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Power, Influence and Deep Pockets: The Rise and Fall of Media Empire

Despite it being such a sunny, warm winter afternoon, a slight chill descended in the air when it came to discuss the future of the world of the news.

Three veteran journalists gathered in the festival’s Macquarie Marquee to discuss the history of Australian media, and the influence these media empires have had, and will have, in Australian journalism and politics.

The panel consisted of David Marr, Collen Ryan and Christopher Warren with Edna Carew on the chair; all of whom are accomplished journalists who were direct witnesses of the rise and fall of Australian media empires in real time.

Edna Carew and David Marr

Edna Carew and David Marr discussing media empires. Photo: Greg Saunders

“A family run media-empire gives some stability in terms of running a business,” former Fairfax journalist, David Marr said, after being asked about the importance of stable ownership and referring to his former employers.

“But stability alone does not ensure protection. The thing about these family-owned media empires [is] that often when the capital only concentrates on one member, it will result to some kind of inter-family rivalry.”

They then discussed the time Warwick Fairfax made an attempt to takeover Fairfax Media in 1987.

“It was going to be a disaster,” said Christopher Warren calmly, who is the current federal secretary of the Media, Entertainments & Arts Alliance (MEAA), the union representing journalists.

“Warwick’s attempt at privatizing Fairfax media is an exemplifier of David’s point about the dissipation of families within the Media Empire, and it quite literally came with a huge cost.”

After brief exchange of comments and debates, the panel then moved onto talk about the big take-over of online journalism, and how people are not buying print copies anymore.

Colleen Ryan and Christopher Warren

Colleen Ryan and Christopher Warren discuss Fairfax Media’s falling share price. Photo: Greg Saunders

“I am one of those old-fashioned people who believes people should pay to read my work,” Marr lamented, although tongue-in-cheek.

“You people out there are not buying enough newspapers!”

The panel conceded that the adjustment from analog to digital have proven to be difficult and ultimately resulted in big loss in revenues. They have all agreed these news empires may need to come up with a new, more effective model.

“Functions like the paywall isn’t working as well as it should be,” says Marr.

“To this day, news outlets still rely heavily on advertisement for revenues. The only problem is people just simply don’t like ads, and there are now ways to go around it on the net.”

Since most of its ad revenue have moved online, Fairfax Media has lost its market leadership, which had resulted in a significant fall in share.

“Fairfax almost destroyed its revenue base doing this,” Colleen Ryan, a former Fairfax journalist herself, expressed her concerns.

“[The share] has fallen to less than 10 per cent of their peak of more than $6. One of the biggest problems was that these print journalists and advertising execs were oblivious to the potential outcome of shift in platform.”

The panel warns that should the drop of revenue which would then result in further cut backs of jobs continue, this will mean the decline in media empires.

So what will this mean for aspiring journalists in Australia? Given the sheer volatility of the world of news, it seems like the future of traditional journalism and family ran media empires remain unclear for a while.

But in the meantime, it certainly made for a riveting discussion.

Aki Shindo is a Bachelor of Media student at Southern Cross University.

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