Eric Beecher, founder of Crikey-owner Private Media has been entered into the Magazine Hall of Fame for 2017. He joins former inductees including Nicole Sheffield, Jackie Frank and Ita Buttrose.
Eric Beecher, founder and CEO of Private Media, was the youngest editor of the Sydney Morning Herald at the age of 33. He’s had stints at Fairfax and News Corp and a number of successful ventures of his own.
He began his career in journalism at a young age, starting a cricket publication with some school friends. It ended up running for several years and selling 20,000 copies on newsstands each month.
He took a fairly traditional route into news journalism starting as a cadet working for The Age in Melbourne. In his long career in newspapers, he’s worked at The Sunday Times and The Observer in London and The Washington Post in the US.
Following a few years as the features editor for the SMH, where he also started four of the paper’s lifestyle verticals from scratch, he eventually became the editor.
He then moved on from Fairfax to News Corp and worked for Rupert Murdoch as editor in chief of The Herald and Weekly Times before the papers merged.
In the 90s, Beecher set out on his own, launching a company called Text Media Group, which produced newspapers, magazines and books, and at one time, ad man John Singleton was a partner.
It was acquired by Fairfax Media in 2003 and that same year Beecher set up Private Media. The publisher currently owns subscription-based political news site Crikey since acquiring it in 2005, and launched SmartCompany and Smart StartUp. It did at one stage also own female-focused site Women’s Agenda.
Nearly 15 years on, Beecher is still at the helm.
After working with major, established, publishers it was Rupert Murdoch that inspired him to go out on his own - but not in the way you might think.
“I never wanted to work for someone like that again, so the only way to avoid that was to be my own boss,” he says.
“The internet was just getting started, so along with the partners from Text Media, we felt it was the time to move into digital. We bought Crikey which was about five years old and a quite edgy and controversial site, and we launched some startups. Some things worked and some didn't. It’s been interesting but somewhat precarious - but it’s mostly gone quite well.”
Throughout his career he has also received a number of high profile awards including the Walkley Award for Journalistic Leadership in 2007.
Beecher says his “guiding motivation” and what keeps him inspired in publishing is quality journalism, but he is also a staunch businessman and knows journalism that is not underpinned with a commercial model that works, will fail.
“That’’s always been my point of view. It's so important to the workings of democracy,” he says.
“All things come back to the business model. You can have the best journalism in the world but if it’s not supported by a viable profitable business model then it just doesn't survive, so we have to figure out business models," he says.
“I would never publish something that is purely commercial, but at the same time I wouldn’t publish something that can't survive commercially. It’s enormously satisfying, in current times as everything is unravelling, to find new models that are going to survive long-term.”
While Private Media has some innovative and successful commercial models, Beecher is candid about having made some “cock-ups” in his career.
“There’s no excuses for some of the cock ups that I've made, like going in with a cost structure that is just too high,” he admits.
“The thing I’ve learned, is that you don’t know [what will be successful] and you have to make lots of mistakes. One of the biggest lessons I've learned is that you need to minimise the damage that mistakes can make.
“No matter how interesting [a venture] looks, you do it at the minimum viable level, start small, and allow it to evolve naturally.
“With digital, if things are good and there’s an appetite or audience for them, they emerge pretty quickly. The trickiest thing is if you start at a level which is too ambitious rather than allowing yourself to grow to that level.”
Previous inductees into the AMA Hall of Fame are:
- 2016 Nicole Sheffield
- 2015 Donna Hay
- 2014 Jackie Frank
- 2013 Julia Zaetta
- 2012 Ita Buttrose
- 2011 Matt Handbury
- 2010 Bernard Leser
- 2009 John Southam
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