“While we will be looking across all parts of the newsroom, at the end of the redundancy program we expect there will be significantly fewer editorial management, video, presentation and section writer roles,” he wrote.
A Fairfax spokesman said the company was “disappointed” with the journalists’ decision but would continue to publish its titles in print and online as usual during the strike. He declined to say how many workers had walked off the job.
The newspapers that make up Fairfax Media have more than 150 years of history in Australia, shaping public opinion on politics, exposing dubious business practices and targeting criminal operations.
Staff members interviewed said the latest round of cuts signifies the decline of one of Australia’s most powerful media empires.
“The fact that our newsroom is being cut by a quarter at least, some figures suggest more like a third, and they want us out the door in two weeks, is an enormous blow to journalism,” said Michael Bachelard, investigations editor at The Age. “It really shows the deep and sudden nature of these cuts.”
Like other media organizations, Fairfax’s news outlets have been hit by the rise of digital news and tough competition for advertising dollars from Facebook and Google. News organizations based outside Australia have also increased their presence in the country, including BuzzFeed, which is based in New York, and The Guardian, which is based in London. The New York Times this week also announced an Australian expansion.
Revenue from the Fairfax division that includes the papers fell 8 percent during the six months that ended in December, the company said in February.
Staff members at The Canberra Times, also part of Fairfax Media, joined their colleagues on strike, saying that cutting newsroom jobs would only weaken the newspapers’ ability to inform and entertain readers and hold power to account. Journalists from WA Today, Fairfax Media’s website in Perth, and The Brisbane Times also went on strike on Wednesday.
The strike would last until Wednesday, a day after the country’s federal budget is released. The budget typically receives heavy attention in the news media.
Under Australian labor law, the country’s Fair Work Commission can order striking employees back to work. The Fairfax spokesman declined to comment on whether the company would pursue that option.
“The history of these strikes — and we’ve done a number over the years as the cuts have progressively gotten worse — is that management is still able to put out a newspaper,” Mr. Bachelard said. “But it’s a shadow of its former self.”
Fairfax staff members posted photos of empty newsrooms on social media after news of the strike. In Melbourne, staff members gathered and waved newspapers.
Andrew Hornery, a senior journalist who has worked for The Sydney Morning Herald for 22 years and writes the Private Sydney column, stood outside his newsroom with co-workers and said, “It’s a great shame what’s happening. It’s death by a thousand cuts.”
He added, “We find it really frustrating that after years and years of cuts, still the organization hasn’t been able to come up with a solution which doesn’t require cutting the very thing that we do, which is producing good-quality journalism.”