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



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