Posts Tagged ‘Fairfax’

  • Fairfax in ‘good shape’ after $63m loss

    Fairfax Media posted a net loss after tax of $63.8 million for the 2018 financial year, compared to a net profit of $84 million the previous year, but CEO Greg Hywood says the company is now in “good shape” ahead of its proposed buyout by Nine.

    “Today’s result shows the strong position of the Fairfax Media portfolio,” says Hywood. “Each of our businesses has maintained a growth focus and delivered good cost outcomes which will underpin future performance.

    ‘Fairfax is in good shape’: Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood

    “Over the past seven years, we have taken the big decisions. We have built businesses such as Domain and Stan. We have maximised the growth drivers of our core assets. We have addressed legacy cost issues to give our business time to adjust to the structural change it confronted. We have hit our stride going for growth.

    “Fairfax is in good shape – and that’s the reason Fairfax shareholders have the opportunity to benefit from a step-change in growth through the proposed combination of our company with Nine Entertainment Co.

    Revenue for the year was $1.688bn, down 3.1% from the prior corresponding period.

    Hywood says the deal to share printing facilities with News Corp is the beginning of a new era of industry cooperation.

    “Our three publishing businesses are emerging from a period of great change. Each is profitable, generating valuable cash flows, and positioned with distinct markets, products and strategy to leverage growth. What they have in common is an ongoing emphasis on digital publishing; continuing focus on cost and efficiency; initiatives to maximise print earnings; and a focus on developing new revenue opportunities.

    “Our printing agreements with News Corp herald a new era of greater industry cooperation. The arrangement delivers us greater cost variabilisation, reduced capital intensity, and further extend the cash-generating life of print. As announced on 18 July 2018, we expect the combination of the new arrangements and the changes to Fairfax’s printing network to result in an annualised full-year benefit of approximately $15 million.”

    The company’s Australian Metro Media division is “a remarkable transformation success story,” Hywood said.

    “For the past six years we have taken this business through radical change. We have reached the point where we can see a strong future for the business. This is the second consecutive year of EBITDA growth for Metro, up 8% for the year, with margins increasing from 9.4% to 10.8%.

    “Circulation revenue declines moderated in H2, benefiting from strong growth in digital subscriptions with 9% growth in revenue for the year, and increases in cover prices. Net paid digital subscriptions for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review recorded growth year-on-year across all three mastheads to 313,000. The Financial Review is having particular success in B2B.

    Total revenue from Australian Community Media declined 9%, with relatively stable contribution from Agricultural titles, benefiting from strong agricultural commodity prices and digital investment in the sector. “This was offset by weakness in regional advertising and circulation, with some impact from the closure of several unprofitable mastheads,” Hywood said. “Declines in local and real-estate print revenue contributed to the advertising revenue result. Circulation declines reflected lower retail volumes.”

    New Zealand business Stuff saw total revenue decline around 7.5% in local currency terms. Digital revenue growth of 21% was offset by lower print advertising.


  • Nine to buy Fairfax in $4 billion takeover

    Fairfax Media and Nine have announced a $4 billion deal which will see the formation of Australia’s largest media company, bringing together Fairfax’s print assets and Nine’s broadcast outlets.

    Under the terms of the deal, announced on the ASX the morning of Thursday January 26, Nine will take over the 177-year-old media organisation, scrapping the Fairfax name and incorporating its existing assets including mastheads The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age into the combined company’s operations.

    Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood.

    In a note to staff, Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood said there would be “plenty of Fairfax DNA” in the new entity and its Board. “Over the last eight years, Fairfax Media has gone from being at the mercy of the non-stop global media revolution to being best of its breed, and that is why Nine wants to merge their business with ours,” he said. “At the end of this process, the business will be a media company of scale, depth of offering, and digital capacity and opportunities like no other in our region.”

    If the deal goes through, shareholders of Nine will own 51.1 percent of the new company, to be called NEC (Nine Entertainment Company), with Fairfax shareholders comprising the other 48.9 percent. Nine’s Hugh Marks and Peter Costello will remain in their respective positions as CEO and Chairman. “Both Nine and Fairfax have played an important role in shaping the Australian media landscape over many years,” said Costello. “The combination of our businesses and our people best positions us to deliver new opportunities and innovations for our shareholders, staff and all Australians in the years ahead.”

    Lorraine Cassin, AMWU.

