Merit-based journalism? In whose opinion?

|| June 20, 2014

The revenue pressures strangling newspapers are being most acutely displayed in Australia by Fairfax and its stable featuring The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

In a memo sent to staff this week, Fairfax bosses outlined their push for a series of changes to journalists' remuneration, including penalty hours and redundancy provisions.

And there was this hazy factor: shifting "our pay structure to a meritocracy basis, rather than the current lowest common denominator model. The best people should be able to be paid more". This can be translated to read that revenues have fallen so far, there's very few dollars available for pay increases. Who should get them?

This sparks one key question: in this digital age, what makes for good journalism in the eyes of news bosses?

Is it the reporter who slaves two months for a first-class investigative series that may only run across a few days? Or is it the reporter who generates significant online traffic by putting together such life-changing moments as "celebrities hanging out with their wax doubles"? Or is it both?

This is not an easy question because the dynamics of the news market are changing so rapidly. But there is one certainty - in the current climate, well-researched and reported stories are more likely to attract paying readers than low-value clickbait.

But, how do news bosses weigh that detailed, researched journalism versus the clickbait that is becoming irrestible for some Australian news sites in the fierce chase for online readers? 

Fairfax is facing some tough questions. But that's hardly new for some traditional news outlets in this rapidly changing era.