Don’t forget Fairfax’s journalism

July was not a good month to be working at Fairfax.

Extensive coverage of the publication of the books Killing Fairfax and Fairfax: The Rise and Fall gave the impression (probably rightly) that buffoons spent a long time at the helm.

The Australian – owned by rival News Corp – piled in, suggesting (probably wrongly) that the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age are set to drop their weekday print editions any moment now.

August though, has started better, reminding us why Fairfax has endured (for 182 years, as boss Greg Hywood reminded the world this week). Opening the August 1 edition of The SMH illustrates why the fate of Fairfax matters.

smh front page labors shameIt’s one of the great days in the newspaper’s history, an edition to keep in a drawer somewhere as a souvenir. Certainly, I’m going to.

I refer, of course, to the vindication of one of the greatest pieces of campaigning, investigative journalism Australia has seen in recent years – the Kate McClymont-led exposure of corruption at the highest levels of NSW government.

It took the resource, culture and persistence that only an old school newspaper business model could have delivered.

And while it may yet happen in the future, I cannot think of a single, serious example of a new media business model delivering a similar piece of public service journalism with similar importance and impact. (I leave Wikileaks out of the debate because I’m not sure it counts as having a business model.)

In chasing and debating the story of Fairfax’s decline, it’s sometimes too easy to forget what should be an obvious fact: the company’s journalism makes Australia a better place.

Tim Burrowes


  1. David Gravina
    2 Aug 13
    8:51 am

  2. I do agree Tim that this was exceptional journalism and a great result. But overall i think it’s hard not to despair at the rapid decline of quality journalism at the smh. Obviously one article a trashy tabloid does not make, but this article today i thin k is indicative f the direction the smh has been heading in and shows just how light and fluffy it’s becoming :

    An article on the unseasonably early spring (we’ve had three records breakers in the past decade btw) and just one small mention of global warming. Plenty of talk of how nice the warm weather is, how the ski fields might struggle and which pretty flowers to look out for. Ohh and if you like cold weather get out and enjoy it while you can. (WTF?!)

    And this from their carbon economy editor.

  3. Robbo
    2 Aug 13
    1:22 pm

  4. Yes, agree – a good example, Tim.
    But there are many more examples of poor material that Fairfax dishes up every single day, in every single edition.
    They have virtually become a paid alternative to the ABC. Why would you pay?

  5. Llew
    2 Aug 13
    2:24 pm

  6. The company’s journalism may make Australia a better place, true, but very little of what they do these days can honestly be called journalism.

  7. Renai LeMay
    2 Aug 13
    2:55 pm

  8. I believe this article might have been more appropriately titled “Don’t forget Kate McClymont’s journalism” 😉

  9. Daniel Sabolcki
    2 Aug 13
    3:02 pm

  10. The Queensland flood investigation by the oz was another pretty good example of investigative excellence in my opinion

  11. Buffoon Rich Environment
    2 Aug 13
    5:12 pm

  12. “….that buffoons spent a long time at the helm….”
    Yes sir indeedie, there were many buffoons at the helm, and more spread across both the senior and middle ranks.
    And, as if Fairfax did not have enough of its own home-grown buffoons, I watched as they imported a sizeable contingent from Rural Press – Brian McCarthy being the top act. But others were equally culpable. Watching from the lowest rungs (and being treated with palpable contempt for years), somehow the knowledge that I was right ( in my frustration at the dumbass decisions and management edicts) and “management” really were oh-so-terribly, tragically wrong, gives no satisfaction at all…….

  13. Latte Lover
    3 Aug 13
    12:06 am

  14. Outstanding Tim.

  15. ex-Fairfaxer
    4 Aug 13
    12:26 am

  16. Fairfax paid for upsetting Labour back in Keating’s day. The fact that Kate lasted long enough to at least nail the Obeid tentacle says much for her tenacity and not much for anyone else. A good look at Collen Ryan’s book reveals quite a lot about how Fairfax and Obeid got to where they are and there are coincidences that bear recall.
    Hywood spends his time skiing with people who “hate” the company for its reporting.

  17. Tired of spin
    4 Aug 13
    8:52 pm

  18. You’d think from the typical media “commentary” that James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch had demonstrated genius while the dills at Fairfax missed the big trend that everyone in the industry had grabbed with gusto and so on. You’d think that Rupert Murdoch was a digital guru, up there with Sergei Brin.
    There is no doubt that the Fairfax board has been pathetic in allowing its journalism to slide over many years to its present state, which is nevertheless still a grade above Murdoch’s best and a million miles above the Courier Mail or The Advertiser.
    Whoever wears the pants in Fairfaxland needs to boot the board and most of the management and find some people who know about running good journalism on a tight budget.
    There is no one who can demonstrate yet that the old biz can be recreated but you’d have to bet on the idea that lots of people will pay good money for someone to trust to tell them what Murdoch, Packer, Obeid, etc are actually up to.
    Fairfax needs a gutsy publisher who can add up. The current mob are all spin, wasting huge sums on dopey confections and half baked cost cuts.

  19. OtherAndrew
    5 Aug 13
    9:12 am

  20. I agree Tim – which is why I’m going to pay for it by way of a digital subscription (I just haven’t got around to it yet).

    I have recently instigated a ‘book a week’ policy here in the office, whereby I will purchase one physical book per week for my team to read. My rationale is that physically published items are curated because someone is willing to put money into them, whereas every joe can publish a blog (and does).

    On the mix of brilliant (ref: above example) and crappy Fairfax journalism, unfortunately they respond to the audience – click on a low-brow article about the latest would-be celebrity’s scandalous behaviour over the weekend, and you’re guilty for telling the data machine that people want to see more of it.

    “We may not get the journalism we want, but we will get the journalism we deserve…”

  21. Nic Halley
    7 Aug 13
    11:27 am

  22. nice piece Tim, i concur