Fairfax strike the sign of things to come

September 1, 2008

Fairfax journos have returned to work after a four day strike over pay and jobs cuts. The journos claim the cuts threaten the delivery of “quality journalism” but still appear to be happening despite the return to work.

Norg Media’s Bronwen Clune isn’t shy in her opinion of the strikers:

If you are one of the journalists standing in a picket line outside The Age and SMH, I have to ask – do you realise how pathetic you look?
If there was a journalists equivalent to the forlorn lovers ?¢‚Ǩ?ìHe?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s not into you?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d be suggesting you read it. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s time for some straight-talking, so forgive me if my words sound harsh and unsympathetic, but it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s not like the writing hasn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t been on the wall for some time now. Break-ups are tough, but you can get over this and move on to better, brighter things.

The key line

Let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s start with the basics. Fairfax and other news monoliths like it cannot survive in the future.

She is of course right, there is zero way big media can survive in Australia the way it is currently structured, but this is not to say that media owners are completely stupid and haven’t gotten the memo yet.

The problem is getting to a long term sustainable model, and as we’ve seen with the strike, the journos are going to fight every step of the way.

I believe that some journos will have been on strike in general solidarity to their brothers (or sisters) in the profession, but realize that the change they seek to prevent is like Tibetan monks facing the Chinese army: doomed to failure.

The change is on, the shift is away from the giant media monoliths of old to new media and nearly unlimited choice. The newspaper market consolidated when I was a kid to leave two daily papers in Sydney and Melbourne due to competition and costs, and yet today the Herald and the Age compete not with the Hun and Tele alone, but an internet that delivers a world of free choice, so that I can be in a cab in Sydney reading the NY Times in preference to the Fin. The market reality no matter how well newspaper circulation stats are spun (static circulation shows a decline in overall reader numbers as a % of the population) is that less people are reading newspapers.

Couple the decline to the even quicker fall in the classified market as real estate, jobs, and just about every other sector switch to online alternatives. Even if we take a lower rate of decline in circulation, the money that has traditionally propped up papers is disappearing. Nothing now will change this, and the only thing left to do is to make the most of what is left.

I believe News and Fairfax may have futures, but in 20 years time they’ll look nothing like they do today. Print as a physical publishing medium is dying and the internet offers an alternative, but not one that allows for corporate largess. These job cuts are the first of many to come over the next 10 years as Fairfax grapples with this change. The only question is whether the journos working there will try their best to prevent these changes by striking and further dragging the company towards oblivion, or whether they’ll work with management on better setting the company up to deal with the changes at hand so that in 10 to 20 years time, the company will still be able to employ at least some of them.