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Ideas for a new Fairfax

So, it’s finally over. Although it has been for a long time, really. What happened this week was just the full stop. Decades of mismanagement and executive asset stripping now sees Fairfax on its knees, bending to Gina. And the real prospect that hard copies of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age will cease. What next?

It is not on to have one big newspaper group in Australia. Fairfax hasn’t done the job of serious, gutsy competition for years, but it was there. Now that Murdoch has just bought the excellent online Business Spectator, that refuge for top Fairfax business reporters and analysts, that method of getting the truth out about Murdoch is no more. And where’s the protest at the prospect that he will control Foxtel by buying out Packer’s stake? He nearly got a similar prize in the UK until The Guardian finally broke through on phone hacking.

The challenge is much broader than Murdoch, of course. Where was the investigation of the Slipper story, broken by the Murdoch media? It never made sense, but who did the work, who asked the questions? We’re going to be losing many, many journalists, and that means fewer competitors at the micro level. For example, there will be one film critic across Fairfax. And presumably one environment reporter, etc, etc. That gives enormous power to the few now covering special topics, in one way. In another way, though, it weakens their power, because if the boss puts the kybosh on a story, there’s no risk it will be broken elsewhere.

And with Fairfax a creature of Gina or an online only tabloid site, the ABC comes under enormous threat. What would an Abbott government do to funding? Think John Howard in 1996. Remember Murdoch lobbied hard in Britain to cut funding to the BBC. Without the ABC, no scrutiny. One agenda setter.

All in all, an awful state of affairs for Australia and our democracy. So what is the solution?

The way I see it, the various independent online media groups need to get together, pool their resources, and step up to a genuine media alternative to the dregs of Fairfax and Murdoch. Academic institutions engaged in media would also be around the table, as I’d see links with journalism students in the new group.

It will take real money, and as I’ve long argued, the best model is a trust with sufficient capital to finance a long term project of creating the new Fairfax. I’d like to see Crikey, the Global Mail, New Matilda and Online Opinion come together. And the best specialist bloggers need to be brought in, from Fairfax and independents.

Personally, I’d like to see the new entity produce, along with a 24 hour website, a daily paper, through an app., and a weekly magazine. Hard copy still matters, for gravitas, and for the status it offers to people who appear in it.

Ideally, a consortium of rich people who believe in quality, independent media would take over Fairfax, so they can have the mastheads. This doesn’t seem viable, given Gina’s interest, so new mastheads need to be created. This mightn’t be legal, but how about The New Sydney Herald and the New Age Melbourne (joke).

To my mind, the Webdiary model still has a lot to offer as a part of the mix. I haven’t seen anything like it yet - I could be wrong as I’m an internet refugee. The idea was to bring readers into finding and investigating the news, and to write their own pieces. A sense of community is crucial to success. In the same vein, I’m very attracted to Meg Simons’ idea of readers suggesting stories and donating to make them happen, and to contribute to their creation. You can review my ideas in that regard in my March 2006 piece.

When I took Webdiary independent, a rich man introduced to me by Webdiarist David Eastman suggested a foundation, with several people of wealth making contributions. There would also be sponsors like to Lowy Institute. Tony Fitzgerald agreed to sit on the board and be the ethics supervisor, as a transparent, enforceable code of ethics is fundamental to establishing the trust and authority to make a mark.

Imagine the difference a new media group as described would make to the almost non-existent debate on media regulation. Fresh air, folks.

The time for action is now. Let’s hope the people who can make it happen get together and do it. For all of us.


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A basic problem with on-line news, just like radio and TV news, is that it can't be referred to in other writings, because there is no firm point of reference.

One can write an article referring to something controversial that someone has said if it has been pubished on paper, it's present on paper in any library or anyone's possession.  Then, those who wish to deny that the thing was written need to produce their own copy of the same issue of the same newspaper and demonstrate the absence of the article on the page cited, and they can't.

But if it is on-line and it is exposed as scandalous or fraudulent it simply disappears from the site.  Therefore it's unsafe to refer to it.

I can refer to two sites that prove there have been committed what in the view of ordinary citizens would be frauds of such a serious nature that in natural justice they would deserve prison terms.  Just to do so would expose me to imprisonment for what they call contempt of court, although I believe I have never had contempt for what is not contemptible.  I wonder what the food is like at Yatala.

But in any case, if I did so, the sites might shut down or the content simply disappear. That has happened numerous times when attention was drawn to the moral quality of what had been published on the Web.

Fraudulent or decent, in the course of time a site is going to go offline, disappear. 

A Web page is in that sense not a document, cannot be referable, a thing cited as authority for what has been written.

Anna Troberg

Here is another perspective.

