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Retiring Chris Mitchell expects The Australian to be ‘back to the black’ by end of financial year

ChrisMitchell-234x156Outgoing editor of News Corp’s The Australian Chris Mitchell expects the national broadsheet to “be back to the black by the end of this financial year” however he does not believe that challenges are over for the wider print media industry.

The statement comes after it was revealed last year the newspaper had not turned a profit since the global financial crisis in 2008.

Speaking to ABC’s Radio National Media Report program on the eve of his last day in the editor’s chair at The Australian, Mitchell said: “Our revenue over the last two years has recovered quite dramatically. We’ve improved our commercial team under Nicholas Gray.

“We’re up about $32m a year in revenue so the total revenue for the paper is $130m this year, we can make a viable business out of $130m.

“Obviously my editorial costs are high. It’s an old-fashioned newspaper with a very large staff so it’s not going to be hugely profitable.

“I think we can be back to the black by the end of this financial year. What we’ve done – these 80,000 paying full freight for digital have helped offset about half of what we’ve lost in job classifieds.”

Mitchell’s retirement starts tomorrow, with Daily Telegraph editor Paul Whittaker taking on the mantle for the national broadsheet.

Mitchell expects troubles to continue for the rest of the print media, suggesting two newspapers in Sydney and Melbourne cannot last.

“The Fin Review will probably be ok,” he said. “But I’m not sure that we’ll end up with two papers in Sydney and Melbourne. I think you’ll find there’s only one survivor in each of them.

“Even the regionals are struggling. There where times when the Gold Coast Bulli, when I was at Queensland newspapers, it was making $50m a year, it was more profitable than the Daily Telegraph here in Sydney. Those times are well and truly gone. There’s quite a bit of change left for the print media.”

News Corp publishes Herald Sun in Melbourne and The Daily Telegraph in Sydney while Fairfax Media has The Age in Melbourne and Sydney Morning Herald in Sydney.

According to the most recent Audit Bureau of Circulation figures, The Age has a Monday to Friday print circulation of 97,014 behind the Herald Sun’s circulation of 335,235 and The Sydney Morning Herald has a Monday to Friday circulation of 104,833 behind The Daily Telegraph’s circulation of 251,710.

Commenting on The Australian’s circulation – 101,040 Monday to Friday and 73,118 digital subscriptions – Mitchell said: “The paper has been pretty successful. I know if you look at our circulation during my period it’s held on considerably better then everyone else’s and our readers are a lot more loyal then everyone else’s readers.

“We also built a large digital business. I’ve got close on 80,000 people paying $6 going on $8 a week. It’s probably the most successful digital enterprise in Australia at the moment in so far as consumer revenue goes.”

Moving onto the role of social media in the modern media landscape, Mitchell said its made debate worse however conceded it was “a wonderful marketing tool for journalists”.

“Twitter has made the entire debate worse as far as the left and the right shouting at each other. It seems to me, particularly in politics, Twitter is very much the home of the angry left,” he said.

“People like Van Badam are squarely in the middle of the sort of Twitter town square and I’m not absolutely certain it’s been good for the quality of debate. I do think it’s a wonderful marketing tool for journalists.

“Even just as a marketing tool, if I decide something is a very strong piece for our readers, it might even be an editorial rather then a news story, I get on to the digital team and I saw I want everyone to tweet the hell out of it and I want the paper’s account to tweet it, I can lift a story to number one on the site pretty much within an hour, just on Twitter.”

News Corp co-chairman Rupert Murdoch

News Corp co-chairman Rupert Murdoch

When questioned on the power of Rupert Murdoch tweeting on a topic – the media mogul had more than 650,000 Twitter followers – Mitchell admitted audiences do “attribute the paper’s motives to some tweet Rupert Murdoch has put out”.

“What I’d say about this question to the extent of how our paper reflects Rupert’s views – Rupert’s first front page on the 14th of July 1964 had a pretty firm mission statement. It’s about making Australia a more powerful and prosperous place, expanding its role in the region, being confident and outward looking, advocating for positions that will increase the prosperity of Australians,” he said.

“So people will often say your paper has an agenda, and yes it does, quite an overt agenda. It goes back through multiple generations of editors.

“We’ve always campaigned for industrial relations reform because we’ve always believed its better for national prosperity. That’s been in our DNA since the 1970s. Similarly people can say the paper can be very conservative. Well the mission statement on page 1 and 64 says the paper stands for no political party.

“If you look carefully at the last years of the Howard government, while some people at Fairfax might have been going after John Howard on boat people, we went after Howard on welfare churn and the Australian Wheat Board story.

“If you look at Tony Abbott’s recent decline – Tony would say that the most damaging reporting for him wasn’t the shouting at him from the left media, it was things that people like Nicky Savva wrote where the government was going wrong.”

Mitchell said campaigning on an issue is required “to maintain an audience”.

“It’s been too easy to imagine if you just do the same thing day in, day out, the audience will come. In a very crowded media marketplace, you have to be more relevant and more noticed to keep people buying you,” he said.

For Mitchell his focus during his time as editor-in-chief was on breaking stories and exclusive news.

“So I get bagged all the time for the red exclusives. But it’s quite a deliberate strategy, it’s a strategy that says to digital buyers you can only get this here and if you think news is important to your business or to your daily life and you’re prepared to pay for it, we’re giving it to you,” he said.

“Whereas much of the news say for instance on smh.com is pretty indistinguishable from the news on dailytelegraph.com. or Ninemsn or news.com or Yahoo news whereas the Oz is a completely different proposition. Our positions are taken to sharpen the differences between us and everybody else.”

Mitchell will continue to work with The Australian, writing a media column for the paper’s media section and is currently working on a book.

“I’ll be an attentive employee of the Oz and try and do the right thing by the media editor. I’ve got a couple of books to write,” he said.

Miranda Ward

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