Jun 18, 2012

I think it would be fun to ruin a newspaper

Crikey sends Jeremy Sear and Dave Gaukroger on their way. And today, the inevitable next step:

Crikey sends Jeremy Sear and Dave Gaukroger on their way.

And today, the inevitable next step:

Fairfax to shed 1900 staff, erect paywalls

Who’s mocking the slippery slope now?

In other news, how canny an investor is Gina Rinehart? Just days before the Fairfax share price rockets, she dramatically increases her stake in the company. Can she read the tea leaves or what?

PS How cute is the headline on the Age front page, where they call the story “Paper giant faces future”? Paper “giant”?

ELSEWHERE: News With Nipples points out the part that undermines their new pitch for me:

How smart is it to sack the people who create the product – the journalists and the printers – but to keep the sales people and management who clearly aren’t very good at their jobs? Declining ad revenue and mismanagement got Fairfax into this situation, but no, let’s make sure those people stay with the company.

Yeah, so you want to charge me more for a product of lower quality because you’ve sacked all the people who add value to it? Good luck with that.

ELSEWHERE: Mr Denmore at The Failed Estate explores how Fairfax got to this point:

This blogger still has nightmares of small, airless offices at Fairfax with yellow post-it notes covering the walls. I spent three years as the AFR’s ‘acting’ online editor (‘acting’ because they dare not give the digital world equivalence with print). And most of that time was spent in brain-eating meetings alongside business people, earnest McKinsey blow-ins and tech-head contractors cooking up a pie-in-the-sky scheme to try to turn the newspaper into a Bloomberg-style data portal.

The Frankensteinian result of that process was ‘AFR Access’, a quixotic attempt by Fairfax Business Media to play in the online space while protecting existing and still lucrative print revenues. It was a classic Fairfax punch-pulling exercise, the result of a timidity and lack of imagination among print-only news executives who, like the apocryphal boiling frog, dared not tackle change that was going to be forced on the industry anyway.

While the talk was about a digital future (I was inspired enough to start a blog), the message absorbed from on high across the editorial floor was that journalists should not go out of their way to be cooperative with the “new media” people, who would end up cannabilising the newspaper and taking their jobs. Well that strategy worked out well, didn’t it?

UPDATE: The Australian reports:

It is understood [Rinehart] has asked for the position of deputy chairman, the unfettered right to hire and fire editors and sought to have her alternate director appointments to be unvetted by the board.

She has also asked for seats for two of her nominees in addition to one that may be taken by hamburger chain king and fellow Ten Network director Jack Cowin.

“The unfettered right to hire and fire editors” with her 18.7%. Well, that percentage is 18.7 times more than the proportion of Australians the editorial lines in question would likely represent.


25 thoughts on “I think it would be fun to ruin a newspaper

  1. Jacques de Molay

    Personally I couldn’t give a stuff what Gina Rinehart does to Fairfax. Make Andrew Bolt the new Editor, make it more right-wing than even Ltd News etc, who cares?

    No one reads newspapers anymore. I know it’s not nice saying this amongst the politically engaged (2% of the population) but the only people who do still read newspapers are to be kind, of a certain vintage. Try and find a person under 30 who reads newspapers!

    The newspapers did everything they could to try and stop Labor getting in in 2007 and they were powerless. Some at five to midnight decided to try and save face and back Rudd in, they can at least read the tea leaves.

    Newspapers, shock jocks on radio etc are things from a bygone era tailored to a certain market (senior citizens with nothing better to do). The vast, vast majority of the people ignore them. They have so little actual influence it’s not funny.

    One thing I’ve always disliked with Crikey (not PP, the actual email) is this obsession it has with Fairfax no matter how small (this at least not that) the actual news story which I dare say is a combination of a) Beecher and b) a lot of left-wing people being heavily engaged in anything Fairfax does as they have adopted that newspaper company as ‘their side’.

    Newspapers (News Ltd/Fairfax/whatever) are in a death spiral the world over. They are the blacksmith’s of our time. It’s called the internet.

  2. Matthew of Canberra

    “But for how long?”

    Until shortly after murdoch meets his maker. Then it becomes some dead guy’s vanity project that can’t pay its way.

  3. SHV

    Trippi @ 20:

    I’ve often pondered the same question, ie: why, when you have NEARLY everything, do you so desperately want 100%?

    It’s an ideological thing and a form of insanity in my view. If you (and everyone else) haven’t read Jeff Sharlet’s book “The Family”, I highly recommend it. In many ways it helps explain the fervour behind the radical neo-con agenda/psychology.

