All the public dire news in newspaper land recently has been about Fairfax. And understandably so with no sign there that management has a sustainable plan for the future.
But it would be a mistake to think that things are much rosier at News Limited.
Not only is the company increasingly skittish as it contemplates the implications of the end of the Rupert Murdoch era. It is also in the same kind of trouble as Fairfax — a collapsing business model before the new business model has had time to get established.
Hence this memo (leaked to Crikey) to News Limited bosses from chief financial officer Stephen Rue, announcing group-wide, cost-reduction targets of 15-20% over the next three years, due to “the last few months of trading [and] trends over the last three years”.
The result is an immediate staff-hiring freeze, a requirement that each division reduce costs by 5% regardless of previously approved budgets and a review of travel and accommodation costs.
There is the sad caution that perhaps not too much should be slashed from the marketing budget “given the poor circulation sales of late”.
Rue says all this is “an essential piece of work we must all support unreservedly as we need to both react to falls in revenue and the need to generate cash flow to invest in our digital business”.
The cuts are worldwide. As this memo leaked, there were also reports that in Britain Murdoch’s newspapers are cutting 110 staff jobs from The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times.
All this as we await what is meant to be imminent — the erection of paywalls around content online, with all the uncertainty about what that will do to reader numbers. The first paywall is meant to go up at The Australian’s website by October, according to what News Limited’s digital media boss Richard Freudenstein told the Mumbrella360 conference last June.
I hear that that deadline may be extended.
The cost cutting will come as not much of a surprise to editors, who were briefed at the last conference on falling revenue and a generally fairly miserable outlook.
Collapsing business models, falling emperors and managements out of solutions. The reality that all this may lead to an Australia without broadsheet newspapers, and possibly without many tabloids either — has yet to hit home to the community.
Not that there is any magic to newsprint. The concern is what it means for total journalistic capacity and effort.
If there is to be a media inquiry, surely this should be the issue. What if anything can and should be done about the decline of our professional journalistic capacity, and how should society foster the free flow of information in the post-media empire era.