THE ADNEWS NGEN BLOG: Fairfax and the Rinehart Factor

2 July 2012

As a Gen Y account manager at a large media agency, I am in many ways the love child of Margaret Thatcher and Steve Jobs. Consumerism, optimism and innovation is my bread and butter. We are the future and we’ve replaced the radio for Spotify. TV shows aren’t necessarily watched on the TV anymore and magazines are not so much glossy as they are iPad-y. So it comes as no surprise that Fairfax (and to an extent, News Limited) is in a massive predicament when it comes to its print mastheads.

In a world where instant gratification is no longer a buzz term but the norm, and the 24-hour news cycle reigns supreme, is there room left in the media landscape for newspapers?

David Hoath, chief executive and publisher of The Age and Melbourne Publishing, mentioned in a seminar last year that the newspaper industry is not committed to newsprint per se – it’s merely a means to an end. What they are committed to is content and it is basically irrelevant how that content is distributed. In this sense, I agree wholeheartedly. I’m not in love with newsprint but I am in love with the content The Age delivers. As a politics junkie, Michelle Grattan and David Marr are on the pulse, fair and balanced and I love reading them, and see no problem in having to pay to read them.

In contrast to its print offering, The Age website is one of the most popular news websites in Australia – it has more UBs than the Herald Sun, however, the Herald Sun has a much higher print circulation. Obviously there are variables that need to be taken into account; the Herald Sun site has a pay wall for some content and The Age is annoyingly in broadsheet but once Fairfax changes to a tabloid format and erects a pay wall early next year, we can then compare apples with apples.

Enter Gina Rinehart. As Australia’s richest person, Rinehart undoubtedly has immense influence over public policy; just ask Kevin Rudd. In a free economy (where the media is privatised and expected to turn a profit), Rinehart has the right to buy shares in Fairfax and suggest steps to make it profitable. As its largest single shareholder with 18.6 per cent, she also has the right to request board seats. However, what she does not have the right to do is publically denounce The Age Charter of Editorial Independence and then threaten to sell her stake in the company unless her demands are met. She sees herself as a “white knight” saving Fairfax from itself, but what will all this be worth if it erodes the very notion of the free press? Although editorial bias has been customary at News Limited for some time now, it doesn’t make it any more justifiable.

If Rinehart succeeds, doesn’t sign the charter and influences the direction of the newspaper, as media professionals, the shift will become immediately evident.

The Age and SMH readers are of a particular breed, so once they start seeing stories about how awful the carbon tax is, or how climate change is a myth, they’ll look to other platforms to consume their news, which will further effect circulation, media cost-efficiencies and, ultimately, advertising revenue. Also, if the pay wall is operational by this stage, I doubt they’ll choose to pay for online content either.

Media Watch’s Jonathan Holmes soberly put it: “...he – or she – who pays the piper, has the right to call the tune”.  Although in reality a fair statement, I’d like to think that the media, and society as a whole deserves a Fairfax that is transparent and balanced; not a Fairfax that will be used as a mouthpiece to peddle Rinehart’s agenda.

Mark Tzintzis
Account Manager

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