    The AMWU warns of potential job losses from the merger, which comes a week after Fairfax and News Corp announced a deal to share printing facilities, shuttering two Fairfax plants in NSW and Queensland. Lorraine Cassin, national print secretary at AMWU, said the union would work with management to ensure the industry would remain viable and continue delivering high-quality print journalism. “Just because the name of Fairfax is gone, it doesn’t mean that the important role of print journalism should go with it. Every job lost or the outsourcing of services by sending them offshore, means tighter deadlines and less time for quality control. This will inevitably result in a further reduction in the quality of journalism,” she said.

    Journalists’ union MEAA (Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance) has come out strongly against the deal, with Marcus Strom, president of MEAA Media, urging the ACCC to oppose it. “This takeover reduces media diversity. It threatens the editorial independence of great news rooms at Nine, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Canberra Times, Illawarra Mercury, Newcastle Herald, Macquarie Media and more – right around the country. It harms the ability of an independent media to scrutinise and investigate the powerful, threatens the functioning of a healthy democracy, and undermines the quality journalism that our communities rely on for information,” he said.

    The ACCC has confirmed it will look into the deal, with a spokesperson saying the consumer watchdog will evaluate whether competition in any market will be substantially lessened. “When reviewing mergers in the media sector, the ACCC considers the competition impact on consumers (both readers and viewers), advertisers and content creators/sellers,” the spokesperson said. “The impact of technology on the media sector will be a critical part of the competition analysis.”

  • Fairfax North Richmond up for print award

    Fairfax Media’s North Richmond Print Centre has been named a finalist in the Print Centre of the Year category in this year’s News Media Awards for its work on The Sydney Morning Herald, just days after the publisher announced the masthead would now be printed by News Corp.

    North Richmond is one of three finalists for the coveted award, alongside News Corp Australia’s Yandina Print Centre, which prints the Sunshine Coast Daily, and its Townsville Print Centre, home of the Townsville Bulletin.

    Former rivals Fairfax Media and News Corp last week announced a ‘landmark’ plan to share their printing networks in a consolidation restructure that will see Fairfax close its Ormiston and Beresfield printing centres, with the loss of more than 120 print jobs.

    As part of the deal, Fairfax metropolitan newspapers currently produced at North Richmond, including The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review, will now be printed at News Corp’s printing site in Chullora.

    The two newspaper giants again dominate this year’s nominations. For the first time, Stuff NZ – the New Zealand news arm of Fairfax Media – has contenders for two of the top trophies – Daily News Brand of the Year and Weekend News Brand of the Year – alongside News Corp Australia’s The Australian and Fairfax’s The Australian Financial Review.

    Stuff has been able to enter the top award categories this year following a rebrand of the awards from ‘newspaper’ to ‘news brand.’

    Fairfax’s The Age and The Australian Financial Review and their associated weekend titles are  finalists for both News Brand awards, competing against News Corp’s The Australian.

    Community News Group’s Stirling Times lines up against several Fairfax and News Corp titles including The Maitland Mercury and Manly Daily for Community News Brand of the Year, while The Fiji Times, Newcastle Herald and NT News compete for Regional News Brand of the Year.

    Click here to see the full list of finalists.

    The new News Story of the Year Award has highlighted some of Australia and New Zealand’s best journalism from the past 12 months. Nominations include The Sydney Morning Herald’s Kate McClymont’s #MeToo expose detailing allegations against media personality Don Burke, Stuff Circuit’s investigation into New Zealand’s involvement in the Afghanistan War and NZME’s series on youth suicide.

    The six finalists for the prestigious Hegarty Scholarship for Best Young Executive (Under 35) are News Corp’s Holly Yates, Lauren Moloney, Robert Tidball and Nadja Fleet; Fairfax’s Jordan Philp; and McPherson Media Group’s Tyla Harrington.

    The News Media Awards are the latest iteration of the PANPA Newspaper of the Year Awards, modernising the event to better align the categories with the changing nature of the industry.

    Winners will be announced at the 2018 News Media Awards gala dinner, hosted by The Chaser’s Craig Reucassel and Andrew Hansen, on Friday 14th September at the Hilton Sydney.

    Purchase tickets here for the Awards gala dinner, or to register for the INFORM News Media Summit (daytime), visit



  • Fairfax print closures ‘just the beginning’

    Fairfax Media printing plant at Ormiston, Brisbane.

    The AMWU says the ‘devastating’ closures of Fairfax newspaper printing plants at Ormiston in Brisbane and Beresfield in Newcastle could be just the beginning, with the North Richmond site next in the firing line.

