FAIRFAX broadsheets The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age will go tabloid, websites will go behind a partial pay wall, 1,900 jobs will be cut, and print plants will be closed.
The moves are part of the publisher’s A$170 million annual cost-cutting plan.
The publisher will accelerate its cost savings by reducing staff by 1,900 over the new three years.
News Now understands 20 percent of these jobs will be in editorial – 150 at metro mastheads and the remainder at the AFR and regional papers – with the redundancies to be made in the next two to three months.
The SMH and The Age will move to more “compact” formats – similar to the Australian Financial Review – from 4 March 2013.
Editorial standards and existing content will be unchanged while the format will be more reader-friendly, said the announcement.
Digital subscriptions will be introduced to the SMH and The Age websites at the start of 2013 – they are currently free.
The new “metered” model will involve free access to some content and paid access to additional content. Further pricing and plans will be announced by the end of the year.
The entire editorial team will also be restructured in a “digital-first editorial model”.
This will result in increased flexibility and greater sharing of content across geographic sites and platforms, according ot the announcement.
The Chullora and Tullamarine print plants will also be closed by June 2014 and printing of the metro papers will be relocated to the Fairfax printing network.
Annual total savings are now expected to be A$235 million by June 2015 – A$215 million by June 2014.
“No one should be in any doubt that we are operating in very challenging times. Readers’ behaviours have changed and will not change back. As a result, we are taking decisive actions to fundamentally change the way we do business,” said Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood.
“The changes announced today have been selected after considering the merits of a full range of structural alternatives, including a demerger. The package of strategic initiatives is bold, and several are difficult, particularly as they will impact on some of our people.
"However, we believe that they are in the best interests of Fairfax, our shareholders, and ultimately the majority of our people. They are necessary to ensure Fairfax retains its position as a leading independent media company and a key voice in our markets.
“The evolution of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age to compact formats and the implementation of digital subscriptions for these mastheads are landmark events for Fairfax. Our investment in quality journalism and our editorial standards will not be compromised and will continue to underpin our success.”
The media union – Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance – has said they were not told about the plans and has called for urgent meetings with Fairfax management.
"Any further loss of editorial positions will clearly damage these newspapers’ ability to produce quality journalism regardless of whether that journalism appears in print or on digital platforms,” MEAA acting federal secretary, Paul Murphy said.
“Readers and employees alike are entitled to know precisely how Fairfax Media intends to ensure that these two great mastheads will continue to produce quality journalism when fewer journalists are left to actually go out and hunt out news stories.
“For more than a decade this company has dithered about a switch from broadsheet. It has been an ongoing saga as management stalled at making tough decisions in an increasingly difficult environment. Now, after years of doing nothing and in the twilight of the print media era, management has finally made a decision."