Fairfax/News feud not huge concern for media buyers

Fairfax/News feud not huge concern for media buyers
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The ongoing spat between publishing giants Fairfax and News Limited doesn’t seem to be causing too much concern for media buyers.

The feud escalated this morning when Fairfax chief executive Greg Hywood slammed a report in The Australian stating it had put a plan in place to bring forward the closure of its weekday print editions of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Hywood denied speculation the company will stop printing Monday to Friday editions of its major newspapers before 2015.

The Australian reported this morning that weak advertising revenues and a digital first strategy are impacting decisions about when to close weekday editions of the SMH and The Age, however Hywood told the publication that “there has "been no change to the timetable”.

Sebastian Rennie, chief Investment officer at MEC, told B&T that the feud has not really had much impact on the buying market.

“It’s not causing too many headaches,” said Rennie. “There’s a general acceptance where print is headed and that at some point some print mastheads will cease. Everyone in the industry is aware of the structural changes going on in rrelation to print. For us, we ‘d just be looking for plenty of notice."

Meanwhile, The SMH has again today published Hywood’s defence of the media company. It also ran in Saturday’s edition.

In case you missed it, here it is …  

Dear Readers,

There has been much reported recently about Fairfax Media's past with varying levels of accuracy and insight. This editorial published in The Sydney Morning Herald on July 27, 2013 puts things into perspective.

The greatest compliment a fiercely independent media organisation can receive is condemnation from those who fear free speech and unfailing scrutiny of the rich and powerful.

So the Herald humbly welcomes the hubris and triumphalism of James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch this week at the launch of the book Killing Fairfax: Packer, Murdoch and the Ultimate Revenge.

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In doing so we do not accept their false premises that the company which has funded the Herald's quality journalism for so long is dying, nor that this pair of moguls' sons can claim credit for any problems Fairfax has faced.

Rather, we see the premature exaltation of Packer and Murdoch as proof certain that the Herald and its stablemates are doing just as they always have. And that is fulfilling a crucial democratic duty, without fear or favour, without regard to commercial self-interest. With respect, what an affront it surely is to all Australians for Packer and Murdoch to rejoice over threats to quality journalism.

For 182 years the Herald has exposed corruption, protected the vulnerable, pursued growth for all and embraced an optimistic vision for the nation based on a contest of ideas. That Packer and Murdoch can gloat over any potential reduction in media diversity reflects poorly on them, thereby highlighting the importance of ensuring Fairfax's journalism survives.

And it will survive, funded by a new, sustainable business model to replace what were once, indeed, rivers of gold. Technological advances in the past two decades have forced Fairfax and other newspaper companies to change as those lucrative classified advertising revenues slowed sharply and shifted to online outfits.

Packer and Murdoch rode by chance with some of them, gambling that they could cash in and wreak delicious revenge against Fairfax for daring to expose their families' power and behaviour to unwanted scrutiny. ''You'd have to say they've got thin skins,'' was the conclusion of Killing Fairfax author Pam Williams – tellingly, a Fairfax employee.

With glasses raised in toast this week, Packer said: "Fairfax didn't see any of this coming. They thought it was all beneath them. They thought we were idiots. You know, I think we killed Fairfax.'' Murdoch responded: "I think so".

For the sake of those who value democracy and a proudly Australian voice, let's hope not. Fairfax made mistakes along the way. No one in the myriad media organisations that have vanished or struggled can deny that. But Fairfax survives.

With respect, Packer left the media because the power his family sought through it was evaporating and money mattered too much. With respect, the Murdoch empire has relied on global film revenue to fund its news media, will rely on TV revenue in future and has used phone-hacking to seek a commercial advantage.

By contrast Fairfax is developing a business model that can ensure the Herald serves the Australian public with independent journalism for another 182 years. That Williams can write a book which exposes her employer to cheap shots from rivals says a lot about editorial independence.

Contrast this to the Murdoch empire's rejection of internal dissent and insistence on groupthink; to Kerry Packer's intolerance of criticism and his son's ''hatred, hatred, hatred, hatred'' outburst in describing his motivations against Fairfax. Contrast it to the Herald's ability to give credit where it is due and play every issue on its merits.

To the chagrin of Packer and Murdoch, the Herald's team of fearless journalists remains a thorn in the side; a check and balance on the extremes of power; a challenge to the cosy status quo; a rival that cannot be paid off; in essence that most dangerous of ideas, free speech in pursuit of the public interest.

Kate McClymont, Adele Ferguson, Linton Besser, Peter Hartcher and so many more – let no businessman or politician say their work and that of countless other Fairfax journalists has not made this country a better and more civilised place.

The Herald believes Australians will always value quality journalism and keep supporting a business that has a long record of delivering it. While you can now access the Herald's journalism in many ways, the core promise has not changed.

And you still have a choice about what sort of country Australia should be. It can be one where the commercial interests of Packer and Murdoch prevail, self-satisfied and free of scrutiny. The other is one where, as the first Herald editorial said in 1831, editorial management of newspapers is conducted upon principles of candour, honesty and honour. Where respect and deference are paid to all classes. Freedom of thinking. No wish to mislead. No interests to gratify. Dissent with respect, to establish a principle.

By these sentiments we shall be guided, and, whether friends or foes, by these we shall judge others; we have a right, therefore, to expect that by these we shall be judged.

We will not let negative judgements of the past distort our view of a future which, with the collective efforts of everyone at Fairfax on behalf of our loyal readers and shareholders, is destined to be a bright one.

Greg Hywood
CEO & Managing Director Fairfax Media

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