One in seven journalism jobs at our two biggest publishers disappeared over the winter as Fairfax Media and News Limited shed 700 editorial staff. We hear from two journalists: one who left and one who stayed.
OUT OF THE NEWS CYCLE
Neil Wilson gathers his thoughts after voluntary redundancy
I'm sitting in my study looking down at a sheet of nice numbers supplied by the company's "people and culture" office, confirming what the silence of our house has been shouting at me for a few days now. It's convincing me to stop wondering why I'm not at work, covering today's story on Qantas, Foster's or whatever amid the clatter, chatter, wisecracks and hard toil of the Herald Sun newsroom.
Just days ago I continued to chase down stories, as others among the 35 or so of us leaving wondered why I was bothering. I joked that I was in denial, touching the truth that I hadn't had time to process, that a chapter in our lives was closing.
When the inevitable "what are you going to do" question came, I had no more to offer than the honest: "I dunno." The abruptness, less than two weeks from decision to door, left little time for reflection. I don't feel redundant personally and, despite the congratulations from some, I'm still too young to "retire". (From what? Life?) Now I'm mindful of the warnings I gave others who thought life as a checkout chick or a hardware store part-timer would be preferable to the newsroom grind. You might find it hard to open or bust in doors in the big world without the Herald Sun superman suit, I said, so realise you may never work in the news
And you’re unlikely to find another job with reporting's autonomy, where you're gloriously free to operate beyond the boss and write it as you see it. So why go?
Because the old brain kicks in and tells you that limitations to staff and budgets mean multiple deadlines across multiple platforms give less time for that kind of freedom. There was no point hanging out, longing for the freedom and bonhomie of a journalistic home that no longer exists as you knew it. Foreboding over how those with power are to be held accountable by a downsized, overworked media suddenly becomes secondary to your own future.
The time was right to move, yet the heart feels the pangs of regret and a twinge of apprehension over an uncertain future. After the sentimental farewells, it's time for a sober selfassessment. What are my real skills?
How can I apply them to some other occupation? What are my true interests outside of news and can I make them pay?
Can I adjust emotionally to not define my being as a "journalist"? Let's not sell ourselves short. Progressing over the years in the egotistical, competitive atmosphere of a major newspaper means you must have something going for you. You've stood up under pressure, got the yarn, met the deadline, time and again.
In a world where corporate managements and bureaucrats are vandalising the language as much as any gangsta rapper, your ability to sift out the bulldust and communicate clearly is becoming more valuable every day.
Finally, I'm trying to take some time, chill out and remember the advice of an old song: "Make it Easy on Yourself". By the Walker Brothers, I believe…
Neil Wilson is a former journalist with the Herald Sun and was chair of the Media Alliance House Committee at the Herald & Weekly Times Ltd
FACING THE FACTS AND THE FUTURE
Ben Cubby said "no" to perhaps the biggest payday of his life to stick around
A catamaran and four private yachts moored next to Fairfax Media in Pyrmont are worth more than The Sydney Morning Herald, according to a recent market valuation.
You can see the boats from the newsroom's fourth-floor window, bobbing gently on the harbour. In 10 years, their fibreglass hulls will be showing a few cracks, the engines will need replacement or overhaul, and getting insurance might be a problem.
The Herald, on the other hand, has been around since 1831. It's been part of Sydney for longer than the Bridge or the Opera House – for longer than Sydney has been a city (it was granted that status in 1842).
The paper has been through a few overhauls and is in the midst of a large refit right now. There's no lack of experts informing the journalists they're aboard a sinking ship.
Yet here we are still, telling the story of the city, and more people read it now than ever.
I don't think too many sensible people would argue this newspaper is worth less than a few boats. Nevertheless, can the Herald survive, improve, keep growing? Like hundreds of my colleagues who were handed their voluntary redundancy "numbers" recently, I found myself giving this question serious thought.
I've no qualms about sticking around, even though it meant saying "no" to the biggest payday I'm likely to see in my life.
My instinct is that the Herald will end up thriving, and I think this is based on a hard-headed appreciation of the facts.
First, there is a thirst for serious news, shown by the fact that millions of people buy Fairfax papers every week, even though much of the content is available free on the web. Ultimately, the commerce will follow the demand.
Second, the digital future looks very bright. The structures now in place at the Herald are the equal of anything in the world. The potential for greater breadth and depth of coverage is exciting.
Third, the prospect of a dead or diminished Heraldis pretty grim. The consequences would flow for decades, influencing public life and politics, and the way other news organisations and blogs do business. The amount of unchecked, unnoticed bullshit polluting Australian culture would rise significantly.
Stopping that happening is worth fighting for.
Ben Cubby is the environment editor at The Sydney Morning Herald.