Memo

From: Roger Corbett, incoming chair Fairfax board
To: all employees

Good morning,

Let me introduce myself. I’m Roger Corbett incoming chair of the Fairfax board. I would like to thank Ron Walker for his services but it’s clear that at this testing time in the history of media, Fairfax does not need a property developer as its head.

It needs a grocer.

Yes, for anyone who hasn’t worked for Fairfax for any length of time, let me make it clear that I, your new head, have absolutely no media experience. To those who have worked for Fairfax through several regimes, well, hello.

Fairfax faces some enormous challenges, and many would simply give up. But that’s not how we do things in the grocery. Let me assure you that I’ll be bringing all of the lessons I’ve learnt at Woolworths to the operation of this big media “store”. But, contrary to what some critics may say, I won’t be ignoring the unique and distinctive nature of media and journalism as unique and distinctive social institutions.

To that end, over the months ahead, we’ll be rolling out some pretty exciting new initiatives that I’ve worked out after a look round the place:

1) I’ve noticed that every evening we chuck out the entire news “stock” and restock from scratch. Mmmm. No wonder profits are low. That’s not how we do things in the grocery. Shelf-life people. If a product is selling well, keep it there while it continues to do so.

Take the NRL grand final. That received a massive number of ring-ups, or “hits” as you call them — or called them. (we now call them “ring-ups”).

By Tuesday it was chucked. We need to leave it on the shelves for 6-7 days, thereby getting 6-7 times the ring-ups, on a popular product line. Shouldn’t really have to say this, to be honest. In future I want to open the paper every morning, or the print-outs of the website my PA makes for me, and see that at least 30% of the stories are exactly the same as they were yesterday.

2) Of course that doesn’t apply to every product line/story. Some of them are perishables. But they’re mixed in with the “canned goods”. That’s not how we do things in the grocery.

Perishable stories need to be cleared daily, with red-spot price reductions. Instead, they’re just left to rot on the shelves. In future we will be pricing stories individually, and presenting The Age and SMH as a loose-leaf folder in which people can pick and choose which items they want.

Stories that are starting to smell towards the end of the day will then be “priced to clear”, e.g. bowls results, anything about Tasmania, Gerard Henderson’s column.

Fifteen minutes before closing, place all remaining such items near the register or give them to the Salvation Army, to distribute among the news deprived.

3) Home-brand. The shelves of our enterprise are stocked with deluxe items, exotically sourced, being sold as standard brand. That’s not how we do things in the grocery.

From now on, Fairfax will be developing a “Black and White and Red” brand (read all over! Get it? I don’t. But we paid a design firm called Space Inuit $300,000 for it, so laugh). This will be entirely sourced in-house, with minimal labelling and design.

Deluxe stories will be sold in our boutique section.

Example:

Deluxe story

“Taliban resurgent in Swat Valley”

By Paul McGeough

Sipping a mint tea in his mountain home, Ali Al-Kataar, shows me a crude map of the Afpak border. “We are preparing a spring offensive.” After three days travel we have reached the HQ of the resurgent Taliban operation in the Swat — a revival that neither Pakistan’s ISI nor the US State Department want the rest of the world to know about … (cost $12.30)

“Black and White and Red” Fairfax story

“Foreign News Story #332”

By Journalist

Last night James Williams, a sub-editor with Fairfax News, and his partner Emma Tracey, a former sub-editor, currently on maternity leave, watched a documentary about Afghanistan on SBS. Things there seem terrible. After that, they went out for some ice-cream, and Emma saw a dog that looked a dog her family used to own when she was a child … (cost 0.49c)

See? Every ingredient produced on the premises. Mix a bit of thickener in with the foreign gobbets and the cost comes right down. Then bump up the prices on the deluxe “news” items and sell ’em to the yuppies and the beatniks. People may think that our customers won’t pay top dollar for individual deluxe news items. All I can say is, ask a grocer. Have you seen how much these snobs will pay for “real” yoghurt?

This system will begin tomorrow. My colleagues have suggested some research but TNHWDTITG.

Remember also that to remove a phrase you’ve already written at your check-out station (formerly: desk) you’ll need to get a supervisor to unlock the machine. And none of this chattering and walking around — the intercom is there for fact-checking (“fact check in aisle three: shadow minister for health?” etc), and the uniforms are for your benefit, as you’ll see after cleaning up after kiddie vomit, or subbing Miranda Devine.

That’s all.

Remember I didn’t get this gig just because I have access to a lot of fork-lifts (though that swung them a little).

Grocery!

Yrs,

Corbett.

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