Stopping the press: How the Huffington Post cannibalised Fairfax

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Fairfax has been sold out by its own board and we are witnessing the systemic and systematic killing of Fairfax Media, writes contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence.

JOURNALISM IS MY RELIGION. It consumes me every day, almost every hour.

For some, facing Mecca paves the way to salvation. 

For me, facing the screen more than five times a day will not necessarily lead me to Jannah, but to a road less traveled by and paved with the vicissitudes of the human condition.

Journalism is a vocation. It might sound poncey, but there it is. That's how I feel about it.

Fairfax management must have got a perverse kick out of announcing axing about 125 editorial  jobs on Wednesday's World Press Freedom Day.

The same day, the New Zealand Commerce Commission knocked back the proposed merger between Fairfax New Zealand Limited and NZME Limited. Coincidence ?

On Friday, Fairfax issued a media release laced with spin that did not mention the number of human beings to be culled but emphasised the $30 million it would save.


Shedding even more editorial jobs this year is brutally crushing and yet another indictment of Fairfax Media's notoriously moribund executive and Board. 

Going on strike is anathema to most journalists, but sacking journalists as a first resort by boards and management seems at times a growing sport, and a solution to lazy management.

Not all Fairfax journalists are on strike, indeed stablemate Australian Financial Review Weekend does a bit of chestbeating about its own growing circulation and rebukes the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance union for the seven-day strike's ' futility.'

It brings no pleasure to witness the continuing destruction of  "old" media. The death or demise of one of us diminishes us all. But this continuing latest culling of hard copy and online journalism could surely have been avoided.

We are witnessing the systemic and systematic killing of Fairfax Media.

Insofar as legacy flagships The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and flotilla mastheads are concerned, the writing has long been on the yellowed paper wall. The Board has failed to move with the times.


We are blessed to live in an era of breathtaking technology that is our friend, not our enemy.

For decades, in all its various incarnations Syme/Fairfax has been cursed with atrophied sedentary and conservative risk-averse Boards that lacked forceful passionate individuals and long range vision.

Boards have been constipated with corporate careerists infected with all the ugly implications of that incestuous world.

Even the appointment of wunderkind Todd Sampson to the Board  seems to have been more a harbinger of Fairfax's demise rather than signal a recovery and adventurous expansion.

And the leapfroggings of former Huffington Post Australia's CEO Chris Janz to Fairfax and former Fairfax employee John Jo (JJ) Eastwood to HuffPost Australia means they'll all be on the same page when the Fairfax feeding frenzy and eating its young starts in earnest.


Never has Fairfax's corporate cowardice been more obvious than in the joint venture between the Huffington Post and Fairfax.

For the Pulitzer prize-winnning Huffington Post, picking up the ailing Fairfax was an astute and obvious domino move on its worldly acquisitions and partnerships. Fairfax was low hanging fruit.

For the Fairfax board it was a quick-fix sell-out masquerading as a clever life-saving alliance that would make it look as if the board was earning its fees and saving the company from oblivion.

And maybe it's part of a long range plan between buddies.

Walkley Award winning CEO Greg Hywood flew to the States to seal the deal in early February 2015 and was quoted in his own paper, the SMH, saying:

"We are joint venturing with the most successful digital-only news brand in the world... It's not just about the joint venture; it's also about the relationship and the learnings and it shows how competitive we are in this space."

Er, no Greg. Just the opposite. It shows just how uncompetitive Fairfax is in this space. You had it all right there in your own newsrooms and yet you not only gave it away, you even gave HuffPost controlling interest.

How's that for capitulative Australian journalism!


It even gets to me that both The Age and SMH share the same motto: 'Independent. Always.' Twinsies. Pathetic. It should at least be 'Independent. Except for joint ventures.'

How could the Board allow the HuffPost to huff and puff and blow down the house of Fairfax ?

The tragedy is that Fairfax should have had the corporate nouse and imagination to take advantage of the formidable talents and goodwill inherent in both The Age and SMH mastheads and combined their resources to form, say, the FX Express, or FXpress, or the Fairfax Times or the Fairfax Post, whatever — produce a joint online newspaper with a new masthead.

It beggars belief that Fairfax did not set up its own "HuffPost" venture. All the infrastructure was/is in place.

The HuffPost, co-founded by Arianna Huffington and controversially onsold for $315 million to communications behemoth AOL, in turn a subsidiary of Verizon Communications, must have had a real larf about at how easy it was to cannibalise Fairfax and lure it to financial co-dependency.

It is just a matter of time before it is completely subsumed.

It is not too late to save Fairfax, but that would take a boardroom coup. And courage.

And for too long, the Fairfax Board seems to have deliberately steered this heritage company to become a victim rather than be the architect of its own exciting potential and destiny.

Let's face it, Fairfax has been sold out by its own board.

The Huffington Herald has a nice ring to it. So too, the Huffington Age.

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