    “This is just the start of further consolidation in the newspaper sector in Australia,” says AMWU Queensland print division secretary Danny Dougherty. “It’s just the beginning. They could shut down North Richmond next then move on to the sites in Melbourne.”

    Former rivals Fairfax Media and News Corp this week announced a ‘landmark’ plan to share their printing networks in a consolidation restructure that will see Fairfax close its Ormiston and Beresfield printing centres with the loss of more than 120 print jobs.

    Fairfax at North Richmond.

    As part of the deal, Fairfax metropolitan newspapers currently produced at North Richmond, including The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review, will now be printed at News Corp Chullora.

    “This change will open up print windows allowing North Richmond to absorb work from Fairfax’s Beresfield site, including for a number of ACM titles, as well as some products for News Corp,” Fairfax said in a statement. “The announced changes will impact printing schedules at the North Richmond site. Once the transition of work is complete, the company will assess its operations, including rostering and staffing levels, and consult and engage with staff regarding any changes that may be necessary.”

    Doughtery says the announcement this week took the workers by surprise. “There were no discussions. They were called into a meeting at Ormiston on Wednesday morning and told their jobs were gone. It’s very hard for people in these situations. No-one’s prepared. It all happened very quickly and they’re shocked and devastated.”

    At least 55 printing workers lost their jobs at the Brisbane plant and another 70 people are out the door at Beresfield in Newcastle, NSW.

    “Then there’s the flow on effect to people like the drivers who are delivering the papers,” says Doughtery. “We’re still not sure what’s happening in other parts of the company, with people who work in digital, as well as editors and journalists. There’s talk that Fairfax will sell the building.”

    ‘Our members are angry’: Lorraine Cassin, AMWU.

    Lorraine Cassin, national secretary of the AMWU printing division, says the union will meet with Fairfax to discuss any further changes to the operation at North Richmond, which recently completed a $20 million upgrade.

    “We were blindsided by the announcement and our members are angry,” says Cassin. “Fairfax Media has indicated all affected employees will be paid their full entitlements but we know that these closures will hit hard and we will be working with the company to identify redeployment opportunities.

    “While Fairfax Media has stated that the rationalisation is designed to effect ‘efficiencies,’ we urge the company to recognise that its highly skilled printers have given many years of loyal service to the newspaper industry.”

    Mass meetings of sacked workers will be held on Monday.

  • End of an era: Fairfax and News confirm landmark newspaper printing deal

    Fairfax Media and News Corp have announced a ‘landmark’ consolidation initiative that will see the once-bitter rivals sharing each other’s printing networks. Fairfax print sites at Beresfield (NSW) and Ormiston (Queensland) will close, with the loss of at least a hundred print jobs. The AMWU has called emergency meetings of affected workers at several sites.

    Fairfax flagships The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review will now be printed at News Corp’s Chullora site. “As part of new arrangements, Metro work currently produced at North Richmond (The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review) will transition to News Corp’s Chullora print site,” Fairfax told the AMWU this morning via email. “This change will open up print windows allowing North Richmond to absorb work from Fairfax’s Beresfield site, including for a number of ACM titles, as well as some products for News Corp.

    ‘A rational approach to complex issues’: Greg Hywood, CEO Fairfax Media.

    “The announced changes will impact printing schedules at the North Richmond site. Once the transition of work is complete, the company will assess its operations, including rostering and staffing levels, and consult and engage with staff regarding any changes that may be necessary.”

    In statements to the ASX on Wednesday morning, the companies say News Corp will provide a range of printing services for Fairfax in New South Wales and Queensland, while Fairfax will print publications for News Corp out of its North Richmond (NSW) plant.

    “These are landmark initiatives,” said Fairfax CEO and managing director Greg Hywood. “They demonstrate a rational approach to the complex issues facing the industry. The printing arrangements make the production of newspapers more efficient for both publishers. Better utilisation of existing print assets makes sense and will deliver economic benefits to Fairfax Media.”

    Hywood says there will be no change to the availability of Fairfax newspapers. “The agreements deliver greater cost variabilisation, enabling us to produce newspapers well into the future.

    “Our decision to rationalise some printing assets reduces capital intensity. We expect the combination of the new arrangements, and the changes to Fairfax’s printing network to result in an annualised full-year benefit of approximately $15 million. The financial benefits are expected to begin towards the end of FY19 H1.

    “From today, we are consulting with staff at our printing centres affected by the new arrangements. Fairfax is committed to providing comprehensive assistance and support and will meet all our employment obligations.”

