Thursday, February 26, 2009

Australia: Fairfax signals cuts and mergers

FAIRFAX Media has pointed to further job cuts and mergers of newspaper sections across the group as it battles a crumbling classified advertising market and a struggling broader economy.
The company yesterday announced a 23 per cent fall in underlying net profit to $157.6million. But after Fairfax wrote down the value of a series of assets across the company, including its radio assets, that fell to a bottom-line net loss of $365.3 million.
Fairfax chief executive Brian McCarthy said any redundancies would not be of the size of the company's "Business Improvement Program" announced last year, which led to 550 staff being cut across the company.
In response to questions from The Australian, he defended likely moves by the company to trim numbers further throughout the organisation, including in the editorial department.
"When the job cuts were done (last year), there was the usual hue and cry from certain sectors of society that said quality will suffer," Mr McCarthy said. "I don't think it has suffered. So we will move on and do what we think is right under any circumstances: whether it's editorial, or any other part of the business."
As foreshadowed in The Australian yesterday, the company confirmed it would merge the business sections of its two flagship metropolitan newspapers, The Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne's The Age, as a prelude to similar moves that could include the merger of the company's Canberra bureaus.
Asked if the business-section merger was happening, Mr McCarthy replied: "Yes, we have certainly looked at the business area. And it's not just in relation to the two papers ... but would also embrace our online (business) writers in some form. We think that's the best strategy going forward."
On the merger of the Canberra bureaus of the two papers, as well as that of the Fairfax-owned The Australian Financial Review, Mr McCarthy said: "We are working through everything within the company, and there has been no decision taken about that either way."
Senior Fairfax sources claimed the merger of the business sections did not, at this stage, involve job losses. "The intent is not staffing levels; the intent is driving improved quality, scope and scale of business coverage," a Fairfax executive said.
Mr McCarthy was positive about further section mergers. "If those opportunities make sense, we'll look at them," he said.

Source: The Australian

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