Here it is. Lachlan Murdoch’s controversial 2002 Andrew Ollie Lecture, ‘The Pulse of Humanity’.
DELIVERED BY LACHLAN MURDOCH
(Chairman News Ltd)
SYDNEY, OCTOBER 18, 2002
GOOD BUSINESS: GREAT JOURNALISM
Thank you for inviting me to address Australia’s pre-eminent media event
generously hosted by the ABC.
It is a night that honours our industry at the same time honouring Andrew
Olle, a great Australian journalist. I very much thank you for this
Although I give the odd speech now and then, I’ve never actually given a
lecture before, so I hope you’ll bear with me.
In preparing for speeches I generally try to read over previous speaker’s
comments, to gain a sense of the type of speech you may be expecting.
Reading Kerry Stokes comments from last year was extremely poignant, as this
lecture is once again held under a pall of terrible tragedy.
Sadly, Kerry’s speech could just as well be given again tonight, as we again
find ourselves in all too familiar territory.
Tonight, as we honour the memory of a great Australian journalist, it is
also a timely occasion to mark the work of all our colleagues and friends
who have strived under heart-breaking circumstances to inform their fellow
Australians and in many instances, the rest of the world.
After last week’s bombing in Bali, so many of our journalists, photographers
and camera crews are again working in extreme conditions and under
incredible duress to piece together the harrowing story that unfolded on
We sometimes forget that those we send to report for us from places like
Bali feel the trauma and grief like everyone else. We forget that those working behind a camera, a recorder or notebook feel the pulse of humanity as we do.
The best of them feel that pulse more strongly.
It struck me when I heard The Sydney Morning Herald’s Matthew Moore and The
Daily Telegraph’s Peter Lalor speaking to Sally on ABC radio earlier this
week, their voices trembling.
Reporting in The Tele on Tuesday Peter went on to write:
“There are times when a pen and a notebook are inadequate shields against
“Tomorrow I promise I will be hard-nosed, today I have to grieve with all
these people. My people… ”
Later that day, Peter rang his editor, Campbell Reid and said he may not be
able to report for Wednesday’s newspaper.
He had joined a search for the missing. Later, he did file his story.
The reports from Bali, the scenes at Australia’s airports, the stories of
loss, of heartbreak and mateship and valour underscore the depth and quality
of the Australian spirit.
That spirit unites us. It makes us proud. I hope it makes us strong.
We will need all our strength and determination to emerge from this
catastrophe a whole nation and do the job at hand.
In the weeks ahead we must strengthen our unity and resolve to bring these
murderers to justice; and to continue the war against terror.
As an Australian in New York on September 11, I was inspired by how the
citizens in that tough and sometimes ruthless city responded to their
They came together.
They shared their shock, their grief and ultimately their resolve to emerge
from their ordeal a far stronger community.
I think the media in that city, played some part in helping to support and
bolster that unity and resilience – or at very least to reflect it strongly.
I DON’T LIKE THE NEW YORK TIMES
The New York Times, not my favourite newspaper, did an extraordinarily good
job producing their series, A Nation Challenged.
Over a few months the inside back page of that section carried the faces and
stories of every single World Trade Centre victim, under the title,
“Portraits of Grief”.
One year on, The New York Post, which I publish, decided that it was time to
move forward, and focus again on the strengths of the city.
We launched the first annual New York Liberty Medals, a successful attempt
to honour the greatest acts of citizenship and bravery in New York.
We received thousands of entries for the 11 awards, and over several weeks
published many of the inspirational stories of ordinary New Yorkers doing
I have reflected often these past days on how we, the Australian media, will
respond to our own tragedy. How will we play our part in serving our own
What choices will we make as we step through the various stages of healing
Will we stand with our national leaders, on both sides of parliament, as
they seek to bring justice to the cowards that murdered our countrymen and
Or will we allow ourselves to be misused as a forum for division,
effectively undermining community strength and cohesion when our country
needs those qualities most?
DON’T ROCK THE BOAT
Will we allow ourselves to descend into a shallow blame game, when we all
know that the only people deserving of blame are the perpetrators
I ponder these questions from the twin perspective of running media
properties in both New York and here, and believe that the tragedies of the
last 13 months must remind us all of the great responsibility we carry.
I am now spending a fair portion of my time in New York, and when I first
moved into my new office at the New York Post, I wanted to fill it with
reminders of home. Aussie artwork and photos, that sort of thing.
