Thursday, June 5

Newspaper bosses put aside their rivalry

Newspaper cutting shows Hartigan interview newspaper cutting with david kirk interview Above: Sydney Morning Herald Media
section leads on an interview with
John Hartigan, chairman and chief
executive of News Limited.
Right: Harto returns the favour
as The Australian's Media section
runs with Fairfax boss David Kirk

Has it ever happened before? Usually rivals in Australia's fiercely competitive newspaper market, News Limited chief John Hartigan and Fairfax chief executive David Kird today gave one another the platform spots in their flagship newspapers.

They have stood together before, notably in their campaign for better freedom-of-information laws, but this seems to be the first time they have swapped prominant interviews for their respective papers.

They were saying the same thing, however – reports of the decline of Australian newspapers have been grossly exaggerated.

For Harto, this appeared to contradict his boss, News Corporation head Rupert Murdoch. But he made it clear Murdoch was talking about US newspapers. As the SMH report said:

At a digital conference in California this week, Mr Murdoch said that the financial pressures on US newspapers would see them "deteriorate tremendously" and profit margins would shrink from 30 per cent to 10 per cent. The circulation figures for the March quarter in the US support his
gloomy view.

Circulation of all but two of the top 25 flagship mastheads in the US fell over the quarter, including the Dallas Morning News, down 10.6 per cent, Boston Globe (-8.3 per cent), Los Angeles Times (-5.1 per cent), Chicago tribune (-4.4 per cent) and the New York Times (-3.9 per cent).

Mr Hartigan predicted the Australian sector would not follow suit and said that Australian investment analysts who said otherwise were wrong.

"By and large [US newspapers] are very, very different," he said. "There are some telltale things coming home to roost in that market. One is they have stopped investing in their brands.

"They have chopped their newsrooms to pieces and a lot of the papers are very old-fashioned – they don't have any real personality, depth or empathy with their readers. And they have not invested in plant to be able to do things that show the medium in a modern role."

Both Hartigan and Kirk were speaking about the release of the report Newspapers Today, put out by The Newspaper Works, the peak industry organisation created by Australia's main publishers 15 months ago. The report said people were still engaging with Australian newspapers because they are absorbing, dynamic and reputable.

Read Hartigan's words from the SMH and Kirk's words from The Australian. You might like to check out The Newspaper Works, with its links to the study released today.

Also of interest: In the SMH interview, Hartigan confirmed The Australian would move to a smaller format when it sorted out the problems of co-ordinating its production on News Limited's different presses around the nation.