Not News

I wonder if newpapers were ever about disseminating news?  It's easy to answer, no, they were all about clutching at astronomical amounts of advertisers' money, but that isn't what I mean.

Why would one set up an on-line news site?  For money?

John Milton and other pamphleteers published a huge number of pamphlets.  They were sold for money, but were they written for money?

Is it, after all, all about reform?  The sensationalist exposure of abuses is entertaining, sells copy, is a great money earner.  But is that why abuses need to be exposed?


Where are we, non-journalists, going to get it from?

One trouble about forming a conglomerate from all the little players on the Net is... they were there first, before Murdoch and Fairfax, yet they are little players.  Form a conglomerate with a single Web site and more little players will appear and it will be one.

I.e. the Net is not the way to go, to publish, it is a partial source of information.  It's goodbye, Murdoch and Fairfax, publish on paper or forget it.

A problem is that newspapers never made sense, were always financed by intruding advertising rather than by delivering news.  There was never a business model of people paying for news, creating careers for journalists.

At least, it appears that daily is finished.

 Sorry, folks.  Wish I could see a way.

Did someone say "Citizen Journalism" ?

I believe it was someone named Margo? Collect the information, write it up and publish?  It might be the only way to gather any real news.  Given the genepool that Webdiary's enjoyed over the years, surely a resurgence of Margo's notions is a possibility.

Personally I'm about to try and clear a backlog.. up to my neck in local shite, and about to start some updating here.   Basically, though,  everyone's run out of money and local investment in international get-rich-quick schemes is tying up a lot of money in projects that aren't going to commence for much longer now, if at all.  But that's another story... what's yours?

Hi Paul...

Yep, that's the problem. The Guardian is financed by the Scott Trust - see http://www.gmgplc.co.uk/the-scott-trust/ 

bleakish winter night.

Ha! I came so close to mentioning CP Scott and his legendary Grauniad.

We DID have some sort of equivalent back in the eighties with Ranald Macdonald and the Age group, but I vaguely remember from the National Times, that he had to sell out. 

Having the flu, I avoided an opportunity to watch at first hand, a naked lib-lab grab for a beautiful old park we've been trying to save from the developers. A despicable saga, but in the end I parked in front of the heater and saw the following:

QA tonight had Louise Adler making much the same comment concerning the trashing of Fairfax's best assets - its journalists and editors, as Margo Kingston and a number of other experts have also observed over the last few days. It was fortunate Louise Adler was on the panel, to counteract the half hearted nonsenses of Brandis, who I think knew how pitiful his defence was.

A couple of other things. MW , in examining the Fairfax problem, also observed a bit of slippery opportunism from Murdochs, doing their own throat slitting staff sackings under cover of the Fairfax smokescreen.

Digressing, 730 Report surprised. Chris Uhlmann actually balanced a bagging of Gillard on asylum seekers with one of Abbott, who apparently physically monstered another ego, Clive Palmer, after he claimed that Downer and Santo Santoro (wtf is he still doing in politics?) shouldn't be Liberal party vice-presidents when also registered as lobbyists.

Even more interesting was the curious coincidence of Australian Story's episode to do with a looming threat to democracy, via the authoritarian and ruthless Gina Rinehart. By the end she had occurred to me as being about as fit to run a media company as Murdoch.

And now to the meta- news

News about the news media. Does it get anymore dismal than that?  The  media  as Marshall McCluhan observd back in the sixties has long ago become the message and I don't give a give a shit. The more I think about it the more I realise my initial fervour of  Margo's vision had more to do with my regard for  her and memories of the glory days of Webdiary than practicality. No business model, no cohesion, no will.

Turmoil in the media, the old order is rapidly changing and the only future I can see for Fairfax is that of boutique journalism. As it stands it's not quite tits and arse on page three but perilously close. Celebrity shit, the block,. the voice, you name it and I am interested in murder and traffic deaths? If that's "news" I'll stand fucking, it goes on all the time. For us it's not about the "news' We're surrounded by it, it's what's behind the news. Opinion.

Eleanor Roosevely observed that simple minds were concerned with other people, ordinary minds with events, (hey footy, it's not about life and death it's far more important than that,)  and superior minds concerned themselves with ideas. If that comes across as elitist let me make myself unequviilantley clear; I despise every form of snobbery be it intelectuall or any other kind.

Differernt strokes for different folks and this time round Paul , I'm with you.

What I didn't need or want

Breaking news! Mass walk out by Fairfax senior journos. Yeah, love to you too  Margo and ditto from Carol who's pissed off with me for not including her first time round, and bugger you at the same time for filling my head with so much stuff that I don't know what to include or dismiss. That will sort itself out but events overtake us and timing is all. I will limit myself at this point to ask very directly Margo how involved you are prepared to be because you're the insider and the first thing is to contact the journos involved and get a consortium going. Not financial, that has to come much later after a business model has been constructed but that of like minded people.

