The downward spiral in the Australian legacy media shows no sign of ending. Another 40 jobs were yesterday announced as going from Bruce Gordon’s WIN regional TV network, while shares in struggling Seven West Media dipped to new lows.

At the same time, News Corp revealed it was assessing the future of its A$1.2 billion-a-year News America Marketing (NAM) coupon and inserts business in the US and Canada. A sale is very possible and would likely raise hundreds of millions of dollars, which could be used to help recapitalise Foxtel.

This year is turning out to be a miserable one for both legacy and online Australian journalism — and the problems are just not in regional media, as reports in Fairfax/Nine newspapers have tried to suggest. It is through all forms of media with the cuts at WIN merely the latest.

WIN’s problems have been compounded by it being the regional affiliate of the still struggling US-owned Ten Network. WIN has been cutting its services now for several years — even when it was the regional affiliate of Nine. Yesterday it joined the growing 2019 list of employers axing staff. WIN called staff to meetings yesterday and revealed plans to shut five newsrooms by June 28 and get rid of between 35 and 40 full-time and casual staff.

The newsrooms WIN will close include Orange, Dubbo and Albury in New South Wales, and Queensland’s Wide Bay (which covers Hervey Bay and Bundaberg) which produce weekday bulletins for the network. These moves will raise alarm for Liberal and National Party politicians, all the newsrooms are in seats held by those parties at either the state or federal level. This was after WIN moved its Tasmanian news bulletin to its Wollongong HQ last year, cutting staff from 18 to nine. The news comes three weeks after Gordon’s private company Birketu sold most of its stake in Prime Media Group, Seven’s regional TV affiliate, and took a $6.9 million loss in a transaction in which he moved his shares into a bigger holding in Prime.

WIN is the worst-performing regional TV network, well behind the very dominant Seven, which controls 40% of the regional market across the country each night. Southern Cross comes in second and is Nine’s regional affiliate, having replaced WIN in that position. The shuffle came after WIN moved to become the largest shareholder in Nine, a position it has maintained in the wake of the takeover of Fairfax Media late last year. WIN runs a distant third or fourth (behind the ABC) on some nights.

The 35 to 40 staff going at WIN come on top of the 60+ journalists made redundant or quitting News Corp in the past month, 35 to 70 going at the Your Money TV channel started by Sky News and Nine (News claimed a net 35 people would be retained, but that has not been confirmed and most of the production, website and on-air staff on the channel have gone or are going). BuzzFeed sacked 11 staff in January. Bauer, the magazine publisher, has cut at least a dozen staff this year.

A total of 32 staff went at Seven West Media’s newspapers in Perth — mostly at The West Australian. Once the country’s second-biggest TV company by market value, Seven’s shares closed at 47 cents yesterday, its lowest close ever after hitting an all-time bottom of 46 cents. This weakness has been due to fund managers selling shares because of the departure from the ASX 200 on Friday. In addition to the Perth cuts, Seven Network and its Pacific Magazines arm have cut an unknown number of positions as part of its $40 million in cuts across the group this year. As Seven’s shares were sliding on Wednesday, Seven West announced the new paywall structure for its West Newspaper business. That will be too late to help staunch the slide in revenues.

The announcement from News Corp about NAM was notable because it revealed very rare plans by the Murdochs’ second company to sell an asset. News Corp rarely sells a business. News America’s revenues are falling — down 7% in the nine months to March 31 to $US647 million as the number of home delivered coupons and catalogues fell (as they are falling around the world).

Analysts say the money raised from a sale of NAM could be used to recapitalise Foxtel. News Corp has already lent Foxtel A$300 million to repay a loan. A further A$201 million was due on May 30. There’s been no word on who made the payment. Foxtel has another $620 million in debt repayments next year so the NAM money would come in handy.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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