“Hello, I’m from Crikey” is probably not the best way to introduce yourself to the chief executive of News Corp, Julian Clarke, the day after his company had starred on these pages. Clarke, a 30-year veteran of the company, had just been on a panel of newspaper CEOs at the 2014 Future Forum industry conference, put on by newspaper body Newspaper Works.
Clarke, Fairfax head Greg Hywood, APN News and Media head Michael Miller and West Australian Newspapers boss Chris Wharton had all been discussing the future of newspapers. (So we had four white, middle-aged men talking about the future of an industry with an uncertain outlook — can we spot the problem? According to my fellow tweeters, there are only three female speakers during the two-day conference.)
First question from MC Russel Howcroft was to Clarke, asking him about the Crikey stories. Clarke, a youthful 74, appeared unconcerned. “I’m not too worried about what was published yesterday,” he said, adding that “yesterday was a very interesting day”.
He repeated his statements from yesterday, saying that the documents were 14 months old and that things had been improving in the current financial year. Although no one could be in any doubt about the “headwinds” newspapers were facing, he said, all the “trend lines” he was responsible for were going up.
Afterwards, at an impromptu doorstop, I told Clarke I was from Crikey and he said he was going to take away my notebook, which he did! I said he was welcome to it, I’d bought it from Officeworks, and he could keep it. As there were three other journos standing there, he handed it back with a rather unconvincing laugh.
I asked him about the future of The Australian newspaper and how long the rest of the empire would continue to subsidise the loss-making publication. The Oz was a superb asset, he said, and any company would be proud to own it. But what about the shareholders, I asked. Are they happy to support continuous losses? His answer was emphatically positive — of course they would.
The figures published by Crikey were out of date, he repeated to our small group of journalists. So could he possibly enlighten us by publishing more up-to-date figures, I asked? The answer was no. As the CEO of a publicly listed company, did he feel that News Corp had fully complied with its continuous disclosure obligations to the Australian Stock Exchange, I asked. Yes, of course it had, he said, before deciding he’d had enough.