One of Australia’s most storied media brands spent over six weeks not publishing a thing, as its sole journalist took some time off and Fairfax didn’t assign anyone to cover him.

For decades, BRW charted the rise and fall of Australia’s business entrepreneurs, partly through its annual Rich List, but also through its weekly investigations into the Australian business world, conducted by a large staff of highly specialised journalists. BRW, founded by Robert Gottliebsen in 1981, is no longer a magazine, after Fairfax axed the print product in late 2013 (soon after turning down an offer from former publisher Amanda Gome to buy it from Fairfax). But the publication lives on through a website and email newsletter.

But in the two years since, it has slowly lost resources and staff. Now it’s down to just one — editor Michael Bailey, who took leave over the Christmas break and was not replaced during his absence. Since October 2015, when former deputy editor Caitlin Fitzsimmons was moved to edit the SMH/Age Money section, he’s been solely responsible for the website. Fairfax leadership columnist Fiona Smith hasn’t been published on BRW website since November, though she has been writing for the Financial Review this year.

It appears Bailey has returned, with the website this week running a piece on Rich Lister Patrick Grove on Tuesday. Two more pieces appeared yesterday. But during Bailey’s absence, BRW was entirely silent. Even Forbes’ decision to no longer rank Gina Rinehart as Australia’s richest person — a topic that would once have prompted expert coverage within BRW, home of the Rich List — passed without comment on the website, even though other parts of Fairfax covered it.

BRW‘s position within the broader Fairfax business media empire appears increasingly marginal. Jen Marshall, who was previously the product manager for BRW as well as the AFR‘s website, left Fairfax last month, according to her LinkedIn profile. And BRW is no longer directly responsible for the BRW Rich List. Though the list is still housed on BRW’s website, for the past two years it’s been published in print as part of the AFR Magazine. The Rich List used to bring in hundreds of thousands worth of print ad money to BRW, but that now goes to the Fin. BRW‘s staff don’t even write the Rich List anymore — last year it was overseen and largely written by AFR sports business reporter, John Stensholt (who used to edit the BRW Rich List when BRW was a print product).

So, BRW is no longer responsible for its most famous journalistic endeavour, and is staffed with a single journalist. Since being made a digital-only product, it has had some success. It now has 48,000 Facebook followers — 15,000 more than the Financial Review. It’s a sign both of BRW’s strong brand within the entrepreneurial community and of the efforts of its small team to build a strong digital future for the brand in the years since the magazine was axed.

But a lack of resourcing make its future increasingly uncertain. Fairfax could give BRW another journalist to keep it humming. Otherwise, one option is to roll it into the Financial Review — the Fin is already littered with BRW cast-offs and pulls BRW content into its Enterprise section (though editorially one could argue BRW has more in common with the SMH/Age aspirational business sections than it does with the Fin’s). Or Fairfax could sell it, but surely if it intended to do so it would have done so when Gome came knocking in 2013.

Crikey approached Fairfax for comment.

Peter Fray

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