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Media briefs: Lachlan’s denials … startups’ big names … imperial forces …

There’s good news and bad news for digital startup media. The good news is they’re hiring — really! Now, if only they were profitable … Plus other media tidbits of the day.

Not interested, he said. “No, I’ve moved on from that,” Lachlan Murdoch told The Australian Financial Review last June when asked when he’d return to News Corp. His friends agreed. “My sense is that Lachlan is very, very happy, very content doing what he is doing, that he is not in any rush to go back to News Corp,” James Packer told The Monthly a year before. “I would be very surprised if he returned to the business in an active role while his father was still active in the business,” added friend and financial adviser Simon Mordant.

Of course, no one ever really believed Lachlan or his friends — that’s why people kept asking the question. Pieces quoting anonymous insiders gave a rather different story. “Rupert would love to have Lachlan back running newspapers,” a former News Corp insider told The Daily Beast in January. “It is the part of the company that he thinks Lachlan knows how to operate better than anyone, and I bet now that some time has passed he can be convinced to come back to the company.”

According to that piece, Rupert Murdoch’s got his eye set on bringing daughter Elisabeth into the fold, too. Let’s see if that comes to pass as well. — Myriam Robin

Digital startups ‘flirting with profitability’. Pew’s annual State of the Media report, which canvasses all things in the American press, has for over a decade charted the decline of the country’s newspapers, broadcast stations and magazines. But this year, something interesting happened. The usual story of doom and gloom in print became one of a stampede to upstart digital outlets, many backed by big names and bigger money.

It all started when former New York Times data guru Nate Silver took his popular FiveThirtyEight blog to ESPN in July 2013. Three months later Megan Liberman also left the Grey Lady to take over Yahoo’s expanding news operation. October brought even more defections, with Glenn Greenwald leaving The Guardian and BuzzFeed hiring Pulitzer-winning journalist Mark Schoofs, of philanthropic investigative journalism outfit ProPublica …

These names are just the icing on the cake for the digital entrepreneurs that lured them away from legacy press. Most have gone on massive hiring sprees in recent months. Pew asked the top 30 digital outlets how many journalists they employed, and the numbers are significant. Gawker employs 132 journalists. The Bleacher Report — 140. BuzzFeed  — 170. Politico  — 186. Daily Beast  — 50. Business Insider  — 70. That won’t make up for the 40,000 journalism jobs that Pew’s report says have been lost in the past five years. But among the 500 or so digital outlets Pew looked at, 5000 new jobs have been created and filled by a mix of young and experienced journalists.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that almost none of these outlets, despite their hiring sprees, are profitable. First Look Media funder Pierre Omidyar says solvency is five years away and will take more than his $250 million starting investment to achieve. The Huffington Post, with its 525 editorial employees, is, according to an analyst, only “flirting with profitability”. International news outlet Global Post has never broken even.

Put simply, most of these outlets are taking a gamble that good content and diversified income streams will eventually help them break even. The irony is that journalists are fleeing the sinking ship of legacy media to outlets whose future is also by no means assured. The growth in jobs doesn’t mean digital news is sustainable — at least, not yet. — Myriam Robin

Knights in shining armour. Almost everyone hates Tony Abbott’s new knights and dames scheme. Even former PM John Howard, who was on very short odds to get the (sword) tap on the shoulder, is still against the idea of imperial honours. The Murdoch tabloids, usually great fans of Coalition policies, were keen to mock the policy, with The Daily Telegraph imagining the PM in a topsy-turvy crown and The Courier-Mail going full retro …

imperial honours

But at least News Corp’s broadsheet is on board. The Australian’s editorial this morning loves the idea, calling it a “clever ploy” and a “deft wedge”:

Tony Abbott’s decision to reintroduce knights and dames in the Order of Australia was a clever, if unexpected, ploy at a time when there are major issues at play in national politics — including fiscal repair, financial services reform and the protection of free speech. From a sheer tactical point of view, it is a typical move by the Prime Minister, who was seeking to wedge Bill Shorten, whose mother-in-law is the outgoing Governor-General and newly titled Dame Quentin Bryce. By accepting Mr Abbott’s offer, Ms Bryce, a vocal republican a few months ago, places the Opposition Leader in an invidious position. For Mr Abbott it is a deft wedge with a double dividend.”

It goes on to say that while the knighthoods are a clever bit of distracting politicking, perhaps there are other things the government should be getting on with. But the Oz does seem to be the voice in the wilderness in support of the new titles. Sir Chris Mitchell, anyone …?  — Cassidy Knowlton

A sombre ad around the world. It’s a tough time for Malaysia Airlines, with all of the talk of its missing MH370 flight. Now that the Malaysian government has confirmed that the plane most likely crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, the embattled airline has taken out a full-page ad in The Australian (and around the world) expressing its condolences for the 239 people on board who likely died.

Malaysia Airlines apology

Excited Harry. Say what? From today’s Herald Sun, presented without comment …

Video of the day. Michelle Obama has been a force of “soft diplomacy” in China for the past week. We are normally big fans of FLOTUS, but maybe heels were not a good sartorial choice for trying out tai chi …

Womens Agenda

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