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No regrets, but print closures will hurt News Corp’s Miller – and Australian media

It was a pitch strong enough to enthuse Lachlan Murdoch, a friend of Mr Miller who at 22 was named general manager of the Queensland newspapers and had a long affiliation with the market.

But the idea was detested by others, including co-head of News Corp at the time, Peter Tonagh, and global chief financial officer Susan Panuccio, who rejected it on the basis that it would lose the company a lot of money.

This week’s restructuring was predictable. It was foreshadowed by this masthead in April when it reported News Corp had hired Deloitte to work on a restructure. Back in 2012, when former News Corp CEO Kim Williams attempted to centralise the company’s operations with the help of consultants, he was removed from his job. How things have changed.

Within two years of the APN acquisition the value of the newspapers it acquired had been written down substantially. Subsequently, Mr Miller and key executives have invested time and money into developing a strategy for the titles to make them less reliant on print advertising revenue.

Eales in 2018 told trade press website Mumbrella that it was working – people in regional and local communities who had previously received newspapers for free were “increasingly willing” to pay for a subscription. “Local content is unique because you can’t get it from anywhere else – no-one else is dedicating resources to reporting on local crime, council, transport or lifestyle at a grassroots level in the way local titles do,” he said at the time.

Even now, after multiple attempts to sell the regional publishing division, Mr Miller is adamant that this strategy has worked. “Damian the futurist, he is right,” Mr Miller said on Thursday. “He has backed it and what we’ve seen is that people do subscribe for the issues that are most important to them.”

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But while the restructure will inevitably relieve some of the financial pressure News Corp is facing, it will come at a price for Australia’s media landscape.

Derek Wilding, co-director of UTS’ Centre for Media Transition, said last week that closures, particularly of regional papers, would cause more problems for the industry.

“One is that there is a risk to diversity in the sense that in terms of numbers there are fewer providers of Australian news,” Mr Wilding said.

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