    It is not an exageration to say that these people are fanatical and dangerous. They are like addicts in that they can never have enough – power, money, obsequience, fame and so on. Good on them, but our job as citizens in this democracy seems to me to be ensuring our political class (media/politicians) do much more to answer to us and be much more accountable about how they deal with ‘them’.

  4. Coldsnacks

    Howard, B

    Last broadsheet standing

    But for how long?

  5. Steve777

    @jules – good point – all that subliminal advertising must be worth a fortune. It’s why product placement, billboards and fancy packaging work. In fact, many people who buy newspapers will only read the headlines and possibly scan the first few paragraphs of the most prominent stories. Murdoch(s) know this, which is why they can claim to be balanced while burying any material that might balance screaming headlines way down in stories or on page 13 where the majority of readers won’t see it.

    Newspapers also influence other news outlets. They provide shock jocks with their talking points. Other media, including our venerable the ABC, seem to take their lead from what is prominently featured in the big metropolitan dailies. For at least the next decade or so, newspapers’ influence will extend way beyond their readership.

  6. Trippi Taka

    @Angra 17

    There was a financial analyst on the TV last night saying that their theory is simply what you stated. Gina wants control over Fairfax (pretty average investment from an equity perspective) to influence a change in government to get rid of the mining tax (pretty fantastic investment from a larger mining perspective). I haven’t done the figures but you would think savings on the mining tax would probably close to pay her investment in Fairfax, if not better?

    The frightening thing is: News Ltd already controls 70% of print media. News Ltd is pretty much categorically conservative and pro business/mining. However 70% is not good enough for the plutocracy. They are trying to engineer almost 100% of the print media available in our nation to be conservative / pro business mouth pieces.

    I cannot fathom why they don’t think the 70% coverage is doing a good enough job at swaying influence. It truly is frightening.

  7. jules

    Newspapers still drive the agenda, even when they’re loss making. Because they are there. They sit in waiting rooms, in cafes and on train carriages – all over the place – and people pick them up and flick thru them. They still carry some currency cos they are real solid products, not digital information or ephemeral stuff beamed around on radio waves that can only be caught if you’ve got the right receiver. Plus newspapers are useful for wrapping rubbish in, lighting fores with and adding to compost or mulching virulent weeds.

    In 20 years this bias against digital stuff will be gone I spose. (Its already happening in the US where votes are completely electronic.)

    But for now, their very substance gives them substance.

    And they still have influence. Even if you don’t read them you can still be exposed to their message by casually viewing headlines on a tram or in a cafe, if someone you can see is reading one. one every street corner those headlines in cages are posted, and even if you never buy those papers you are exposed to that noise (or signal). In fact those things are effectively subliminal advertising devices. That is the sort of influence any tax dodging mining magnate would love, very useful for the sort of scumbags that see the country as a giant quarry.

  8. SHV

    I firmly believe (and it looks like I’m not alone) we are being fed BS about the “inevitable decline” of newspapers.

    It’s obviously a ‘chicken/egg’ question but I believe circulation has steadily declined because journalism has given way to biased writing and ‘opinion’. If they went back to doing decent journalism circulation would increase.

    Whenever I travel to the non-capital regions I always buy the local paper and they usually leave the big city counterparts for dead when it comes to quality of writing. Often the local rag is sold out and I have to go to 3 or 4 different shops before I can get hold of one (perhaps surprisingly, APN is included in this category).

    It might be my tin-foil hat playing up, but I believe the destruction of journalism has been deliberate rather than negligent (take a look at the ABC, you can’t stuff something up that completely by accident!).

  9. Angra

    I was wrong. Gina’s tilt at Fairfax isn’t about money (as MoC pointed out, this is small change for her) so it must be about influence.

    All the more disturbing when we read that she wants editorial control.

    The good news is that print media are declining in readership and influence. Unless they can effectively change their business model (which Fairfax had consistently shown it cannot) then this may be an excercise in buying up the horse-drawn cabs just when autos are becoming popular.

  10. Angra

    Dave and Jeremy.

    The OP above says ‘Crikey sends Dave and Jeremy on their way’.

    But …

    {EDIT for off-topic. Angra, the “Moving On” post makes clear what happened. The first sentence of this post was me being slightly facetious. -Jeremy.}

  11. fractious

    Bloods05 (on the Open Thread)

    The Age puts up a paywall, I’ll just stop using it. I will also stop buying it, even for fire lighters, if Gina buys it up and turns it into another loss-making mouthpiece for the self-interest of the plutocracy, like The Australian.

