How the Nine Fairfax merger affects regional media

Did you know that the removal of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister in August cost the taxpayer $4.5 million? Canberra Times journalist Latika Bourke revealed this in a news report, adding that the cost included $1.9 million, paid out to 35 former Prime Ministerial staffers. Crikey, I’m in the wrong business.

 Labor’s finance spokesman Jim Chalmers told Bourke the sum was another cost to voters of the ‘meaningless’ leadership change.

“Scott Morrison can’t explain why Turnbull isn’t PM anymore and why taxpayers have to foot the bill for that.”

Chalmers (a former chief of staff to Wayne Swan) said 607 staff members’ employment changed as a result of Mr Turnbull’s removal as prime minister, with 136 staff terminated and the remaining 471 re-employed. The figures, which do not include the cost of the Wentworth by-election (approx $1.6m), emerged from a Senate estimates hearing.

 Enjoy that little public interest vignette from the Canberra Times while you can. Nine is shopping around for a buyer. Nine does not want the Canberra Times because it does not have a paywall; people who might otherwise pay to read the Sydney Morning Herald or the Age have been getting their news for free from the Canberra Times, chief executive Hugh Marks told staff on Monday.

The Nine Fairfax merger means much of its regional assets will be sold – the key question being, to whom, as there are not many takers in this tightly-held media market. The same applies in New Zealand.

Kiwi columnist Bill Ralston observed in The New Zealand Listener (owned by Bauer Media), that the media industry is in the process of ‘collapsing into an untidy heap as advertising revenues and profits decline’.

Ralston was bemoaning the fate of local media outlets in the wake of the Nine Fairfax merger. Nine has already said it is not interested in the newspapers Fairfax owns in New Zealand.

If you have ever browsed a popular Kiwi website,, you may not know that Stuff/Fairfax also owns nine daily newspapers, a Sunday newspaper and New Zealand’s TV guide. Stuff also owns community newspapers, 28 of which they want to close or sell.

We’ve seen a rationalisation of (free) community titles and regional mastheads in Australia too. As you should know, Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd bought all of the regional titles of Australian Regional Media in late 2016. This, added to the papers it already owned, delivered an absolute print media monopoly across Queensland.

News wasted no time syndicating Sky News conservative commentators including Andrew Bolt, Paul Murray, Peta Credlin and Alan Jones. A comrade in Toowoomba emailed me last year to say that the editorial space where once a column called Friday on My Mind appeared was now hosted by the aforementioned Mr Bolt.


I was idly channel surfing late at night in a Rotorua motel when I stumbled upon Sky News Australia, where the hosts (Bolt, Credlin and Jones), were holding court about political events of the day.

Hold fast, my fair-minded side said, listen to what others have to say. By the time Alan Jones came on, with his scoffing dismissal of Liberal MP Julia Banks’s defection to the crossbench, I felt like the victim of a home invasion.

I switched briefly to Al Jazeera (Kiwis get a lot of free Sky channels), before finding respite in Hunting Aotearoa and a Mars Bar from the mini fridge.

So yes, it is wise to tune in and see what the right wing polemicists are saying. For example, at the time when the Kids off Nauru campaign was at its height, Paul Murray was writing in the Sunshine Coast Daily about indigenous children and venereal disease. He wasn’t saying one issue was more important than the other, he just chose that one instead.

Amidst the Nine Fairfax merger, leftish publications like New Matilda, The Monthly, The Saturday Paper and The Guardian Weekly kept on chipping away. The latter just had a magazine-makeover and a new cover price ($10.95), which might make you feel bad about reading it online (for free).

A friend recently shared an article on Facebook from Bauer Media’s The Monthly. Author John Birmingham waxed long and eloquent about Peter Dutton’s electorate and how alternative forces are plotting to overthrow the incumbent at the next election.

You might be able to read this here, though once I’d finished reading, The Monthly reminded me that I’d had my one free item and if I wanted more I’d have to subscribe. Well, I did once, for a few years.

Some of you will know that when someone shares a link to an article from The Australian (for example), you often can’t read it at all without being a subscriber. Many media companies use variations on the paywall theme. Some provide free articles (up to a specified number); some have free content and premium content.

Get used to this idea. Media organisations that opt for the paywall method will be on a subscriber drive, offering discounts, free gifts, vouchers and coupons and inducements like (trial) access to other titles.

So the Nine Fairfax merger is done and dusted, and with it went 144 back office, sales and support positions. Nine has pledged to honour the Fairfax code of editorial independence and thus far, no editorial jobs have been lost.

As Bill Ralston points out, it makes (commercial) sense for big companies to concentrate ownership of radio and TV stations, newspaper and magazines and online news outlets. They can offer better deals to advertisers and, by merging and consolidating, enjoy ‘synergies’ – shorthand for downsizing newsrooms.

Apropos the Nine Fairfax merger he makes a suggestion (which could also work in Australia), that the government-owned TVNZ ‘snaffle up the remnants of Stuff before the Fairfax papers die of exhaustion and thus, hopefully, reinvigorate both organisations’.

In Australia, a similar scenario could see the ABC ‘snaffle up’ the regional assets Nine don’t want and thus broaden the ABC’s remit from broadcasting into print and online newspaper publication.

This is an interesting proposition, given that the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission has just ruled that the ABC and SBS do not have an unfair market advantage over their commercial rivals.

In a busy year, the ACCC this week also released its preliminary report into the market power held by Google and Facebook.

Academics employed by Sydney University of Technology’s Centre for Media Transition analysed the ACCC paper. Derek Wilding and Sacha Molitorisz summarised the issues at stake, including $8 billion a year spent on online advertising revenue. This has happened at the expense of newspaper classified advertising revenue, which fell from $2 billion in 2001 to $200 million in 2016.

More than half of the annual online advertising spend went to Google and Facebook. And, as the ACCC notes, more than half of the traffic on Australian news websites comes via Google and Facebook.

One of the ACCC’s main concerns is the lack of transparency (consumers are not told how Google and Facebook algorithms work). The key concern is that we (the users) do not know how digital media platforms manage to target advertising with such uncanny accuracy.

Perhaps like me, you may have idly wondered how, after a private dinner conversation about bread makers, ads for bread makers start appearing in our social media news feed.

Toast, anyone?

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