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Panpa Bulletin : August September 2007
26 PANPA Bulletin August-September 2007 share register of Fairfax Media during the year as a media share frenzy gripped the Australian sharemarket, as the ownership rules were finally changed to allow news- paper companies to buy into radio or TV in their markets. Analysts viewed Murdoch's move as a shrewd way of buying a seat at the negotiat- ing table should anything happen to Fairfax, which was long seen as the most likely takeover target. Instead, the transformation and reinvention of Fairfax Media Ltd turned into one of the great local media stories of the 2007. Fairfax Media, as it is now called, bought Rural Press Ltd in a merger that saw the fam- ily of J.B. Fairfax return as the combined en- tity's largest shareholder. The move created a new company with an enterprise worth of $9 billion. With the ink barely dry Fairfax then launched a takeover scheme to buy the Southern Cross radio network in metropoli- tan Australia, currently underway. Fairfax has focused on reigniting print growth and then on fusing it with booming internet brands in NZ and Australia. One of its most noteworthy ventures for media historians might be the launch of brisbanetimes.com.au this past March. Inspired in large part by News Ltd's PerthNow daily internet push into Western Australia, Fairfax's fledgling brand was to go on an overtake the incumbent after three months. It took over managing and selling the websites of the country's leading FM music network station, Austereo. The TradeMe digital stranglehold in New Zealand expanded laterally into classified advertising segments. And on the print side, Fairfax went on the offensive, announcing The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald would introduce a narrower page format for its broadsheets later next year. Rural Press, it should be recorded, had been active in its own right before its merger, snapping up the group that publishes The Daily Advertiser in Wagga Wagga and Mount Isa's North West Star among other assets. And then there were seven. Seven inde- pendent dailies, that is, left in Australia and New Zealand. Going Green For many Australians that Rupert Murdoch bought The Wall Street Journal has been completely upstaged by the fact he also revealed he had bought a Toyota Prius. He caught the attention of both the con- servative corporate world and political lead- ers with his bold statement that something needed to be done to combat the effects of global warming and that his company would be playing a leading role in it. The rush to go green threatens to turn into a stampede among companies ahead of mandatory schemes to reduce and carbon emissions. Media has a central role to play, in good measure because by our nature we spend a lot of time telling everyone else what to do each day and we need to practise what we preach in this important area. The industry environmental track-record is a good one but a deepening of our creden- tials is expected in the coming year. There are many printing plants that are leading the way on closed loop recycling of consumables but the next big step is to reduce the use of energy in our offices and printing plants. Australia's use of newsprint made from recycled fibres is high, thanks to Norske Skog's massive de-inking facility in Albury. Australians' recycling of newspapers through the kerbside program is thought to be among the best in the world, according to the Publishers' National Environment Bureau. We have a great story but not enough of our readers are getting this message. Indeed, too many regard our paper as our problem. It is time for us to get back on the front foot as an industry. Freedom Of Speech All publishers, together with all TV and radio broadcasters, combined to create a new campaign called "Australia's Right to Know", hot on the heels of the creation of the New Zealand Press Freedom Committee. It will commission a major audit of the ero- sion of freedom of speech. An international study of press freedom ranked Australia 35th, behind Bolivia and Bosnia, equal to Bulgaria and just ahead of Panama. New Zealand is now light years ahead of Australia when it comes to protecting the sources of investigative journalism. In December, 2006, the New Zealand Parliament passed a new Evidence Act that in Section 64 made protection of sources the default position from which courts can only move, in the interests of justice, in the most dire of circumstances. Publishers in Australia united to attack the prosecution of Herald Sun journalists Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus, for refusing to answer questions in court about a source of a story they wrote in 2004. The senior political reporters escaped a jail term in the end and were fined $7000 each. The Bigger Picture As a group of publishers we're grasping the opportunities that come with seismic change, some more effectively at this stage than others, but other change is more like glacial. As a group of publishers we have been slow to educate and enthuse all of our em- ployees about the reinvention of newspaper publishing and the exciting roles for talented people within that model. We must convinc- ingly convey the image that we are dynamic from top to toe if we're to attract and retain the best staff to work in print in many of the markets overflowing with very picky, very pricey talent. As a group of publishers we have been too slow to embrace content change in print. Sure, we're all breaking and develop- ing more of our exclusive news stories so they appear fresh daily on the printed page, but more broadly we're dipping our toes very slowing into the water of formula, visu- al presentation and style changes which are needed to attract and retain new readers. And finally, for the Australian publishers present, we've been super slow to react to the issues caused by the flawed deregulation of the newsagency home delivery system. It was competition policy gone mad. Increasingly there are areas where it hangs in the balance whether readers can get a home delivery and where newsagency prof- its have been hard hit because publishers were banned from sharing operations. In areas with rival publishers playing on the same street, it is time for united action to get this unique system fixed and consolidated, and with the associated sharing of trucking and other facilities. It would allow then the industry to concentrate on doing what we do best: com- peting rigorously for readers and advertisers to the advantage of both. This really is one of the most exciting times for newspaper publishing in modern times. Sure, there's a lot to do. Let's hope it will be ever thus. But we didn't end up driv- ing off a cliff -- we ended up driving radical change. We didn't end up painting ourselves into a corner. We ended up painting a whole new landscape. state of the industry address