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Will Australia’s first media supergroup hit the right notes?

Friday 27, Jul 2018

So pending regulatory approval, the Australian media landscape has its first supergroup. This has looked inevitable since the Turnbull Government relaxed media ownership laws last year. And although Nine and Fairfax are the first to jump into bed together, it’s unlikely they’ll be the last.

The advertising industry has been quick to welcome the move, with WPP AUNZ chief executive Mike Connaghan and others saying the new $4 billion entity will be better placed to compete with global giants like Facebook and Google.

Nine CEO Hugh Marks is well respected in the industry and has an attractive mix of assets at his disposal – the Nine Network, three of Australia’s most respected newspaper mastheads and websites, regional and community newspapers, Macquarie Radio and streaming service Stan plus car and real estate websites.

Quoted in The Australian Financial Review this morning, Marks was understandably bullish about the prospects of a combined Nine and Fairfax group. Most notably, he called out premium Australian content as its biggest differentiator in taking the fight to its global rivals.

It remains to be seen how Australia’s first media supergroup executes on the opportunity to bundle products across channels in a way that’s attractive to consumers and advertisers.

But speaking as a former Fairfax journalist, it’s difficult to get excited about this story. The death of this national institution hardly comes as a surprise but that doesn’t make it any easier to take. While executives get excited about potential synergies, the people on the frontline are understandably concerned.

I spent four years as a Fairfax journalist and editor, writing about business and technology for The Australian Financial Review until 2012. I will always be proud of those times and hold many of the people I worked with in high regard.

But the writing has been on the wall for a long time. The media industry has had a front-row seat on the digital disruption bus ever since I first came to Australia in 2002. Page counts and advertising dollars were shrinking even back then. The magazine I worked for launched a website and an event business but we couldn’t close the gap.

There were plenty of dark days during my time at Fairfax but the commitment to journalistic independence always remained strong. As a reporter you were trusted to tell the story as you saw it. Without fear or favour.

Diversity of viewpoints is a crucial element of an effective national press. Without the Fairfax commitment to journalistic independence, that diversity is weakened.

Fairfax journalists are well accustomed to unwanted taps on the shoulder. It’s the same at News. Between them they’ve accounted for most of the 3,000 editorial job losses in Australia during the past few years.

Of particular concern is the impact this merger could have on investigative reporting. It’s a lengthy and expensive process, often requiring months of work in the background before an important story is broken. The journalism community will be watching closely to see whether Nine has an appetite for supporting this proud Fairfax tradition.

Written by: Brian Corrigan, Content Director - opr agency

Brian is a B2B and technology specialist with more than 15 years’ experience as a journalist and editor. These days he helps clients develop content strategies, tell their best stories and find the right audiences. Recent projects include Microsoft focusing on cybersecurity, American Express championing small business and Optus building a network to support the Commonwealth Games. Other clients include the Australian Taxation Office, Equinix, FM Global, Landis + Gyr, SAP and Star Scientific. 

Brian previously spent four years as an online editor and senior reporter with The Australian Financial Review. During this time he covered many important stories including landmark copyright and patent disputes. Prior to joining Ogilvy, he built a content business for Spectrum Group, a Sydney-based communications agency. He has also edited leading business technology titles for Fairfax Media and IDG Communications. He holds a BA in Communications Studies and a post-graduate diploma from the UK’s National Council for the Training of Journalists.