Fairfax staff striking in solidarity with colleagues in protest at plans to cut 120 editorial jobs have said it is time to take a stand.
The media firm said cuts would be made through redundancies and cost-cutting measures at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Australian Financial Review.
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) believes the cuts amount to one-quarter of the editorial workforce.
Staff in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane walked out after being told the news, but Fairfax Media said it would continue to publish across print and digital as usual.
Brisbane Times journalist Amy Remeikis said: “We have not taken this action lightly but need to draw a line in the sand.”
She said cuts to media weakened the public discourse and meant those in power had “less of a spotlight on them, holding them to account”.
“Because I believe in the power of the collective and taking a stand for what I believe in, and a healthy, resourced, diverse press is definitely up there, I stand with my colleagues to say Fairgo Fairfax,” she said.
SMH federal politics editor Bevan Shields earlier announced on Twitter the SMH and Parliament House newsrooms had voted to strike until Monday.
Journalists at The Age are striking and staff at Fairfax mastheads in Brisbane and Canberra have walked out for 24 hours.
Cuts ‘necessary to sustain high-quality journalism’
Photos posted on social media showed staff walking out of their offices and gathering outside after management emailed staff the news.
In a statement, Fairfax Media CEO Greg Hywood said: “We are operating in an ever-changing highly competitive media environment which involves rapid evolution of our publishing model.
“The initiatives we have proposed today are part of that adaptation and are necessary to sustain high-quality journalism.”
A video taken at the Parliament House bureau offices showed Fairfax employees packing up and leaving the office, after voting to walk out in protest at the cuts.
On Twitter, Sunday Age writer Jill Stark wrote: “Worried for my own future and my colleagues, but this is also just a terrible day for journalism and media diversity in Australia.”
An email from Fairfax editorial director Sean Aylmer to staff read: “We will shortly enter a consultation period with staff and the MEAA on a proposal to reduce costs across News and Business in the Sydney and Melbourne newsrooms by the equivalent of 120 full-time employees.
“We believe that we can do this through redundancies, tightening contributor budgets and reducing travel costs and expenses.
“While we are much more efficient in producing quality journalism, we still have a way to go.
“Change is a permanent part of our industry. It is a reflection of what we know about the ways our readers are consuming our stories. We must continue to evolve with them.”
Cuts ‘absolutely devastating’: MEAA
MEAA chief executive officer Paul Murphy said the news was a “complete shock and a real body blow”.
Just last week Fairfax had a restructure within the senior editorial staff, appointing two new editors.
But despite this, Mr Murphy said there were no signs that cuts of this scale were coming.
“This is a huge reduction, possibly as much as a quarter of the newsroom staff in Sydney and Melbourne. It’s an absolutely devastating announcement,” he said.
Just changed my out of office reply to “I’m on strike with my Fairfax colleagues until Monday March 21, 2016. Support quality journalism.”
— Henrietta Cook (@henriettacook) March 17, 2016
Mr Murphy said he had not yet sat down with Fairfax management to discuss the details, and the areas where the jobs would be cut had yet to be decided.
He said it was the staff on the newsroom floor who had been leading Fairfax’s change to digital.
“Through all of that transition they have worked to produce quality, independent journalism and this is the reward they get – another devastating round of cuts,” he said.