Proprietors are good for you — and The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age are more opinionated than they need to be. That’s the substance of an interview Brian McCarthy, head-to-be of Rural Press and Deputy CEO of Fairfax, gave to Crikey yesterday.

Speaking of the Fairfax broadsheets to come under his control, McCarthy proffered some comments “purely as a reader”.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, he said, are “a little more opinionated than they need to be. They need to get a better balance between reporting and opinion, and that means a little less opinion. I just hold that view a little”.

As for news content, McCarthy confirmed that his preference might be for more emphasis on community and local reporting. “There are a lot of important issues both nationally and internationally that have to be covered, but whether day after day you want your paper dominated by that, or whether there is room for issues of direct relevance to me and my local community. That is one question I have as a reader.”

On the issue of budget cuts, he noted that because there had been redundancies in the last year, this meant “you may be looking at a different situation from what you were a while ago in terms of whether there is a need for cuts.” But he emphasised he had “no idea” of the editorial budgets.

He said that in the frantic activity since September to put the merger deal together there simply hadn’t been time or opportunity for him to get across the detail of editorial budgets or editorial directions, and he had no firm ideas about what direction he would take.

As for proprietors, McCarthy was cautious, as well he might be. Fairfax chairman Ron Walker is “a very successful businessman, and I am sure he has done a good job as chairman of Fairfax.”

But he went on to say that looking at media companies around the globe, it seemed that in the long term having a dominant proprietor at the head of an organisation was an important ingredient of success.

Put that together with JB Fairfax’s comments in The Age and it is clear that while the business deal is Fairfax taking over Rural Press, equally significant will be the insertion of Rural Press management, culture, editorial values and proprietorial model into Fairfax.

Rural Press insiders have jokingly referred to themselves as “the real Fairfax” over the last decade. They may have been prophetic.

Peter Fray

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