Today Fairfax announced massive restructures to both their printing presses and newspaper formats, which could come at a cost of around 1900 jobs.
Allison Harding, featured in our '24 hours' segment a fortnight ago, has real insight into how newspapers work; she used to write for the HeraldSun and Melbourne Herald in Victoria. Journalists, many of whom work for themselves like Allison, are being placed under increasing pressure as titles fold, consolidate into tabloid format or move themselves online in an effort to stay afloat. At the end of this process, there will undoubtedly be many more freelancers/small businesses in the print field than before. We asked Harding whether the news is all bad, and how journos will be able to make a crust moving forward...
Nobody who knows anything about the media will be surprised by today’s announcement that Fairfax is cutting 1900 jobs and moving its major papers to a tabloid format.
Nor will they be surprised to hear that some digital content will be placed behind a paywall.
Fairfax has been battling lower revenue from a decline in print advertising - after all, who would even consider looking for a job, house or car in a newspaper anymore?
But it is not just Fairfax. As more and more people turn to websites for their updates, newspapers and magazines around the world are in trouble, and massive changes are needed to ensure the survival of companies.
I worked as a journalist for News Limited newspapers from the late 1980s until 2001. They were amazing places to work – and there would be few more exciting places to be than a newsroom when a big story is happening.
Back then newspapers had enough resources for reporters to have the ‘luxury’ of time to cultivate contacts and research stories well, while sub-editors had time to mentor junior reporters as well as think of clever headlines, design pages and edit articles.
Things are different today. Reporters churn out articles like battery hens laying eggs, and production journalists have to meet key performance indicators as if they are producing car components, not the news of the day.
So with hundreds of Fairfax journalists to soon lose their job, what does it mean for freelance journalists such as me, as well as freelance photographers, graphic designers and artists - many of whom began their careers in newspapers? After all, many of those about to lose their jobs are likely to jump into freelancing.
Well … it’s both good and bad. Established freelancers, who already have their ABNs, a website, contacts and regular clients, a portfolio of work, and a bit of business nous, are more likely to impress than somebody who has worked for only one publication for 20 years.
Talented freelancers can be hot property. Section editors (if there are any left) like to be able to call somebody they trust to quickly turn around a story, take a strong photo or produce a clever illustration.
Pages still need to be filled so freelancers with good ideas will stay in demand. Many redundancy agreements prevent the former staff member from working in any capacity for their former employer – so again, more opportunities for established freelancers.
Journalists who have just taken packages from one publisher can definitely work for others though, which means some extremely talented and experienced writers will soon appear on the freelance market. So competition may well be tougher in the longer term.
Another obvious issue is that publishers cut staff because they need to save money. That means that while publishers are keen to use freelancers, they are not prepared to pay much. And therein lies the rub for many of us: how little are we prepared to take for our work?
While not all freelancers are members of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the union’s website has useful information on recommended rates, contracts and resources.
All freelancers must remember they need to cover their own costs. Sure, $750 might initially seem like a good rate for a 1000-word article that only involves interviewing a couple of experts but remember, freelancers need to spend time researching the subject, find the experts, organise interview times (which can take several phone calls), pay for the calls (usually to mobiles, so higher rates) or travel to an interview (toll roads, petrol and parking), and pay for the power to their computer, heating and lighting. And all freelancers need to buy and maintain equipment (computers, printers, cameras and lighting, paper, cars).
And regardless of the fact that cuts in newspaper staff may well benefit established freelancers, I wish it wasn’t happening.
Will newspapers be around in five years? Yes, I think some still will. Twenty years? I doubt it.
So enjoy your lazy Sunday mornings with your coffee, toast, and newspapers while you still can. As Joni Mitchell sang, ‘you don't know what you've got ‘til it's gone’ …
Find out more about Allison Harding over at her website