• The Maitland Mercury moves from daily M-F to three days a week
• Singleton Argus will move from publishing twice a week to a weekly
• Call for voluntary redundancies of 69 full-time equivalent positions
Fairfax Media has announced plans to restructure its Newcastle and Hunter operations, reduce its workforce and revitalise the region’s newspapers and websites with a significant investment in new publishing technology and training for journalists and sales staff.
The company is halfway through an 18-month overhaul of its Australian Community Media (ACM) division aimed at building a stronger, sustainable and modern media network serving regional, rural and suburban Australia.
Staff in Newcastle and the Hunter were briefed on Thursday about the proposed changes at the Newcastle Herald, The Maitland Mercury, Newcastle & Lake Macquarie Star, Port Stephens Examiner, Lakes Mail, Cessnock Advertiser, Lower Hunter Star, Dungog Chronicle, Singleton Argus, Muswellbrook Chronicle, Scone Advocate, Hunter Valley News and the Hunter Valley and North Coast Town & Country.
Under the proposal The Maitland Mercury will move from publishing Monday to Friday to publishing three days a week, the Singleton Argus will move from publishing twice a week to a weekly edition and staff at some smaller offices will be relocated to new arrangements locally.
If the proposal goes ahead, the company expects to call for voluntary redundancies of about 69 full-time equivalent positions across the region. This includes about 46 full-time equivalent positions in newsrooms, involved mainly in editorial production, management and photography, with the balance from administration and sales.
Consultation with employees is now under way.
The Newcastle and Hunter operating group is led by business manager Jason King, who presented the plan to staff on Thursday.
“We have no choice but to adapt and evolve our business in response to how audiences are consuming news and information – and the new ways advertisers connect with our valuable audiences,” King said.
Director of ACM John Angilley said the localised plan to sustain the important work of Fairfax publications across the region had been based on a detailed assessment of the needs of the business.
“Our mastheads in Newcastle and the Hunter must embrace change to ensure they remain the most trusted source of news and information for years to come,” Angilley said.
Recently appointed group managing editor Chad Watson and group sales manager Jo Dryden will lead the restructured editorial and sales teams, respectively.
Newcastle, where the Herald is planned to relocate to new offices on Honeysuckle Drive later this year, will operate as a hub for some group services. Reporters and sales staff will continue working from locations across the region.
“We are committed to providing coverage of the local communities we serve and by better focusing our resources we will strengthen our newspapers and websites for the future,” Angilley said.
The proposal includes investing in a new digital-first publishing system, equipping journalists and sales teams with new technology and skills, introducing new ways of working, and refreshing and redesigning the company’s stable of newspapers.
“Our journalists and our sales teams will work with new skills, capabilities and resources so they can continue to do what they do best – create quality journalism and connect advertisers to our audiences,” Angilley said.
“Our NewsNow editorial model involves journalists reporting local news across multimedia, as well as being trained to write headlines and captions and take photographs.
“Quality-checking processes and procedures are built into the system and our editors remain responsible for maintaining editorial standards.”
The Newcastle Herald will continue to be printed at Beresfield.
Watson said Fairfax’s network of award-winning journalists, newspapers and websites set the local news agenda across the region.
“Our mastheads will continue to break news, investigate issues, campaign for positive change and be the voice of the Hunter,” he said.
“We have remarkably talented and tenacious journalists. They live in the Hunter and take great pride in telling local stories for local audiences. These changes to our newsrooms and the way we produce our papers and websites will give our journalists new tools and skills to keep local journalism strong in the Hunter.”
Thursday’s announcement follows the introduction of new technology and new ways of working at ACM mastheads in regional Queensland, Victoria and south-west NSW.
Angilley said no final decisions had been made about the Newcastle-Hunter group.
“Our full focus and attention in the weeks ahead is consulting with our staff in Newcastle and the Hunter to ensure everyone fully understands the proposal and has the opportunity to share their feedback with us,” he said.
Source: Fairfax Media