    Following consultation with staff and a transition period, work will progressively shift to other sites and the Beresfield and Ormiston print sites are scheduled to close, Fairfax told the AMWU. “As a result, all positions at Ormiston and Beresfield sites will be redundant and employees will be exiting unless suitable redeployment opportunities are able to be identified.

    “Management has commenced meetings today with affected employees to inform them of the changes. As part of the consultation process, the company will seek feedback and discuss measures to mitigate or avert the effects of changes. This will include exploring any potential redeployment opportunities and providing outplacement services.”

    ‘This is a commercial deal which makes commercial sense’: Michael Miller, executive chairman, News Corp Australasia.

    In its announcement, News Corp says it will provide seven-day printing services to Fairfax in NSW and Queensland. Fairfax will print some publications for News Corp out of its North Richmond plant.

    News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller says the arrangements demonstrate the company’s confidence in the future of printed newspapers and in the influence and impact of trusted newspaper journalism.  In addition, he said the arrangements with Fairfax Media provides benefits of scale and efficiency.

    “As a publisher, we have absolute confidence in the ongoing significance of newspapers.  Within this framework, we need to continue to look at the most effective and efficient ways to produce newspapers. This is a commercial deal which makes commercial sense by enabling better use of our existing print facilities.”

    In addition to NSW and Queensland, Miller says talks are continuing to develop further opportunities that ensure the competitiveness and viability of News Corp’s mastheads.

    News says the arrangement mirrors that in place in New Zealand, where HT&E Media (formerly APN Media) prints certain Fairfax newspaper titles, and in Britain where News UK prints the newspapers of its competitors e.g.  Daily Mail, Evening Standard, The Daily Telegraph(UK) and the Daily Express.

    The new printing arrangement will commence this month and the companies say they will continue to explore further opportunities. There has been no announcement yet about their newspaper printing sites in Victoria.

    Last week, Fairfax Media and News Corp said they had dismissed an earlier proposal by their hired business advisor Deloitte to close five newspaper printing plants across NSW, Victoria and Queensland. The AMWU said hundreds of print workers would have been made redundant under the plan. That proposal would have shut down Fairfax at North Richmond, which will now continue operations.

  • Fairfax & News dismiss Deloitte’s radical newspaper plant closure plan

    Fairfax Media and News Corp say they’ve dismissed a proposal by their hired business advisor Deloitte to close five newspaper printing plants across NSW, Victoria and Queensland. 

    Print21 has seen a draft copy of a confidential 18-page document titled Project Rain, prepared by Deloitte Consulting in January 2018, which outlines a range of consolidation options including five site closures over the next two years. Under a plan that would reshape the local newspaper publishing landscape, Fairfax plants at North Richmond and Beresfield in NSW would be shut down and consolidated into News’ Chullora, and News Corp’s Port Melbourne print site, located on valuable real estate land, would be folded into Fairfax Ballarat. Another proposal is the closure of both News Corp’s Murarrie site in Brisbane and its Warwick plant in south-east Queensland.

    The consolidation would consist of closing five sites across NSW, VIC and QLD and setting printing agreements in each state, says the Deloitte report.

    An excerpt from Project Rain (January 2018).

    There are two options outlined for News Corp’s Queensland business. Murarrie in Brisbane, which prints the Courier Mail, would close in December, with the publishing operation transferred to News’ Yandina site and Fairfax’s plant at Ormiston. A second option would consolidate Fairfax Ormiston into an expanded Murarrie. “Two options available and decision required,” says Deloitte in a note.

    Between 300-400 print workers would be made redundant under the plan, according to an industry source.

    In what’s described as a ‘theoretical best case scenario,’ the report proposed beginning extension work at Fairfax Ballarat VIC and at News Corp’s Yandina QLD in March 2018.

    An excerpt from Project Rain (January 2018).

    Approached for comment, the companies issued similar statements dismissing the Deloitte proposal as ‘redundant.’

    “Deloitte assisted Fairfax and News Corp with some scoping work around printing options,” said a Fairfax Media spokesperson. “Both companies have previously announced to the market that we have been exploring options around printing. The plans and assumptions outlined in the document are completely redundant and were found not to be feasible. Fairfax and News continue to have productive discussions around printing options.”

    A News Corp spokesperson said: “The document you refer to is a redundant scoping document and none of the material it contains is of any relevance today.”

    The unions are less than convinced. “It seems strange that they would pay a lot of money to a company like Deloitte to prepare a report and then put it on the scrapheap,” says the AMWU’s national print division secretary, Lorraine Cassin. 

