It looks like Fairfax could finally be getting serious about this new fangled internet thang. This morning The Oz is reporting that Fairfax is believed to be planning a launch of internet-only titles in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth early next year.

According to The Oz’s sources, Fairfax holds the name Brisbane Morning Herald but the working title for the first site is understood to be The Brisbane Times.

This could mean first-time stuff for Fairfax — they’ve never before launched a dedicated online news publication that’s not based around a pre-existing print publication.

It’s an exciting prospect, especially for the underdone media markets of Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

Perth is already served by News Corp’s local offering Perth Now which is becoming a genuine source of local content, with daily contributions from local journalists. It’s not really facing down any real competition on the net, though — The West Australian‘s web presence is notoriously bad. Content doesn’t go up for days, the website is awkward to navigate and the whole thing is far from comprehensive which means the publishing house is missing out on some major advertising opportunities.

In Brisbane, the web news coverage is a little better, with The Courier Mail offering up its content for free to Queenslanders, but it faces no real competition.

The Oz reports:

Former Queensland Times and Illawarra Mercury editor Mitchell Murphy is in charge of the new site.

Mr Murphy staged a poaching raid at APN’s Ipswich-based Queensland Times, nabbing editor Daniel Sankey in October, along with deputy editor Phil Lutton and news editor Conal Hanna. Staff from regional newspapers including the Sunshine Coast Daily and the Bundaberg News Mail also came aboard.

As for Adelaide, it’s a popular site for market testing goods. It would be a perfect
test bed for such a venture. Indeed, such a product has been mooted by local PR figures. The Adelaide Advertiser (Adelaide Nowis regarded with contempt, the local ABC has lost its edge while the Premier’s media unit runs a reign of terror.

The two-year-old Independent Weekly put commercial interests ahead of
integrity and lost its selling point when conflict arose between its proprietor, Paul Hamra, and its first editor, the flinty but respected Alex Kennedy. It now contains little other than advertorial and reprints from the Fairfax metro broadsheets and the London Independent.

The proprietors of The Adelaide Review not only failed to pull the established and once must-read title out of the spin that former boss and editor Christopher Pearson’s idiosyncratic conservatism pushed it into, but sent it crashing to the ground.

So presuming The Oz‘s rumours are true, potential readers who are crying out for some alternative media in their state will want to know what form the publications will take — what kind of content will Fairfax provide? Will they provide breaking news, in-depth stories? Will they commission investigative pieces? Will the websites fold in blogs and how much of it will consist of celebrity news fodder for bored office workers to while away the day with?

But the detail that rival News Corp will be most interested in is Fairfax’s business model. Will the sites be subscription-based, will they rely solely on online advertising or will there be a combination of both? Where do they see the ads coming from? 

So many questions, so few answers forthcoming. Crikey contacted Mike van Niekerk, Editor in Chief of Online at The SMH and The Age but he offered no comment. “All I can can say at this stage is that there are communities in this country who are desperate for alternative local news and information,” said Niekerk. “If and when Fairfax Media has an announcement to make about serving those communities we will let them know.”

In the meantime, mags are racing ahead in the scramble to gain a foothold on the web. The Oz is also reporting on the trend for magazines to make the leap from print to exclusively online publications with no safety net.

Declaration: Christian Kerr is a columnist for News Limited Adelaide’s suburbans.

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