Australia’s leading quality press, Fairfax newspapers, have taken a big step towards becoming a virtual news group.
Fairfax Media, which published the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review, today announced the closure of its major printing presses and dumping the traditional broadsheet format, while foreshadowing more than 1900 redundancies.
The impact of today’s announcement reflects the narrow ownership of Australia’s news media. Fairfax may be centred in only Sydney and Melbourne, but it represents a liberal alternative to the dominant Murdoch press and the government funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
While Australian newspapers have not suffered internet driven advertising declines comparable to their American counterparts, the Fairfax move followed falls in revenue this year accompanied by a takeover bid by right wing mining billionaire, Gina Rinehart. Rinehart, who has particular views about what newspapers should publish, had been acquiring Fairfax shares at reduced prices. A Rinehart advisor, Jack Cowin, the founder of Hungry Jacks burger chain, said this month newspapers were a business and that ”the purpose of the newspaper … is probably to portray the facts in a manner that is going to attract readership”. A critic of mining taxes, Rinehart has demanded three places on the Fairfax Board.
Fairfax today announced four major measures “to match the reduced significance of print readership to an increasingly digital business”.
- Metro Mastheads to Move to Compact Format: The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age will move to “compact” formats similar to The Australian Financial Review, with the first copy to be released on 4 March 2013.
- Digital Subscriptions Introduced to Metro Mastheads: Digital subscriptions will be
implemented across The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age during the first quarter of calendar 2013. A “metered” model will be adopted with a base level of free access to the websites retained. The pricing and plans for digital subscriptions will be announced by the end of 2012.
- Closure of Chullora and Tullamarine: It is proposed that the Chullora and Tullamarine printing facilities be closed by June 2014. Both sites were commissioned when almost all of Metro Media’s content was delivered through the printed newspaper. They have legacy presses with significant surplus capacity which is no longer required. It is proposed that printing of Metro papers will be reallocated to the Fairfax printing network.
- Digital-First Editorial Model: The editorial function will be restructured to ensure full integration across digital, print and mobile platforms. There will be increased flexibility with greater sharing of editorial content across geographies and across platforms.
Commenting on today’s announcements, Chief Executive and Managing Director Greg Hywood said:
“No one should be in any doubt that we are operating in very challenging times. Readers’ behaviours
have changed and will not change back. As a result, we are taking decisive actions to fundamentally
change the way we do business.”
The changes announced today have been selected after considering the merits of a full range of structural alternatives, including a demerger. The package of strategic initiatives is bold, and several are difficult, particularly as they will impact on some of our people. However, we believe that they are in the best interests of Fairfax, our shareholders, and ultimately the majority of our people. They are necessary to ensure Fairfax retains its position as a leading independent media company and a keyvoice in our markets.
The move to tabloid follows News Corporation’s Queensland metropolitan, the Courier Mail’s shift to a “compact” format in 2006. The US based News Corporation, which sells about two thirds of Australia’s metropolitan newspaper circulation, was also reported to be considering cutbacks.
- Journos’ union seeks talks with Fairfax (Media Alliance)