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Crikey to go on journalist hiring spree thanks to funding infusion from Fairfax and O’Reilly

Private Media is creating a new team of journalists backed by shareholders John B Fairfax and Cameron O’Reilly, as part of a major investment in ‘inquiry journalism’.

The new team, which will include approximately a dozen reporters and an editor, will sit within Private Media’s subscription digital newsletter and website, Crikey.

The new team will sit within Crikey

Private Media chairman and editor-in-chief, Eric Beecher, told Mumbrella the business has been working with its major shareholders, Fairfax and O’Reilly, for the last couple of years, to find the best model for funding quality journalism in Australia.

“Four or five months ago, we went on a trip for a few weeks to look at interesting media models and some of the older established media models, mainly in the US, but we also went to the UK and France. That gave us some really interesting insights – in a very granular, detailed way, to what kind of things are and aren’t working,” Beecher told Mumbrella.

“We came back and we spent a few months cogitating based on what we’d seen and came to the view that we already have, in Private Media, a successful subscription model in Crikey. It’s been growing quite a lot in the last six to nine months. It’s clear to us, and this is not original, but it’s clear that if you can make a subscription funding model work for journalism, it’s the perfect model, because people are paying for the content and it’s incredibly measurable, and you can grow it based on the level of subscriber revenue.”

Beecher would not provide a monetary figure as to the size of investment in the team, but re-iterated the team would involve a dozen more full time reporters. He said the initiative would involve increased coverage on politics, media, business, social issues, justice and corruption. But he said the team would be open-minded on other areas to look into and the way they cover news.

“The beauty of the subscription model is you can measure at any point in the day, week, or month, whether or not it is working, what stories resonate and generate subscriptions, not just traffic.

“We think it’s a very symbiotic relationship between quality of the journalism, the relevance of the journalism and also the commercial outcome of that,” he said.

The initiative is expected to launch in April. 

Private Media investor Fairfax, whose family started and were once the controlling shareholders in Fairfax Media, said the best way of ensuring quality journalism continues to exist is finding a financially viable model.

Eric Beecher said the two shareholders were incredibly supportive of Private Media

“Eric Beecher and the team at Private Media have had success in building successful digital news businesses and I feel confident backing them to develop a growing enterprise around investigative journalism,” Fairfax said.

O’Reilly, whose family controlled global media company Independent News and Media, added he was delighted to support Beecher and the team in reinvigorating investigative journalism.

“Independent journalism is a critical ingredient of a proper functioning democracy, but it is being undermined commercially and politically on a global level,” O’Reilly said.

The announcement comes at a pivotal point in the Australia media landscape, with journalists at digital publishers BuzzFeed and Vice facing redundancy, and the merger of Nine and what was once Fairfax Media.

Beecher said Private Media’s Australian ownership is crucial.

“Our decisions are not made in some head office in New York or London. We saw that with what’s happened over the last couple of weeks, with decisions that were made in completely different countries, for completely different reasons, have quite a major impact on our journalism ecosystem. It gives us focus and a singular passion for the journalism we do, because that’s all we do.”

Beecher said the hiring process is now underway, but noted the publisher will not necessarily look for traditional journalists to fill the roles: “We are really trying to encourage all kinds of talent from all kinds of places, and sometimes not even from journalism, if they can convince us they are the right people.”

Private Media’s announcement follows the creation of a $100m journalism fund by Sydney philanthropist Judith Neilson late last year.

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