But also, I wanted something on my wall that was of particular relevance to
I wanted to find some picture out of our archives that represented the paper
and had some special meaning to me.
Well, it didn’t take long to find, and now, in a position of relative
prominence, hangs a black and white photograph of a handsome six year old
boy holding a copy of the famous paper and dressed in a ridiculously
over-sized newspaper seller’s apron.
He is standing on the loading dock, amidst the trucks and stacks of papers.
This boy was too young to yet understand the business of selling newspapers,
but he clearly loved them, even then.
He loved them, not for the business but for the craft of journalism that
The picture was taken 25 years ago and that young boy was me.
Over the last 25 years, I have been privileged to grow up retaining the love
of good journalism, the craft, while learning its business: the dollars and
I have learnt that they are not mutually exclusive but integrally
self-reliant. Each dependent on the other.
Good journalism is good business practice; good business supports great
I know that reality may be anathema to many of you here tonight.
But I don’t expect I should be here to tell you what you want to hear.
Good speeches are those that come from the heart, that ring true. And
tonight I want to challenge what I regard as the orthodoxy of the media
THE MEDIA ELITE – (THAT’S NOT ME)
The industry is littered with self-styled purists who believe the business
of media – the requirement to make a profit – somehow corrupts the craft.
The self-anointed media elite among us believe, somewhat self-servingly,
that not only the act, or process of making a profit is positively sinister,
but also that the very desire to do so is.
Two years ago this forum was told that Australian journalists worked in two
distinct camps – “commercial journalism or serious journalism”.
In that speech we were told, and I quote,:
“The horse has bolted. The idea that owners of media organisations regard
the practise of journalism as a public service is as outdated as the idea
that businesses operate in the interests of a better world… If you want to
apportion guilt, blame a system that demands growth and profits and lower
costs from every public organisation.”
The speaker went on to say that commercial journalism encompassed “popular
magazines, tabloid newspapers and news and current affairs on commercial TV
and radio”, while serious journalism, he told us, was restricted to
metropolitan broadsheets and the ABC, because, absurdly, serious journalism
was more akin to charity than to business.
Well, this bloke couldn’t have been more wrong.
You can see here that the Australian media elite define their club through
standards designed only to exclude. Entry requires that you either rely on
tax payer’s money to draw your paycheque, or that your newspaper folds twice
over, and god forbid, don’t ever even think about a profit.
JOHN RALSTON SAUL – A GREAT FRIEND OF BIG MEDIA
I noted a letter to The Australian this Thursday on this very issue. It
quoted the Canadian writer, John Ralston Saul who said: “Highly
sophisticated elites are the easiest and least original thing a society can
I agree. I happen to think that serious journalism is about informing the
community, reflecting their interests and championing their causes. The size
of a newspaper is simply irrelevant.
The Times of London may be one of our finest journalistic institutions; but
in Australia so too is the Herald Sun, a tabloid and a great commercial
I am equally proud of The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, The Courier Mail
and the ‘Tizer, and the way they each strive to serve their readers.
I believe narrow-mindedness – disguised as high-mindedness – risks making
its media irrelevant, instead of being as diverse and valuable to as many
people as possible.
We all have to expand our capabilities to encompass the changing world, its
growing diversity and, indeed, its complexity.
And we all have to avoid the perils of that narrow-mindedness that threatens
to narrow our future; to restrict our opportunity – at a time when that
future and opportunity is vast.
It seems that those who criticise the larger media companies for their reach
and diversity are those who have time and again been unsuccessful in their
efforts to mimic them.
Their criticisms, ironically, identify the factors for our success and their
WE CATER FOR ALL DEMOGRAPHICS (Crikey translation: we think he means “people”)
I think a point of pride for companies like our own is our ability to cater
to all members of society; to all demographics and everyone who demands and
deserves their own quality media.
Our lack of loftiness is a point of distinction.
We do not patronise our readers and audiences. We believe there’s no “high
culture” or “low culture”.
No media is more worthy than any other because of the age, income or status
of its target audience.
We, at News, find no disparity in publishing a Nobel Prize winning book, as
we did this year, at the same time making profitable movies such as
“Titanic”, or even, “Dude, Where’s My Car”.
There is no room for dictating taste in the diverse and dynamic world of
media. To limit taste only limits the role we play for people of all kinds.
Intelligent media companies strive to provide both intellectual and comedy
programs, groundbreaking and reflective articles, art house and popular
Not to be open minded in providing a full range of quality media would be a
failure to serve the breadth and depth of the communities we live in.
