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Panpa Bulletin : March 2007
8 PANPA Bulletin March 2007 news In a move that could cut 70 editorial jobs, APN New Zealand is planning to produce its newspapers and magazines using an outsourced centralised subbing system. APN, owned by Irish newspaper publisher Independent News & Media, publishes 23 daily and more than 100 non-daily newspa- pers in Australia and New Zealand including The New Zealand Herald, Herald on Sunday, The Northern Advocate, Hawke's Bay Today, Bay of Plenty Times, The Aucklander, The Listener and The Daily Post. Implementation of the outsourcing plan is likely to begin at The New Zealand Herald in July. The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPM) intends to fight the plan as it believes outsourcing the bulk of the company's subediting and page design will prove unworkable. APN New Zealand declined to expand on its brief statement which said that the company is "evaluating" a plan to source some editorial production services from Pagemasters, a rapidly expanding Melbourne-based subsidiary of Australian Associated Press. Pagemasters, the foremost supplier of page-ready material to news- papers, intends to set up an operation in Auckland and is expected to employ some of the redundant staff. APN's statement says its newspaper and magazine editors would retain total control of all published material. Content selection, design and layout of the main news and sports pages would continue to be under- taken at each local site. Reporting and news gathering activities at the group's titles would be unaffected. According to an Associated Press report, senior staff called to a meeting at APN's Auckland offices were briefed by APN NZ Publishing Division chief Martin Simons and left believing that 35 subbing jobs would be outsourced from Auckland and another 35 from other centres. In a hard-hitting editorial in Fairfax na- tional broadsheet, Sunday Star-Times (SST), Fairfax CEO Joan Wither made it clear edito- rial outsourcing was not on its agenda. Sunday Star-Times said a good sub was a taonga (a Maori word for a treasured thing) --- but now, "astonishingly", some New Zealand papers proposed to throw their subs on the fire, with the aim of saving money. The factory subs would be cheaper. "Outsourcing has its place. It works well enough when the product is a modular thing ... good newspapers are not like that," said the SST. "Subbing factories will turn out factory newspapers. Like Henry Ford's cars, they will be any colour you like, as long as it's black. Factory subs will have neither the time nor the personal dedication needs to preserve the unique soul of each newspaper they are processing. "The result will be blandness and an in- creasingly modular press. Newspapers that want to keep their souls with fight this trend. "They will do this not just out of sen- timentality and a preference for diversity against uniformity, for the eccentric and sin- gular against the beige and the standardised. They will fight it because it's bad economics. "If all newspapers start to look and sound the same, why buy one rather than another? The singularity of the paper is, in the end, its greatest asset. That is what readers like about it. Factory subbing threatens to still this beating heart. "Factory subbing may look like a quick fix for institutions that face terrifying problems in the new age of media globalisation. The drive to cut costs is unrelenting. Newspapers must offer more for less. "The temptation to outsource is huge --- especially those tasks that look 'mechani- cal'. But good editing is not 'mechanical'. It is a messy, difficult, slippery and particular struggle with words and facts in the middle of a unique social micro-climate. No factory can produce a good newspaper." Simon Collins, a Herald senior writer and union delegate who attended the Auckland management briefing, said staff were shocked, although they were aware that the outsourcing strategy was already being adopted at Irish newspapers owned by APN's controlling shareholder, billion- aire Tony O'Reilly outsource so much of the subediting. EPMU national secretary Andrew Little said the cost-cutting exercise would have a major impact on the quality of news. "Subeditors are the people who make sure our papers get their facts right. It requires a lot of local knowledge, and that's not going to be possible if it's all based in Auckland." "We need good quality, accurate news for our democracy to function, but APN seems more interested in increasing its profit mar- gins," Little said. APN is not believed to have any immedi- ate plans to adopt an outsourcing strategy in Australia. The results of the New Zealand experiment, however, is being closely monitored. Several years ago, APN developed a central subbing unit at Lismore to handle the suediting for its four NSW titles, the Northern Star, Grafton Examiner, Tweed Daily News and the Coffs Coast Advocate. The concept worked well initially but recently the unit was disbanded and the subs re-allocated to the individual titles. In Ireland, plans have been announced to make 34 production staff redundant and subcontract the downtable subbing of three major publications owned by O'Reilly's Independent News & Media group (INM) --- The Irish Independent, the country's best- selling newspaper, The Sunday Independent and The Evening Herald. The work will be done by a new company set up by two former employees. In South Africa, where considerable centralisation and sharing of material has already taken place in papers owned by INM, concern has also being expressed about the effect of the company's global outsourcing strategy. Journalism Professor Anton Harber, of Wits University, a respected former editor, has published a commentary asking what the end point might be. "Could O'Reilly have all his newspapers around the world produced in one sweat- shop in India, or some other country with that combination of English, good education and cheap labour?" Harber asks. "Material would be sent to them, they would design, edit and proof pages, and APN plans to outsource NZ subbing By Jack Beverley