Fairfax Media has announced plans to restructure its Illawarra and South Coast operations, reduce its workforce and revitalise the region’s newspapers and websites with a significant investment in new systems, training and equipment for journalists and sales staff.
The proposal is part of an 18-month overhaul of Fairfax’s Australian Community Media (ACM) division aimed at building a stronger, sustainable and modern media network serving regional, rural and suburban Australia.
Staff in Wollongong and across the South Coast were briefed on Thursday about the proposed changes at publications including The Illawarra Mercury, Wollongong Advertiser, Kiama Independent, Lake Times, South Coast Register, Shoalhaven & Nowra News, Milton Ulladulla Times, Bay Post, Moruya Examiner, Narooma News, Bega District News, Merimbula News, Eden Magnet and Bombala Times.
Consultation with employees is now under way.
ACM director John Angilley said the proposed change to a new digital-first publishing system was all about “investing in our newspapers and websites to set them up for the future”.
“All our mastheads in Illawarra and South-East NSW must embrace change to ensure they remain the most trusted source of news and information for years to come,” Mr Angilley said.
“We have thought our way through the challenges our business faces and developed a localised plan to strengthen and sustain the important work we do for the communities we serve. The local plan is based on the progress we have made in other regions.”
The proposal includes upgrading newsrooms and local sales teams with new technology and new ways of working.
“Journalists, photographers and 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,” Mr Angilley said.
If the proposal goes ahead the company expects to call for voluntary redundancies of around 50 full-time equivalent positions across the Illawarra and south-east NSW group. This includes about 34 full-time equivalent positions in newsrooms, such as editorial production, management and photography. Administration and some sales positions are also affected.
Recently appointed group managing editor Kim Treasure and group sales manager Lisa Rodgers will lead the restructured editorial and sales teams, respectively.
Under the proposal all newspapers in the Illawarra and South Coast group will be redesigned and the reach and audience of some mastheads will be expanded to better serve local communities.
The Lake Times will be combined with the Wollongong Advertiser,the South Coast Register will publish on Wednesdays and Fridays, which is one less day a week, and Australian Seniors will absorb the bi-monthly Senior Lifestyle South Coast.
Illawarra will operate as a base for some shared services but reporters and sales staff across the region will remain locally based.
Mr Angilley said ACM was committed to “making sure our journalists have the contemporary skills, capabilities and resources to serve our audiences”.
“Our NewsNow editorial model involves journalists reporting local news across multi-media, as well as being trained to write headlines, captions and fact-boxes,” he said.
“Quality-checking processes and procedures are built into the system and our editors will remain responsible for managing risk and maintaining editorial standards.”
The new way of working has been successfully introduced at Fairfax’s publications in south-west NSW, including The Daily Advertiser in Wagga, and is set to be rolled out over the coming weeks at 13 mastheads in regional Victoria.
Mr Angilley said no final decisions had been made.
“Our full focus and attention in the weeks ahead is consulting with our staff in Illawarra and south-east NSW to ensure everyone fully understands the proposal and has the opportunity to share their feedback with us,” he said.
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