As for Jabette the Hutt, she's just bought herself 20% of a dead thoroughbred. She can afford it and if she is dumb enough to believe that she can influence people like us, it fits well with her choice of Bogan friends. (The OED got a bit of wrong, boganism is not restricted to the lower socio-economic order.

Take care dear girl, more tomorrow when I should have  battle plan formulated.


So we need a sugar daddy. This could  be American style philanthropist involvement, after a Stephen Mayne or  Ted Turner sort.. In better times you would have laughed it off, but with News Ltd style braggarts now ruling the roost, what hope much truth about the real world percolating through. 

In better times public broadcasting was the masthead for broadsheet, combining with the Age, Canberra Times and others to anchor truth based journalism, but these days all seems downmarket; the resources for good journalism perhaps are not there and what is witnessed instead, is a fight for the spoils of defeat.

Beggars can't be choosers and it's true the Crikey option did work well for a while, perhaps another stab at this style of things is one of the better options left in straightened times. 

Who'd have imagined once, that the likes of a Paul Whittaker would prosper while a Peter Fray ended on the scrap heap.  it does appear conventional media and press is dead.

Haven't bought a paper for years and no longer bother with the slanted, trivia- laden propaganda that passes for news on SBS and ABC ( Sara Ferguson for the likes of Ticky Fullarton or Liz Jackson is not  my idea of a joke, but then the ABC demographic is worse than it was ten years ago) and we have computers, so it's easy to go somewhere online.

But it isn't what bothers Margo, I guess. The problem is more the problem of properly funded established reportage networks and adequate resources to produce considered work . The big problem is that the Murdoch types seem to have captured these networks.

Hello Scott!

So, you're still at that hotel I blew into a few years ago? So much has changed since I retired - Facebook, twitter, iphone.... The barriers to entry have collapsed, so many, many people can set themselves up as media. This makes obvious the issue I banged on about throughout Webdiary's first five years -  ethics. A transparent, enforced code of ethics is all that distinguishes professional journalists from amateurs, apart from getting paid - and getting paid is a happening thing for fewer and fewer people these days.  

So that's a foundation point for a new Fairfax.  It's also crucial to get a strong reader base, and this is why I'm attracted to a joint venture of existing small groups and independent bloggers.  Thirdly, since Fairfax has trashed its biggest assets - its mastheads - a joint venture should coopt the values of those brands. 

Anyway, I'm training to be a nurse now. The official death of Fairfax - I hear there's a strong push to abandon the hard copy papers completely quite soon - spurred me to an opinion piece.  

Great to ehar from you and if I'm out your way I will drop in.

love margo 

Welcome back

Just to let you know Margo you're not a voice crying in the wilderness.

I'm a bit like Paul, you've given us food for thought and I agree with everything you say, This is important and requires careful consideration. It's good to see you involved, count on my (limited ) input and you should know where you're always welcome.

A funny thing happened on the way to the supermarket

Hi Margo.  A funny thing happened on the way to the supermarket.  Richard said you were back. He told me via Facebook.  The message flashed up on my iPhone in front of yoghurts and non-dairy (you know, soy and suchlike).  The fact that you are back is certainly not inconsequential but the way I found out is.  I found out via my iPhone.  That is how I find out about anything. It is inconsequential that more of us seem to be solely accessing the Internet via our smartphones and apps on iPads and the like. That's just how it is now.  

When Webdiary started, the future became very clear very quickly, don't you think?  In substance we knew the future. We didn't know about apps, iPhone, iPad or Facebook but we sure knew what was happening with media in Australia. Those of us who were engaged in the topic did not see ourselves as being particularly perceptive but what we see now is exactly what we could see coming.  More surprising is that it took so long.  You are so right when you say it has been over a long time.  

As we know it is more a story of revenue than circulation.  They can do paywalls and stuff like that but they simply don't have the ad revenue.  Working at eBay in Europe starting ten years ago I saw the business go from a handful of people into a phenomena.  It became the most accessed site on the internet in Germany, Europe's largest and richest market.  It was rivers of gold.  eBay was profitable from day one. It disrupted old business models and never went away. I was so happy to be part of the disruption. To be fair, some of the trade was newly created but also much of it was robbing trade from elsewhere.  Newspaper classifieds were a big part of the "elsewhere".  Rivers of gold were diverted and it happened a long time ago.  I am nostalgic about it all now as it was so long ago. I am nostalgic about a disruptive industry that has killed newspapers. Ooops, confused feelings. Warm and fuzzy but also feelings of "mmm, funny how that one turned out".

