In an unprecedented move, 30 years of former Arts Editors at Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have written an open letter to Fairfax boss Greg Hywood protesting the company’s plans to cut 125 editorial jobs — approximately a quarter of its newsroom — as part of a $30 million restructure. “We… are appalled at plans to cut coverage of the arts and axe the jobs of its specialist journalists,” reads the strongly-worded letter, headed “Fairfax: Don’t gut our culture”.

“Arts coverage is not the cherry on the cake to be dispensed with when the economic going gets tough but essential to a vibrant, healthy, civilized society,” the letter goes on. “We need arts coverage that provides insight into the cultural forces that shape the social and political landscape… Governments recognise that arts and cultural events are big drivers of the economy – surely Fairfax can also see the economic value of robust and well-informed reporting of those events. Arts coverage – a review or interview – is often the only enduring record of a performing arts event. Without this, creative voices are silenced and our culture is diminished.”

Last Wednesday, journalists at the company’s Sydney and Melbourne mastheads voted to strike for seven days in protest at Fairfax management’s decision. Meanwhile, actors including Richard Roxburgh and Mitchell Butel, and musicians including opera singers Jacqueline Dark and Taryn Fiebig, have responded to a call to action, posting videos on Twitter using the hashtag #FairGoFairfax and asking readers not to buy either of the mastheads or to click on their websites while the journalists remain on strike.

In recent days it has been suggested that among the “non-core” sectors identified as most vulnerable, arts editorial staff are high on the hit list with possible cuts that would leave just a single arts editor or journalist at each of SMH and The Age. Debbie Cuthbertson, Arts Editor at The Age, told Triple R’s SmartArts radio that she understood the new structure would see as many as eight arts positions go under the proposed plan.

Fairfax management, meanwhile, have suggested that along with other “non-core” areas, arts stories would have to rely on contract staff and outsourcing of syndicated content, though there was no suggestion as to where that content would come from. They also proposed moving from a pay-per-word model for features and reviews to a pay-per-article model, a move that some have suggested will cut earnings for writers by up to 50%.

As Editor of Limelight, we fully support the action of Fairfax journalists against these short-sighted management decisions. A media sector losing a major player like Fairfax is a media sector forever diminished. With arts coverage under threat left, right and centre, we need to focus on building audiences, not letting them dwindle and die for want of sufficient online clicks. It’s time for consolidation and creative thinking, not cuts.


Here is the Fairfax Arts Editors Letter in full.

“We are former arts editors of Fairfax who are appalled at plans to cut coverage of the arts and axe the jobs of its specialist journalists. Arts journalism requires deep and detailed knowledge of our culture. For generations, Fairfax has fostered this and has been a leader in its coverage of our cultural debates and artistic endeavours.

Arts coverage is not the cherry on the cake to be dispensed with when the economic going gets tough but essential to a vibrant, healthy, civilized society. We need arts coverage that provides insight into the cultural forces that shape the social and political landscape. Arts reporting provides a vital bridge between artists and audiences, allowing readers to make informed choices about the cultural offerings in their city and the ideas that inform them.

Informed, properly resourced arts coverage lifts the lid on the business and financial side of our arts companies and cultural institutions, providing scrutiny of how public money is being spent and how decisions are being made in some of our most important state and national institutions.

Governments recognise that arts and cultural events are big drivers of the economy – surely Fairfax can also see the economic value of robust and well-informed reporting of those events. Arts coverage – a review or interview – is often the only enduring record of a performing arts event. Without this, creative voices are silenced and our culture is diminished.

The arts are about ideas – at times these are surprising, unruly and confronting. Downgrading arts coverage to simply celebrity red-carpet events robs Fairfax’s platforms of their intellect and creative heart. Cultures are valued by the art they produce, and remembered by the art they leave behind. Let not Fairfax be remembered as the news organisation that killed our culture.”

Candida Baker (SMH, 1995-97)
Peter Cochrane (SMH, 1987-93 & 1998-2003)
Raymond Gill (Age, 1996-98 & 2001-11)
Bryce Hallett (SMH, 2003-2004)
Richard Jinman (SMH, 2006-08)
Joel Meares (SMH, 2014-15)
Clare Morgan (SMH, 2008-12)
Joyce Morgan (SMH, 2004-06)
John Saxby (SMH, 2012-13)
Michael Shmith (Age, 1992-93)
Robin Usher (Age, 1997-99)

 

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