But in order to serve these diverse communities, we must be profitable.
The profit motive is not only fundamental to our ability to reward
shareholders and pay employees; it’s fundamental to excellent journalism.
Far from corrupting the craft, profits enhance it. Expansion drives
diversity and diversity protects and stengthens our craft.
As Baz Luhrmann once put it: “Our currency is not dollars and cents. Our
currency is stories. Dollars and cents are the by-product”. A by-product
that allows us to constantly improve the real currency, the story.
Our profits enable us to grow as we seek to meet the increasing demands of
an increasing number of readers and viewers in a challenging and fragmented
It is the profit factor that has underpinned the enormous advances made in
newspaper technology in such a relatively short time.
Only fifteen years ago newspapers were printed in black and white with
occasional spot colour. Our image reproduction was terrible, and full colour
coverage was an impossibility.
While we employed the very best photo-journalists and artists in the world,
their work was drastically undermined by the industrial limitations of the
Every successful newspaper company has now invested hundreds of millions of
dollars in new colour plants, all paid for out of profits.
Today Australian newspapers reproduce better than any in the world, and our
photographs and associated artwork more accurately represent the images that
But the investment has not been limited to physical production alone.
The earnings from our most popular media products enable us to take
editorial and artistic chances that may not make a lot of money – but make
the media industry more exciting and again more diverse.
Take The Australian, for instance, created because we believed a national
newspaper was essential for the nation but at first entirely supported by
the profits of our state-based newspapers.
It’s no secret that The Australian once struggled for profitability.
In those days, it was the profits from elsewhere in the group that supported
SEX, SEX, SEX
At the other end of the spectrum, we launched a sexy newspaper in Melbourne
last year, called MX.
This paper is designed specifically for younger, urban people who are not
regular newspaper readers.
It has been a great success and is internationally renowned for its
groundbreaking design and unique perspective.
The important point here is that both the Australian and MX were launched
out of the profits of our other newspapers, with whom they now compete
The Australian competes against all our metropolitan dailies and MX with the
The profits of those papers have thus allowed for greater diversity and a
greater range of quality journalism in Australia.
Profits have increased competition, not lessened it, and made our media
landscape far richer.
Another manner in which the health and ultimate growth of our company has
broadly benefited our industry is in the sharing of something very powerful:
The ability to move individuals and intellect from all over the globe has
given Australia an enormous benefit, as Australians now populate many key
positions in the media overseas.
COL ALLAN – NOW PISSING IN THE GLOBAL SINK
The oldest continuously-published paper in America is headed by an
Australian editor, Col Allan.
Les Hinton who runs our British newspapers started his career as a copy boy
on the Adelaide News, BSkyB’s Richard Freudenstein hails from here too as
does Fox Sports CEO, David Hill.
And it was a cause celebre when we appointed Robert Thomson editor of The
It is not possible to mention each Australian reporter, photographer,
sub-editor and cadet that we have posted overseas.
I am amused that in Australia, News is often referred to as a US company,
while in the US and in the UK we are seen culturally and legally, as very
And we are proud that as a globally profitable company we can offer
Australian journalists and media executives opportunities to compete on the
world stage, gain invaluable experience, and perhaps one day bring that
Above all else, profits underwrite our most important work without any
regard for the bottom line.
For news organisations world-wide, this was the case on September 11, 2001,
and just one week ago when we all scrambled to cover another act of
terror… this time on our own doorstep.
My first reactions on September 11 were, like everyone else, of horror and
My next thoughts were those of a newspaper publisher.
Where were our journalists and other staff?
Were they OK?
Could we in these extreme circumstances even hope to publish a special
afternoon edition of the Post to better inform our frightened readers.
But first, I had a more immediate problem : how to get from downtown
Manhattan to the Post’s editorial offices in midtown.
Subways were closed, public transport shutdown.
The streets in my neighbourhood were blocked by thousands of people staring
up in disbelief.
From that moment on and for many months, the emotions in the city went from
one extreme to the other.
Shock, grief, anger, and fear.
Much the same emotions we Australians feel today.
But through all of this, all of us at the Post and Fox News – almost alone
in an eerily empty midtown Manhattan – published and broadcast continuously.
We added editions, and jettisoned advertising. Every resource devoted to a
Not once was cost mentioned or considered and they didn’t have to be because
these efforts were all supported by the underlying health of our company.