Even when you left Fairfax, that was a long time ago. We could already see a rapid decline in quality such that the website became so focused on fluff like entertainment news.  Now it seems obsessed also with Apple. 

So yeah, it is all a long time ago and we all knew what was to come.  Then again we seem to be trapped in some time-space chaos-platz.  Like it's all about asylum seekers and threats to diversity in media.  The topics are the same but as a country we've actually gone backwards.

What about Gina?  In a way I think she's quite cool. I like the cut of her jib.  The point has been made repeatedly this week that if she were to make the Sydney Morning Herald a mouthpiece for her views that would only further destroy commercial value and therefore influence.  Equally if the much wished for online "independent" media becomes a Gina-not or a Murdoch-not, I think then it also loses value. The problem say with some thing like New Matilda was that it seemed to be a leftie collective.  That's fine if you just want Gina-not but some of us want a wider view.  Pro business views, pro development views, truly liberal views.

Maybe it is time to look again at the Webdiary model. If truly diverse voices could be heard on one platform that would be great. Opinion is not enough though as we know. We sort of saw the blogging era come and go. I was listening to ABC Sydney Drive this week and they were interviewing a guy from Pro Publica.  I suppose you know the story of Pro Publica.  It is what you refer to - a foundation.  Serious money is needed but we have no tradition of philanthropy in this country.  I don't know where the money comes from in the Australian context.  It is not advertising (SMH can't even win that game) and it is not subscription.

I was just thinking, "mmm, what about Twiggy Forest". He is rich and I happen to think loaded with integrity. He also cares about social matters if anyone cares to look at his work with aborigines.  That highlights a dichotomy and while it is a false one, it is one that is at the root of the issue.  Aborigines vs journalists. Who do you want to donate to?  Yes, false dichotomy but it highlights a key issue I see.  Few seem to value journalists. The public at large rate journalists as having less integrity than politicians. I don't think journalists get this. As a profession they are not introspective.  One of the questions is how do we get a wider audience to appreciate and understand the importance of independent journalism?   It is one of the pillars of democracy but the care factor seems near zero.  Then again it has always shocked me how little the average Australian cares about free speech in general.

It's a devil of a problem. Mmm, just thought of another person.  My local member, Malcolm Turnbull.  Probably a conflict of interest (ha) with his current role but he has been outspoken on this issue and he has the odd dollar or two.

I am not sure that is the right way to go either. Go scouring the countryside for a benefactor in a country bereft of benefactors?  Sounds like a fool's errand and I am so unfond of fool's errands. 

You're not the only internet refugee.  I never comment politcally online and haven't done so for years. I don't include Facebook as that is just throwaway lines to friends who are more than acquaintances.  I don't have people as friends on Facebook I do not actually know and most of them think like me anyway.  I do not enjoy online "debates" and avoid them like the plague. I am sure many people from the blogging era feel like refugees even if they still remain online. Politically though they are now mute.

One of the things Webdiary did, one of the things you did, was to unearth different voices and new talent.  There was a lot to be said for the model. I thought it dead many years ago but current events make it worth opening up the discussion again.

I do think if there was money and people were paid a decent wage Pro Publica style, it is possible ego and politics could be more easily left at the door. People would become less proprietorial and territorial as you sometimes find in volunteer organisations.  Payment of a decent wage to a professional allows them to pursue a professional mission in an environment filled with integrity. At least that possibility would be there.

No solutions but I do like the idea of the discussion starting again.  I think. 

I just thought of another thing. Wikipedia is a foundation.  I see someone I used to work with at eBay has become General Counsel for Wikipedia. eBay is a business model that could never have come from a business school. Much of it is implausable but it works. Wikipedia was once implausable.  My former colleague has made a career as a polished professonal in the implausable.

Beware the fool that goes scoffing at the implausible, for one day the implausible may become true! 

Do we dare to dream about something that appears implausible? Are we brave enough?  We should be as we are always told democracy is worth dying for. If the stakes are that high, then you'd think it's high time we became innovative again.  For all of us indeed. 

Hello David!

As usual, your remarks on this subject are extremely interesting. So sad the Fairfax song. I submitted a version of this piece to The Drum and they published today at http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4086900.html

The usual comments.... What do you think of the ABC site?  

Anyway, how are you personally and where do you live? Maybe you could email fiona or Richard and they could send you my new email address.

Great to hear from you David. I type this on an oldApple MacBook that's goin' strong.  




home is the hunter..

Hi Margo, luscious to see you about. 

Would love to comment further at mo, but my head is stale and must get some shopping in for the weekend, rained like cats and dogs, have to stock up (if only it finally stops.

The more serious reason I won't comment further is because I need time to think about above. My own impressions of press/media, at this very second, would only make for more depressing reading. 

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