Anthony Hoy, a journeyman of outback journalism if ever there was one,
is attempting to challenge John and Tim Fairfax and their regional
publishing behemoth Rural Press.

Hoy has resigned as The Bulletin‘s rural editor and plans to co-ordinate publication of newspapers in a number of the estimated 160
regional areas in which Rural Press has the market to itself.

“I have
long been an admirer of the Victor Smorgon philosophy, which was to target the
monopolies,” Hoy told Crikey. “Rural Press and others continue to gobble up independent
titles, all but a handful of which are now in the hands of the big boys.”

Entrepreneurial journalists are few and far between in Australia but it
remains to be seen whether Hoy can make a financial success out of the
contacts and experienced garnered over the years as the outback
reporter for The SMH and The Australian.

However, he does have some financial experience from a stint editing
and managing the Rural Press Hawkesbury newspapers and he also launched
NSW Grain Farmer for the Fairfax brothers. Similarly, Hoy was managing director of News Ltd’s Tamworth-based Northern Daily Leader in the mid-80s before it was sold to Rural Press for $5 million.

“David Kirk’s
recent $151m splurge for John Fairfax Holdings on the regional title The
Border Morning Mail
is a graphic illustration of how the value of
these regional monopolies has moved in 20 years,” Hoy said.

Hoy says he is initially targeting weekly newspapers in the Shoalhaven,
ACT and NSW Southern Highlands, and is also developing a publishing
template for weekly newspapers which he may
make available to other prospective small publishers.

“Subject to proper
financial planning – and with the accounting, hardware and software template
we are developing – sound business opportunities exist for small independent
publishers in these monopoly markets,” he told Crikey.

As
general manager of News Ltd’s The Weekly Times in the late 1980s, Hoy
went head-to-head with new ACP
publishing chief Ian Law, who at the time was head of Rural Press’s Stock & Land.

As with any start-up taking on a monopoly, Hoy is looking to the ACCC
for protection and is keen to point out that both Law and Rural Press
have fallen foul of the competition watchdog in recent years. After a
long battle the
High Court dismissed a Rural Press appeal against an earlier Federal
Court judgment, in which Rural Press was fined $600,000, while Law and
another staffer incurred penalties totalling $70,000 for misusing their
market power against a rival printer in South Australia.

That said, it will be no easy task launching new newspapers in the
internet era, and with media consolidation looming with mega-takeovers
next year. We wish him every success.

Peter Fray

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