    Failfax is like News Corp in waiting. As the main “alternative” to News Corp product it had a wide open field to differentiate itself and make itself a stand out. Instead the “managers” got hold of it, and killed creative thinking and writing stone dead. Rinehart buying influence (or even control) using the fat profits from selling our country is merely the final iron (and ironic) nail in its coffin. I really truly would like to see both News Corp and Fairfax put up impenetrable paywalls – maybe then the toxic ooze the emanates from them will stop flowing down the gutter into the ABC and we’ll start to get the media and journalism standards we need (but don’t get). If they do it properly (and include commercial radio) they will obviate the Finkelstein enquiry altogether.

    Fairfax retaining managers while sacking journalists and editing staff says all you need to know about its approach to reinventing newspapers in the online age – journalism’s equivalent of Qantas.

  12. Ronson Dalby

    “Rinehart wants unvetted control

    It is understood she has asked for the position of deputy chairman, the unfettered right to hire and fire editors and sought to have her alternate director appointments to be unvetted by the board.

    She has also asked for seats for two of her nominees in addition to one that may be taken by hamburger chain king and fellow Ten Network director Jack Cowin.”


  13. zoot

    Sheesh! That would make the Oz one of the finest examples of an 18th century newspaper ever. Talk about back to the future.

  14. SHV

    […It does not hack dead children’s phones, it does not engage in corruption of law enforcement officials, it is not propped up by the billionaire master-mind of an international corporation with a dubious history,…]

  15. Aliar Jones

    [read by people less interested in news and debate than having their prejudices confirmed.]

    Oh the irony…

  16. Howard,B.

    Last broadsheet standing, The Oz, is reporting that Gina has asked for three seats on the board and the right to hire and fire editors.

    Is there a print format smaller than tabloid? Something more in the “18th century pamphleteering” range of sizes?

    Though, some may say the likes of Crikey! and the blogosphere in general are already the pamphleteers of today. Once upon a time from the last broadsheet standing:

    Crikey sells itself as the future of serious journalism, but it isn’t. It does not break big stories. It does not send reporters around the world. It does not analyse policy in detail. And too often it escapes the laws on defamation and the scrutiny of the Press Council. Crikey is what newspapers were in the 18th century, a small-circulation propaganda sheet, read by people less interested in news and debate than having their prejudices confirmed.

  17. monkeywrench

    Some sources say Gina is after three seats on the board. Unkind commentators have suggested they’re all for her.

  18. SHV

    Maybe I’m weird,

    (actually, I’m definitely weird) but in a classic “mondogreen” I always heard those TV ads for the ABC series about Ita as “Paid Vaginas”.

  19. Matthew of Canberra

    “How smart is it to sack the people who create the product”

    Don’t see them as producers … think of them as a recurring expense.

  20. Angra

    Well ‘The Voice’ pulled out all the stops tonight (you know that’s an organ reference. Tracher, not electro-mechanical) with Jimmy Barnes himself.

  21. Aliar Jones

    I stopped reading even the online SMH about a year or so ago…they allowed themselves to become an idiot rag…pathetically ghosting the insane blithering and politicing of News Ltd…a bet each way? Dance with the devil and that’s what you get…the morons who read the Oz aren’t interested in news..hope the clickbait was worth it.

    The only good bit is one day we’ll get to dance around the drain as the Oz goes in too..

  22. Angra

    Let me tell you a story.

    Once upon a time there was a rich Queen – she was the most beautiful and richest person in the world. She could have everything she wanted. Pearls from the Coral Sea, diamonds from Africa, sapphires from Nepal, diamonds from the Kimberley.

    But she wanted more.

    She wanted the hearts and minds of Men. How dare they impune her, or suggest ulterior motives?

    She was prepared to pay millions for their loyalty.

    So she bought their daily newspaper. And inserted her own ideas into the stories that everyone read.

    No one argued. She now controlled “the truth”.

    So now we are all content to bow before her – our Queen, our Princess, our owner.

    She has won. Or at least made a few million.

  23. Angra

    EDIT?!? Just as I was getting to the juicy stuff? Come on guys, you’re on to something big here. And the rest of the Crikey commentariat know it anyway. I understand you are scared of the legal implications – but hell!

    I wish you all the best for the future, but remember what I said about Hustle?

    (wink wink)

  24. Kersebleptes

    Well, she must be. As we are all acutely aware that Gina Rinehart would never EDIT

  25. Angra

    Dave and Jeremy – go out with a bang not a whimper.

    I’ve been suggesting that Gina’s Fairfax buy may be EDIT

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