    ‘Deeper strategic opportunities’: Greg Hywood, CEO Fairfax Media.

    The AMWU will meet with senior management at News Corp next month to discuss the consolidation plans. “There’s all sorts of rumours out there about what they’re looking at and what sort of collaboration will be taking place, which is affecting the morale of our members,” says Cassin. “We don’t want to be blindsided by an announcement and what we’re saying to the companies is: be transparent, let’s deal with this together.”

    Fairfax and News Corp have been talking for some time about sharing print facilities and collaborating on newspaper distribution in Australia. In February, Fairfax appointed a team of advisers to pursue ‘deeper strategic opportunities’ with News after posting a 54 percent fall in net profit to $38.5m in the first six months.

    “We expect greater industry cooperation will deliver significant benefits,” Fairfax chief executive Greg Hywood told the ASX at the time. “We have progressed our recent positive discussions with News Corp Australia to seek industry-wide efficiencies in printing and distribution. We have had successful collaborations around shared trucking and printing titles for News in Queensland. Building on this collaboration, we have appointed advisers to pursue deeper strategic opportunities.”

  • Horton slams Fairfax on the way out

    The Goss Community press at Horton Media, Narangba.

    Horton Media is shutting down its coldset printing plant in Queensland and exiting the Australian newspaper publishing market, blaming “grossly uncompetitive behaviour” by competitor Fairfax Media.

    “Unbelievably unsustainable prices”: Matthew Horton, CEO Horton Media.

    “We weren’t making any money,” says Matthew Horton, CEO of NZ-owned independent publisher Horton Media. “Fairfax has totally and absolutely destroyed the profitability of the coldset web printing market in Australia. In my view, they’ve engaged in grossly uncompetitive behaviour by offering unbelievably unsustainable prices, which they’ve compounded by offering those lucky clients ridiculous payment terms. It was just not worth going on in that situation. Given the continuing trends in the printing and publishing markets, the action we’ve taken was not unforeseeable.”

    Fairfax operates a newspaper and magazine printing site at nearby Ormiston in Brisbane.

    On its website, award-winning Horton describes itself as Australasia’s largest independent contract newspaper printer, with plants in Auckland and Brisbane and clients around the world. Australian customers included dozens of independent publishers such as Sunshine Valley Gazette, Coolum & North Shore Advertiser and Defence News – all of whom have been forced to find alternative printing deals.

    Horton Media, Narangba.

    The company’s plant at Narangba, north of Brisbane, will be shut down, with staff losses confined to a single shift of workers, according to Horton. Its flagship four-tower Goss Community press and post-press equipment is being sold off. 

    “It’s in very good condition and we’ve already had a lot of good interest,” says Horton. “It’s one of the best maintained pieces of kit around and ideal for short-to-medium run paginations. If we don’t end up selling it, we may redeploy it to New Zealand, where we’re thinking of expanding at our Auckland plant. We have a much stronger competitive profile in New Zealand than here.”

    Horton’s Australian unit will now focus on building its digital publishing business.

    “We’ve always had ambitions to return to publishing [the Horton family used to own The New Zealand Herald] and have been working for a couple of years on data analysis and acquisition. We’ve also launched an online business called Vinloco, which is aimed at Australia’s 11.5 million regular wine shoppers.”

  • Who really killed Fairfax? – Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

    Since last week’s release of Pamela Williams’ book Killing Fairfax, the media and blogosphere has been abuzz with opinions, views and predictions. In this week’s ReVerb, Andy McCourt gathers together a lineup of the likely suspects behind the publisher’s perceived demise.

    In the wake of the release of Killing Fairfax, The Australian newspaper went as far as to say that Fairfax would, by 2015, cease printing its Monday to Friday editions of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) altogether – an assertion that was scathingly rebutted by Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood in a rather grandiose old fashioned ‘thunderer’ editorial; not once but twice in the weekend and Wednesday editions. Maybe all he needed to write was: “Well they would say that wouldn’t they?”

    The 330 printers and staff at Chullora and Tullamarine are already on death row job-wise. Fairfax has openly stated that these print supersites will close by mid 2014. Hopefully, some will find employment within the remaining printeries such as Ballarat, Richmond and Newcastle but with 1,900 Fairfax Media redundancies by 2014 announced last year, the signs are not good. Tullamarine opened in 2003 and Fairfax now depreciates its presses over 10 years useful life, so the heavy metal owes them nothing.

