Crikey editor Misha Ketchell writes:

So it was on. This morning, The Australianhas confirmed that parent company, News Limited, was indeed in negotiations with Fairfax about merging MyCareer and Career One, as reported in Crikey yesterday (item 1). According to The Oz:

TradeMe’s push into the Kiwi jobs sector comes at a time when talks between Fairfax and News Limited about the merger of their respective recruitment websites, MyCareer and CareerOne are considered unlikely to progress after opposition from within News Corporation.

What’s the significance of this? It confirms that behind the feverish speculation about mergers and takeovers under the new cross-media laws there is serious corporate manoeuvring going on as the big players position themselves to be winners out of the next round of musical chairs.

The fact that bitter rivals Fairfax and News Limited would go this far down the path of considering a merger of their online jobs sites shows that right now, anything goes; anyone will talk to anyone as the media players jostle for a slice of online classified advertising growth and battle to offset declining revenue from newspaper and free-to-air TV.

As an interesting side issue, the story also shows that Fairfax’s commitment to accurate reporting doesn’t extend to news about itself. When Crikey asked Fairfax spokesman Bruce Wolpe directly whether talks had taken place, as our tip suggested, he refused to comment on the record. Instead, he tried to kill the story – which we now know to be substantially true, even though the merger plans have now been abandoned – saying it was “off base” and to publish would be “in error”.

This morning, Fairfax CEO David Kirk was wheeled out in theSmage to issue a carefully worded denial that neatly skirted the key question of whether talks with News Limited had taken place.

“There is no secret deal between the companies, nor any prospect there will be any arrangement between the companies,” he said.

Interesting wording that. Interesting also that there is no denial from anyone involved that there were talks, nor has anyone shot down the suggestion that a merger was run past the ACCC. Meanwhile, Crikey understands that reporters who contacted Wolpe to ask about the story were told he wouldn’t dignify anything published in Crikey with a denial – a strategy which had the twin advantages of running us down while relieving him of the obligation to address the legitimate questions reporters would have asked.

It’s called spin and it’s how Fairfax tries to keep us in the dark. But it’s hard when your traditional rival is putting its own spin on things. If they’re wanting to team up again in the future, perhaps they should start by getting their stories straight.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey