Fairfax appoints new editors to lead restructure

Peter Fray will walk away from Fairfax. AAP/Paul Miller

Andrew Holden, editor of Christchurch’s The Press, will move to Melbourne to take the reins as editor-in-chief of The Age ahead of a major restructure at Fairfax Media, the company has announced.

He will be joined by Steve Foley, currently editor of The Saturday Age, who will take up the new role of news director at the masthead.

The appointments follow the announcement in Sydney yesterday that Sean Aylmer, the national business editor within Fairfax Media’s metro division, will take over as editor-in-chief at The Sydney Morning Herald and Sun-Herald following the departure of Peter Fray this week, Fairfax Media has announced.

The Herald’s former deputy editor and current editor of smh.com.au, Darren Goodsir, will assume the post of Sydney news director in the restructure, which also claimed the jobs of Herald editor Amanda Wilson and editor at The Age, Paul Ramadge, yesterday.

The changes are intended to show shareholders that the company is serious about a radical change of direction to a “digital-first” model, a senior Fairfax source said.

Another source said that Mr Ramadge had been informed three weeks ago “that there would no longer be room for him at Fairfax under the new direction the company is going take, so he would have to make way”. Others speculated that Mr Fray, Ms Wilson and Mr Ramadge had all resigned in protest over the company’s plans for a drastic shake-up that will cost 1,900 jobs.

Mr Holden’s 25-year career in journalism has included jobs at The Age and The Sunday Age. He was in charge at The Press when a major earthquake struck Christchurch in February last year and destroyed the The Press building, killing a staff member.

Mr Foley joined The Age in the 1980s and has held several positions at that newspaper and The Sunday Age.

In a note to staff, Garry Linnell, Editorial Director of Fairfax Metro Media, said Mr Holden “loves Melbourne and The Age – I worked alongside him for several years and admired his professionalism, his absolute belief in the masthead and what it represents and his never ending reservoir of ideas”.

Mr Aylmer joined Fairfax Media in 1997 and has worked at the Herald, The Australian Financial Review and BRW, where he was editor-in-chief. Mr Goodsir began his career in journalism in 1995 and has worked at several News Ltd and Fairfax newspapers.

Yesterday, in a shot at mining magnate Gina Rinehart, who is looming over the Fairfax board, CEO Greg Hywood told staff in Sydney that “we stand for editorial independence, and we will deliver that … that’s our job”.

He added: “This nonsense that we’re withdrawing from print is just bullshit. We’re continuing to deliver a paper, we’re continuing to deliver our journalism online, in tablets, smart phones, just however people want to get it. But we’ll do it against a backdrop of independence.

"Don’t get fussed, don’t get sidelined by who owns the company. A lot of people have owned this company, have owned stakes in this company, and all through that the board has stood up and the head of the company has stood up and defended editorial independence, and that will not change.”

At an emotional meeting with staff in Melbourne at midday yesterday, Mr Ramadge said “the time feels right for me now to go and to chase things away from the mothership.”

The decision to leave was “in no way a sign that I disagree with the strategy announced last week,” he said. “The strategy is right. Another era is about to begin and I will be among those cheering from the sidelines.”

Echoing his words at a staff meeting in Sydney, Mr Fray declared: “It is for me a good time to go … If there was a time for me to leave the mothership, that time is now.” Mr Fray said he would pursue other opportunities in Australia and Asia.

Ms Wilson said it had been a privilege to lead the newspaper for the past 18 months.

Andrea Carson, a journalist and doctoral student at the University of Melbourne who is researching the future of broadsheet newspapers, said that the departures were consistent with plans by Fairfax to move to a more “nationalised” news product.

Last Monday Fairfax announced it would axe 1,900 jobs - many of them editorial positions - shut its major printing plants and erect metered paywalls around its websites in preparation for a future without newspapers.

“Fairfax is going to be more centralised in its decision-making, and the new appointments are going to reflect that,” Ms Carson said. “The real concern will be local news. Paul Ramadge understood Melbourne very well, as did Amanda Wilson in Sydney.

"What’s going to happen to local news, especially with consolidation of all the major rounds across Fairfax mastheads, which means less voices in the public sphere, which is not good for readers or pluralism.”

Under the restructure, Fairfax will scrap the traditional “rounds” system of news coverage, and create teams to cover 19 “topics” - many of which will be national, such as federal politics and environment, staff involved in drafting the new model said. Overseeing the operation will be five editors-in-chief, in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Perth. Specialist editors will also be assigned for each platform of news: print, computer, tablet and mobile phone.

The new appointees will be burdened with the unenviable task of overseeing impending redundancies at the mastheads, Ms Carson said.

“They’ll need someone to come in who’s very good with the tabloid format, and who can also oversee the job losses without damaging morale too much.”

Mr Linnell paid tribute to Mr Fray and Ms Wilson and said that he had “an enormous amount of respect and admiration for what Amanda has achieved during her leadership of the Herald. Her first priority has always been the integrity of the masthead - and the welfare of those around her. She has been a fiercely passionate editor who has worn her love for - and dedication to - the Herald on her sleeve every single day of her editorship.”

Under the leadership of Mr Ramadge, he said, “The Age has won many major awards for journalism, ramped up its reputation for hard-hitting investigations and exclusive news and the team has produced outstanding coverage”.