    Killing Fairfax may be a sensationalist, celeb name-dropping take on the situation but it is well researched and crafted by Williams; who is ironically a Fairfax employee and was granted a six-month sabbatical to write the book. The whacky world of media whoredom is further illustrated in that a Murdoch company – Harper Collins – published the book. Howzat? Another book by a former Walkley-winning Fairfax editor Colleen Ryan, The Rise and Fall of Fairfax, was released on July 1st by Melbourne University Press and is a less sensationalist account and therefore drew less publicity than the ‘A’ list name-backed version.

    What is of more concern to our printing industry is that the once-mightiest and longest-established media empire in Australia and New Zealand is under the microscope for potentially abandoning print – denied of course by the Board and even majority shareholder Gina Rinehart reinforced this saying: ‘as long as it makes commercial sense,’ Fairfax would keep printing newspapers.

    There’s no need for verbs intransitive; the ‘old’ Fairfax is actually dead. The last director-shareholder with the family name, John B Fairfax, made a sour exit in late 2011, selling out and losing around $900 million in the process for his family company Marinya Media. The last Fairfax on the board, JB’s son Nicholas, resigned in November 2011. So, with the motto “Fairfax is dead, long live Fairfax,” here is a list of possible suspects for the homicide, presented in ‘whodunnit’ fashion.

    James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch: these two likely lads as much as confessed at the book launch but may have been verballed. “I think we killed Fairfax,” Packer allegedly said. “We did” said Murdoch and they were seen toasting to this. Forensics point to the Packer-Murdoch weapons of, and as causing mass hemorrhages from Fairfax’s rivers-of-gold classified advertising.  Further investigations reveal long-held animosities stemming from stories published in Fairfax titles about their Dads. Seems they regard the Fairfaxes as stuck-up silvertail parvenus. They, of course, are your everyday likeable larrikin billionaires. Verballed but not guilty.

    Gina Rinehart: Galled at Fairfax journalists’ probing and publishing of her family matters, Rinehart first tried to stop it through litigation, (bad move with the media) and then started buying shares. Her ally ‘Hungry’ Jack Cowin won a seat on the board and she now sits at just under the 19.99% ownership that would trigger a an automatic take-over offer. Six years earlier, Fairfax was worth 20 times Rinehart’s nett worth. Today, the world’s richest lady could afford thirty Fairfaxes as it is now valued below $1 billion. The sad part is that this is apparently a case of a very wealthy mining person buying into a media group, not for a good investment or love of newspapers, but to shut up, or get rid of, journalists for revealing the truth. Is this what our forebears fought for? She and Cowin could mince up Fairfax and make burgers out of it, then sell off the scraps and it would not matter one jot to them. Definitely one in the frame.

    Warwick Fairfax Jnr: The unfortunate Warwick Jnr. Took over the Fairfax crown jewels in 1987 and promptly set about re-privatising the listed company. Unfortunately his ‘banker’ was ‘last resort’ Laurie Connell’s Rothwells which went belly-up in the crash of ’87…eventually followed by John Fairfax’s receivership in 1990 when Warwick’s takeover vehicle Tryart could not meet its debt obligations. Canadian Conrad Black cobbled together a consortium – Tourang – and bought Fairfax out of administration in 1992. This was the first death and resurrection of Fairfax and young Warwick certainly has to shoulder some blame, but he has been out of the picture in the USA since 1991, away from the Killing Fields.

    Journalists: Journalists?? Sorry to say, but the very people who have made Fairfax newspapers so great over the years have contributed to the Killing. When David Kirk ran the company, he wanted to take The Age and SMH tabloid. ‘Over our dead bodies’ cried the avant-garde journos; and they eventually got their wish. The line sold to the public was that the presses could not produce tabloids (why can they now?) but I have from reliable inside editorial sources, that the journo lobby would not tolerate a reduction in editorial space from broadsheet luxury.

    Their power was drawn from the infamous ‘Editorial Independence Charter’ written in 1991 by then Chairman Sir Zelman Cowen, that Rinehart has consistently refused to ratify – in other words leave the door open for interference in editorial matters. However, the journos’ fear of ‘tabloidism’ was irrational and would have still been subject to the Charter had The Age and SMH gone ‘compact’ years ago. Didn’t they realise that it is advertising that pays for running newspapers?

