The ABC’s Director of News Gaven Morris has today emailed staff to explain a series of cutbacks at the organisation.
The decision comes after it was confirmed in the recent Federal Budget that the ABC would no longer receive an additional funding grant of 20 million per year that was put in place by the Gillard government to fund additional news-gathering initiatives has been reduced to $41.4 million over the next three years.
The Enhanced News-Gathering Program was established to bolster local and regional news gathering services. The program included the funding of a number digital news reporters, and the ABC Fact Check Unit.
Email from Gaven Morris to News staff, 18 May 2016
I want to thank you for your patience and professionalism over the past weeks as we awaited news of the ABC’s triennial funding in the Federal Budget and subsequently worked through the details of how best to manage our new funding position.
Although the Budget was largely positive for the News Division, with two-thirds of our annual tied funding renewed, the allocation was cut from $20m pa to approximately $13.5m pa, requiring us to find more savings. Today I want to outline to you the News Division’s proposal for achieving that.
The tied funding is invested in enhanced newsgathering activities and content creation, including the National Reporting Team, ABC Fact Check, the state-based digital teams, the Interactive Digital Storytelling Team and extra resources for regional and suburban newsgathering and to support and co-ordinate these initiatives. In the process of renewing the funding for a further three years we prioritised local and regional coverage and state digital services. Consequently, under our proposal, the state digital teams, suburban bureaus and regional reporting and operational resources would not be affected.
We have looked across all the areas that received tied funding and now propose making reductions with the smallest overall impact that we can. Savings that don’t have an impact on jobs – mostly in additional commissioning and operational budgets – have been targeted to make up a significant portion of the funding shortfall. However, some impact on jobs and production is inescapable.
Under this proposal, about 30 positions would be affected in some way. Throughout this process we have looked for savings in other parts of our operation to find ways to offset job losses, including in senior management where we currently have one less executive position. Consequently, we anticipate there would be 14 people leaving. Of these, 10 are potential redundancies and four are contracts linked to the tied funding which would not be renewed.
The main proposals are:
ABC Fact Check would close as a separate unit, with two positions going, three positions being re-assigned elsewhere in the News Division and three positions being transferred to the Interactive Digital Storytelling Team to form a new unit called ABC Interactive and Data. This team would continue to do signature digital activities such as Fact Files. The Fact Check brand would also still be used during significant events such as federal elections.
This proposed change in no way reflects on the quality of the ABC Fact Check team’s work. Over the past three years the team has set a new standard for data journalism in this country that has been recognised locally and internationally, including with a Walkley Awards short-listing. Thank you to everyone in this team for your outstanding work. Unfortunately, having a standalone unit is no longer viable in the current climate.
Five positions from the National Reporting Team would be impacted, with a net loss of four positions in Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and Canberra, and a position in Brisbane reclassified.
A total of three positions would be removed from the News Digital newsroom and the Interactive Digital Storytelling Team in Brisbane.
NewsRadio would lose three positions provided under the tied funding.
The network desks would be merged, resulting in a reduction of three positions on the Production Desk. This reduction is in response to the loss of tied funds and for operational reasons.
We are merging the Production and Newsgathering desks ahead of the creation of a national newsroom later this year. The new national hub we’re developing will embed more network video and audio output within the key production hubs at News 24 and NewsRadio and add additional digital expertise to daily news output. It will have three core functions: Planning, Newsgathering and International. This change is the first significant step in moving from a network operation split across two floors to one where the key network teams will be together, in the same work space.
News 24 would contribute a number of positions and funding. Current vacant positions mean no additional roles would be lost.
This is a difficult time for us as a News team and it is particularly painful for our colleagues who are directly affected. We will be holding individual and team briefings over coming days as well as beginning a formal consultation process with staff and unions. Any changes would be implemented over the next few months, following the conclusion of consultation.
While today’s proposal is a result of the Federal Budget outcomes, the News budget will remain under pressure as we continue to ensure the coverage and journalism we do is sustainable, and that we’re able to invest in our digital future and support our commitment to original and investigative journalism and local and regional newsgathering.
Director ABC News