WE ARE IMPORTANT
To work in journalism on that morning, and ever since, is to know with
renewed certainty the importance of what we do.
The events of September 11 tested, both personally and professionally, every
reporter, editor, producer and employee of every newspaper and television
channel around the world – but none more so than those in New York.
For those journalists working to deliver the news from Ground Zero, the
challenge was particularly daunting. Our journalists were among the
firefighters and rescue workers who arrived on the scene moments after the
first plane hit.
Our print and television news teams worked around the clock, in an anthrax
contaminated environment, conscious of the likelihood of further attacks.
It has been the same in Bali. Emotion-charged, exhausting work from our
teams of reporters and photographers.
These all-out efforts not only entailed great personal commitment but also
substantial costs and sacrificed revenues.
Ceaseless operations and nonstop programming inevitably result in many
millions of dollars lost.
But, thankfully, we are in a position where we can make that right choice.
It is here where the craft of journalism and the business of journalism most
clearly display their mutual inter-dependence.
THE MEDIA ELITE – (that’s not me)
And it is here where the media elite, who so stridently would build a great
wall between so called serious journalism, narrow minded and supported by
charity, and so called, commercial, popular journalism are proven wrong.
Without media companies driving for profits Australians would be bereft of
many of the advances and services they now rely on.
Not only would newspapers and other media outlets rely on old and obsolete
technologies, but great papers such as The Australian and MX would simply
Media choices would be limited, if you left it up to the elite, and the
blanket coverage of important stories would be impossible but through the
lens of the ABC.
People say Australians are the most egalitarian people in the world.
I certainly believe we are.
But why then is it so hard for the media elite in this country to be open
minded and encourage all the good that we as an industry do.
A case in point is the baseless attack on the Farmhand Foundation.
About a month ago John Hartigan called me to discuss a million dollar
donation from News Ltd to create a foundation aimed at supporting our
drought devastated farming communities and nurturing a wide ranging debate
about our water policies.
A number of other media and business representatives were joining us in this
How something so simple could be turned into a grand conspiracy to sell a
phone company I have no idea.
THE TELSTRA CONSPIRACY
But, again out of narrow mindedness disguised as high mindedness, rooted in
jealously as the idea was not their own, our media elite launched a
disgraceful and biased attack.
I wonder if things are getting worse in our country.
In 1994 News Ltd and Channel Nine launched a drought appeal that raised 19
million dollars for the bush.
It was a great and successful appeal that helped many Australians in need.
I wonder if it too was connected to selling Telstra?
Those among us who would dissuade the media from having a go to help people
should be ashamed.
MY GRANDFATHER, HIS WILL, HIS LIFE
My grandfather, in his will, said that he wanted his children to “have the
great opportunity of spending a useful, altruistic and full life in
newspaper and broadcasting activities”.
All of us here tonight share that great opportunity of a full life in
newspaper and broadcasting.
And this week, journalists around the country proved their usefulness and
yes, their altruism in reporting to a shattered nation.
In doing so, we regained an appreciation for the role we play in people’s
Media is much more than an outlet for news; it is a forum for opinions,
emotions and shared convictions that strengthen us all when we need strength
This is why the providers of media must focus so hard on the pursuit of
profits: because that enables us not to focus on profits at the times when
our best and most important work has nothing to do with them.
This is true not just in the case of monumental global events but all the
time and in all our businesses.
Profits fund the excellence of our media services and the high quality of
They also provide a measure of our success that is critical to our desire to
Our hard work to maximise revenues at our newspapers and TV stations
year-round means we won’t be forced to compromise the quality of those
papers and stations in the event of a worldwide advertising slump, a price
war declared by a rival or the kind of event we saw last year or last week.
At News our three fundamental beliefs – the good use of profit, the
importance of international diversity and the dangers of elitism – are what
drive the value, in my opinion, of all modern media providers.
Great journalism needs profits, it needs to be broad minded and it needs to
always steer clear of elitism.
You know, when I was six years old standing in the New York Post’s loading
dock, amongst the papers I loved then as I do now, I didn’t really think
about all this stuff.
I only cared about the paper, its words and its images and I instinctively,
I guess, understood its unique ability to relate to and inform its readers.
I’d love to be back there now, in that headspace, and not be concerned about
the realities of the world.
But none of us can do that. We’ve all grown up and don’t have that luxury
So what do you think about Lachlan Murdoch’s vision? Do you share his contempt for the media elites? Feedback to [email protected]