    News Corp: News has outfoxed Fairfax at almost every turn for the past 30 years. News Corp prints papers that more people buy, went to paywalls for online/mobile content way before Fairfax and has more efficient production sites, best illustrated when the Brisbane Courier Mail went from broadsheet to tabloid in 2006, it was accomplished seamlessly, reduced costs and increased circulation. Even in Fairfax’s core metro territories of Melbourne and Sydney, News Corp titles outsell The Age and SMH by a country mile. There are only two national dailies in Australia and The Australian outsells the Financial Review almost twofold.

    News Corp also has the suburban community freesheet markets by the short ‘n curlies. Free mX commuter newspapers have also succeeded where Fairfax failed. News Corp Australia prints, sells and distributes over 17 million newspapers every week. Maybe News’ success could be put down to the fact it is run by people who really know newspapers and their communities; just maybe.

    Technology: Are the iPad, iPhone, online services and social media to blame for killing Fairfax? Hardly; Fairfax is into all these platforms and its websites attract more visitors than even News Corp’s (pre-paywall). Blaming technology is a cop-out; a media organisation’s job is to reach audiences and attract advertisers while delivering content that people want. Profits should follow if good management, vision and execution are in place. Not guilty.

    Successive boards: Since Sir Warwick Fairfax died, the boards and CEOs of his company have chopped and changed, appointed publishing-illiterate CEOs, failed to have long-term plans, ignored warning signs of public media tastes, shunned technology until dragged kicking and screaming into it (or executed it woefully-remember f2 online?) and fought with each other. Alan Kohler, a former Fairfax editor, put it most succinctly at the launch of Killing Fairfax: “It’s the main job of a board to ‘smell the smoke coming under the door’….The Fairfax board couldn’t even see each other for the smoke – and they still couldn’t smell it.” I can’t beat that…a serious case for the prosecution.

    I dunnit: Privilege: this is not a confession. But I did cancel my home delivery of the SMH. Not that I didn’t like the paper; I do but I got fed up of retrieving a soggy glad-wrapped tube from the wet grass. Even glad-wrap can’t protect a newspaper in a Sydney downpour. The wrapping itself was frequently unfathomable, requiring a chain-saw to get it off. The remains of the newspaper were then so curled up they required a ten-ton drop hammer to flatten them out. Contributory manslaughter, maybe, but I plead insanity, triggered by frustration.

    We all dunnit: You, me, society, GenX, Y and Z and the butler. Our tastes and desires in media have changed. Not enough of us want the much-vaunted ‘quality’ Fairfax type of journalism and we don’t buy enough newspapers or subscribe to e-versions anymore. The core product -news – is available instantly in our pockets via smartphones and the more serious commentary or investigative stuff is shunned for: ‘Kim’s mummy-tummy gone as she frolics with Kanye in a barely-there bikini.’ Ho-hum; bet Kanye looks daft in that. Moreover, we decided to look for new jobs, houses, cars and relationships online; we want the well-written pieces but we want them for free. Fairfax is sooo-Twentieth Century and we are über-cool urbanite 21st Century know-alls who don’t need smart-alecky publications to inform us about this and that. We want to know who wins the X-Factor and The Block; how to lose weight and who is dating who.

    We are all in ‘the frame’ for killing Fairfax; some more than others but the fundamental rule applies, as it always has: adapt, change and act or die out.

    For Fairfax Media, especially the printers, I hope it is not too late.

  • Fairfax pledges commitment to print

    Fairfax Media is standing by the printed word, pledging to maintain the frequency of print publication for its major mastheads in Australia and New Zealand – despite moving to close down its two largest newspaper print facilities by 2014.

    In a message to shareholders for the company’s Investor Day on 6 June, Greg Hywood (pictured), chief executive officer, said that the company’s decision to keep up the frequency of its printed media titles was prompted by their continuing profitability.

    “Let me make one thing clear,” said Hywood in his letter to Fairfax shareholders. “We do not have any intention to reduce the frequency of print publication of any of our major mastheads in the foreseeable future. Why? Because they are profitable.”

    The comment comes less than a year after the company said it would close down its major metropolitan broadsheet newspaper print production sites in Chullora, NSW, and Tullamarine in Victoria by June 2014.

    The proposed closures are part of an ongoing ‘Fairfax of the Future’ restructuring program that the company hopes will deliver an additional $60 million in savings by the end of September this year.

    “One important outcome of the restructure is that it will allow us to deliver an additional $60 million in savings by the end of September, this September, over and above the $251 million that we have previously set out,” Hywood told investors.

    Much of the restructure has involved consolidating the company’s smaller, more profitable print sites, centralising news gathering resources and removing duplication of content production, while moving more content online.

