Under the new Nine regime for Fairfax Media, The Canberra Times will move back into Fairfax’s community media division and away from bigger mastheads The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Australian Financial Review. Staff were told yesterday the decision was made by Nine (Fairfax’s new owner), and weren’t given an in-depth explanation as to why Canberra’s daily newspaper was moving back to a group with regional, community and New Zealand publications.
In the past year, The Canberra Times has shared copy with the Herald and The Age, its website underwent the same format redesign and the papers used the same programs. Now, the paper will move across to the controversial NewsNow system used in the regional network, which went hand-in-hand with widespread job cuts, particularly on production desks.
A Fairfax spokesman told Crikey that the change was not a cost-cutting measure. “It has been determined that the best place for The Canberra Times is ACM and accordingly the business will be realigned with that group’s product and tech strategy and editorial approach,” he said. “While ways of working will be different, we expect current staffing levels to remain largely as is. The Canberra Times remains 100% focused on serving its community with the very best local journalism.”
The move, though, has again raised the question of Nine’s intention for some of the Fairfax assets. The regional papers and the New Zealand business — which recently failed in its bid to merge with another media company NZME — have both been raised as possibilities for sale once the takeover was complete. Moving The Canberra Times to this group, which also includes the print assets, could make it more attractive to buyers.
News Corp is the only obvious buyer, and that faces considerable competition barriers. A merger of Fairfax’s papers with News Corp’s community and local papers, and perhaps ASX listing is one option. Talks were held with News earlier in the year but went nowhere. The other major papers in the community media group are the Newcastle Herald and the Illawarra Mercury. Adding the Times would make that group more attractive, but its absence from the Metro Media group will weakens the paper itself, given it’s the only daily paper in the nation’s capital and was linked to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Fairfax’s spokesman said the decision to move The Canberra Times to metro had been made before the merge, “which is nearing completion and will result in new priorities for the Metro business to focus on as part of an enlarged Nine publishing group.”
He did not respond to Crikey’s question as to whether it was part of a strategy to sell off Fairfax assets in that group.
Nine announced to staff yesterday that 144 jobs would go under the $3 billion takeover plan (but didn’t announce it to the ASX). Most of the changes were announced in the takeover documentation released in October.
The metropolitan papers will sit in Nine’s Publishing division which will be led by Fairfax executive Chris Janz and will also include Nine’s websites and events division.