award that title even to the furriner Mark Steyn, but at least many of his gigs are based here. I think you're swell and all, but I tend to think that's rather a reach.

Posted by: Mike G at June 8, 2004 at 07:03 AM

It's a insanely huge reach, Mike -- and, what's more, it was meant as an insult. Which is why I'm running it so prominently.

Posted by: tim at June 8, 2004 at 07:14 AM

Or you could make Margo publisher...

Well, the editorship of the Age is open, so why not split that job between Margo and Marian Wilkinson? Neither knows Melbourne, one is illiterate and the other wouldn't know the truth if she caught it dribbling down the left leg of her pantyhose.

It would be Fuckwit Fred's final gift to Fairfax.

Posted by: superboot at June 8, 2004 at 08:00 AM

Ah. I suppose it would help if I had the slightest idea who Niall Cook was, though I gather that's a rather steep price to pay.

(It is pretty funny that a Chicagoan like me who's never been closer to Australia than seeing The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith twice now has such a decent working knowledge of the press and political culture in Australia...)

Posted by: Mike G at June 8, 2004 at 10:23 AM

Firstly, ugghh, please Tim, do you really have to use N****'s name? It gives me the creeps.

Secondly, "dumbing down the Herald"? What arrogance, what a cheek. Of course the barely literate inteligensia that dominate the 'rag' would see anything else other than their own badly written leftist agendas as being worthy of scorn.

Horin, Kingston, Manne, Carlton, et al, time to go.

Posted by: nic at June 8, 2004 at 10:49 AM

That comment by Raines on the Times is so perfect I can hardly believe it's real. I hope all the elite intellectual Socialists read it, although I doubt highly that they will see the irony.

Posted by: Dash at June 8, 2004 at 11:26 AM

So we're thinking Margo will get booted? Tim sid her bosses were trying to think of a way to ditch her, this seems the perfect opportunity. I mean, it seems self-evident, but I don't trust nothin in this here crazy worl no more.

So the green light goes on, the button is pushed and Margo is dropped out the bomb bay doors?

Posted by: Amos at June 8, 2004 at 11:46 AM

If the Margoyle gets the arse, who will we poke fun at? And how will she keep up the mortgage on her skip?

Posted by: Habib at June 8, 2004 at 12:08 PM

We love Tim in America! All your political commentators are belong to us! :madevilglare:

Posted by: Andrea Harris at June 8, 2004 at 12:43 PM

They won't boot Margo, or Marr, or Horin, or Ramsey. They'll find quiet, steady subs who know how to punctuate, lay out, and spell and fire them.

Posted by: superboot at June 8, 2004 at 12:47 PM

Hee Hee,
Why, this story has made my day Tim. As I read further into it I was rubbing my hands together with glee! It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch!

Posted by: Yasonas at June 8, 2004 at 01:01 PM

Howell Raines description of the NYT:
"It is the indispensable newsletter of the United States' political, diplomatic, governmental, academic, and professional communities, and the main link between those communities and their counterparts around the world."

really says a lot. Is it a purveyor of news or the mouthpiece of particular constituencies? That quote is a telling admission.

Posted by: amortiser at June 8, 2004 at 01:02 PM

"you don’t commence a staff cut without some idea of exactly which staff you want cut" Pardon? This is Fairfax management we're talking about here.

Posted by: Paul Johnson at June 8, 2004 at 01:56 PM

Is this a trend?

Just read about the lefty Los Angeles Times losing money and laying people off.
LAObserved article

Posted by: PJ at June 8, 2004 at 02:14 PM

The lefty media are sinking. Break out the champagne!

Posted by: EvilPundit at June 8, 2004 at 02:59 PM

Make Peter Ruehl editor:

' ... Ronald Reagan, the best president I never voted for, is gone; and if you didn't feel a twinge, you don't get politics. Whether you're operating from the right, left or centre, Reagan is a standard.

'Whether you liked him or not, he didn't get into politics just to be a politician. He didn't run for president just to be a president. He got in to do something and like it or not he did it. Reagan knew what most presidents, prime ministers and wannabes don't always understand: people will vote for the real deal.

'Oh sure, he was conservative. But was he - all the time? He was so conservative, he practically had Gorbachev shooting down Stolis with him in the Oval Office while the two of them were trying to figure out what their wives were spending at Saks during the 1987 peace summit. The next thing you knew, walls were tumbling down in Germany, Gorby was out of a job but had a best-seller and Ron had gone home to the ranch.

'There's not much you can add to the wall of copy that's been written about the man in the past few days other than to sit back and stare at it. What other public figure now alive will get this kind of treatment when he or she leaves the building? There's your measure. Some of it's downright funny. The hardline left has never gotten over the fact that people liked him more than they liked them. So it's been sort of a gas reading some of them once again and 14 years later they're still trying to debunk something they never understood in the first place ...

'There was another - and unconsciously - brilliant side to Reagan. He was decent. This quality in a politician, especially when you consider what it takes to claw yourself into the White House, is like charity in a New York cab driver.

'OK, he supposedly snoozed out, didn't have much of a mind for details and delegated authority. You know, unlike his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, who was hyper, micro-managed and by the end had the whole country ready to jam him headfirst into a peanut patch ...

' ... So a lot of us who didn't want to like him ended up - damn - liking him. His conservatism was genuinely conservative, not the mean-spirited, humourless Fox News stuff that's coming from the trailer-park trash these days. He was strictly from squaresville. And proud of it ...

' ... His sins were less than most and he left office with one of the highest approval ratings in history. He'd laugh to see a few commentators still scratching their heads about this.'

- Peter Ruehl - best columnist in Australia.

And he's a yank.

(Pardon the editing - link is by subscription.)

Posted by: ilibcc at June 8, 2004 at 02:59 PM

"Whiskey! Sexy! Tim Blair!"

Posted by: The American Street at June 8, 2004 at 03:39 PM

Good to Peter FitzSimons' is getting the arse.

Posted by: Mike Hunt at June 8, 2004 at 04:54 PM

Does "senior journalists" mean clapped-out old hacks (senior=elderly)? If so,why stop at 45? Start right at the top and clear the decks.

Memo to the collective at your ABC: if they get rid of Balding, it could happen to you, too.

Posted by: narkynark at June 8, 2004 at 05:41 PM

I thin k that they should not sack anyone. They should all go down with the ship.

Posted by: Bilal at June 8, 2004 at 09:22 PM

Okay, how I see it is, and I'm talking like this because I just watched 7 DVD episodes of the Sophranos straight, Margo and the other UFO-watchers go down or they don't. Either they get canned and it's all good, or they stay and further drive the Hilmer into the ground. Either way, it's win-win for us!

Posted by: Amos at June 9, 2004 at 01:49 AM