    However, with the company re-launching a new smaller edition of its broadsheet metro titles, transferring much of its print capacity to its regional print facilities and signing a $30 million plate deal with Fujifilm in May, it is clear that print media is set to remain central to its business model.

    According to Hywood, Fairfax publishes 431 publications and 337 websites, with seven radio stations and almost 100 mobile device apps.

    While the Fairfax management team is talking up its savings and continued profit, the company does concede that the market remains bumpy, with revenues somewhat depressed compared to previous years.

    “In a nutshell, conditions remain pretty tough,” said Hywood. “Consistent with previous advice – in the current half, up to the third week of May, overall group revenues are 9-10 per cent lower than the previous corresponding period.

    “Taking a look at our segments, which will update after our full-year results, Metro Media is tracking down 11 per cent, Regional down 11 per cent as a result of very difficult conditions in mining-related areas and Queensland, New Zealand is 4 per cent behind, while Broadcasting is ahead more than 10 per cent. Domain’s digital business is up 16 per cent,” he said.

  • Fairfax Ballarat print centre wins SWUG gong for newspaper excellence

    Fairfax Media’s Ballarat print production site in Victoria has held on to its position as the darling of the Single Width Users Group (SWUG) awards, winning the gong for Excellence in Newspaper Production at the gala dinner event in Yeppoon on 24 March. 

    The Ballarat site collected two major prizes at the event, repeating last year’s win in the Brissett Shield for best overall print quality (Bendigo Advertiser) and adding the Flint Group Shield for best coldset commercial publication (Rural Events Guide). Both winning entries were printed on a manroland Uniset 75 pressline.

    In the category for best overall print quality on a double-width press, the APN Print site at Yandina on the Sunshine Coast – the host site of this year’s conference – claimed the first two places with its production of the News Mail (runner-up) and the Sunshine Coast Dailywhich was awarded the Norske Shield.

    The successful team from the Fairfax Media print centre at Ballarat: (L-R) Steve Gross, Matt Hancock and Shayne West.

    This year also saw the introduction of a new award category for Best Newspaper on Enhanced Stock (over 50gsm on both single and double width presses), reflecting the growing trend for publications to use better quality newsprint.

    The inaugural winner in this category, which received the DIC Shield, was the Fairfax Media site at Mandurah in WA for its production of the Denmark Bulletin.

    The SWUG committee also awarded the annual Apprentice of the Year prize to Nicole Clarke, a fourth-year apprentice at News Limited’s Chullora plant. Her prize, valued at $5,000, includes a tour of Australian newspaper print sites.

    This year’s conference, held at the Mercure Capricorn resort at Yeppoon, drew about 170 delegates from 30 print sites around the region as well as suppliers and international speakers, with Sanat Hazra from The Times of India, giving a keynote presentation on strategic approaches to achieving excellence in newspaper production.

    Over the course of two days, the conference covered a wide range of topics including new press technology, UV printing, web cleaning, roller maintenance, press chemistry and paper-making.

    SWUG Annual Awards 2013 – results


    Award Publication Print Site
    Highly Commended Port Macquarie News Fairfax Regional Printers
    (manroland Uniset 70)
    Runner Up Hawke’s Bay Today APN Print Hastings (NZ)
    (Goss Community)
    Winner –
    Brissett Shield
    Bendigo Advertiser Fairfax Media – Ballarat
    (manroland Uniset 75)


    Award Publication Print Site
    Highly Commended Tamworth Building Supplies Print Leader – Tamworth
    (Goss Community)
    Runner Up Journey Horton Media (QLD)
    (Goss Community)
    Flint Group  Shield
    Rural Events Guide Fairfax Media – Ballarat
    (manroland Uniset 75)


    Award Publication Print Site
    Highly Commended The West Australian WA Newspapers
    (KBA Commander)
    Runner Up News Mail APN Print – Yandina
    (manroland Regioman)
    Winner –
    Norske Shield
    Sunshine Coast Daily APN Print – Yandina
    (manroland Regioman)

    BEST NEWSPAPER ON ENHANCED STOCK (over 50gsm/SW & DW) – Category 4

    Award Publication Print Site
    Highly Commended Queensland Chinese Times APN Print – Toowoomba
    Runner Up Australian Financial Review Fairfax Media – North Richmond
    (manroland Uniset 70)
    Winner –
    DIC Shield
    Denmark Bulletin Fairfax Media – Mandurah
    (manroland Uniset 75)

    Apprentice of the Year for 2013:

    Winner:  Nicole Clarke from News Limited, Chullora, NSW