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Jun 10, 2014

Fairfax chief hits back at News: ‘ignore all the self-serving nonsense’

Chris Mitchell has goaded Greg Hywood into responding to criticism, with Fairfax defending its business model and share price in a huffy memo to staff.

Myriam Robin — Media Reporter

Myriam Robin

Media Reporter

In a Queen’s birthday 800-word missive to staff, Fairfax Media CEO Greg Hywood has waded into News Corp’s ongoing trashing of its rivals.

Baited into responding by comments The Australian editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell made at a marketing conference last Wednesday,which were rehashed in Monday’s Oz, Hywood said that Fairfax was not talking down print, from which it gets 75% of its revenues. The full email, which Crikey has uploaded here, takes a swing at the “advertorial” in the Australian’s Media section:

“While most of us ignore it and sometimes get a good chuckle at its absurdity, the time has come to explode some of their self-serving myths. In a litany of bizarre commentary on the state of the industry, News Corp publications and senior management have indulged in a series of speculative lies about Fairfax Media.”

Fairfax’s share price, Hywood says, is up 87% over the past six months to News Corp’s 27%, with its achievements in adapting to a digital age being recognised by investors and the ASX. The reason Fairfax’s share price has risen faster than News Corp’s, Hywood says, is because the latter is not adapting to the disruption caused by the internet, despite former CEO Kim Williams’ best efforts:

“News Corp has only just started to understand and acknowledge the disruption caused to traditional news organisations. Necessary changes initiated by a previous CEO ground to a halt as the “old guard” saw him off.  All the reports we get is of an organisation at war with itself over it future. News’ mad ranting and ravings of late are just their standard tactics of bludgeoning anyone who dares to have a different voice – indeed dares to challenge their view and place in the world. The good news for all media companies is relative market share of newspaper advertising is stable despite News’ hysterics.”

Such behaviour is unsurprising, Hywood says, because News Corp is racked by “deep-seated cultural problems”.”How could we forget this is the Group whose legacy to journalism is phone hacking,” Hywood concludes, twisting the knife.

Mitchell has duly responded (though Hywood’s counterpart at News Julian Clarke has remained above it all). Mitchell told one of his reporters that Fairfax’s overreaction reveals the company’s uneasiness.

“Very sensitive, and you know why? Because what I said about their digital subscribers is true,” Mitchell told The Australian. “Most of their paid digital subscribers are $10-a-term teachers who get the PDF editions where they used to get print. They have almost 100,000 of them. Just do the maths. Then look at the quality of the readership of the website and compare it to the quality of the old broadsheet print product readership.”

At last week’s speech, Australian CEO Nicholas Gray boasted that News Corp’s digital revenues could be roughly calculated by multiplying its subscribers with its subscription price — a level of transparency Mitchell added could not be expected of Fairfax. Mitchell also blasted Fairfax for chasing young audiences by publishing writers like Clementine Ford and “reverse-publishing Twitter”, while telling advertisers its metropolitian papers were read by wealthy “A-B” audiences.

Hywood responds by saying that unlike The Australian, Fairfax “has never stopped making profits on all its mastheads — in print or digital”.

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2 thoughts on “Fairfax chief hits back at News: ‘ignore all the self-serving nonsense’

  1. klewso

    What do you expect, after US Citizen Murdoch tells us “The bludger should never be our national icon” : the amount of “News Corpse Share-holder Welfare” The Oz soaks up?
    When it comes to Limited News, take out the double glazed standards, wouldn’t the place fall down?

  2. Angelo Caon

    Chris Mitchell referring to a rival news group as ‘very sensitive’. That gave me a laugh. Is he even vaguely aware of the overwrought defensive articles his newspaper indulges in?