Axed Fairfax journalist Michael West to launch own investigative journalism website


West: The Fairfax strategy is clearly a clickbait one

Former Sydney Morning Herald investigative business journalist Michael West has signalled an intention to go out on his own, publishing investigative pieces on his own website which is set to launch after the Federal election.

West was one of an estimated 30 forced redundancies made by Fairfax Media this month, which saw the likes of AFR media editor Dominic White, economics editor Alan Mitchell, international editor Tony Walker, cartoonist Rod Clement and property editor and associate editor Robert Harley depart the publishing company.

At the time, West tweeted: “Last day today. Told my skill-set not aligned with Fairfax strategy going forward. ”.

Speaking with Mumbrella, West described the situation at Fairfax as “grim”, suggesting the publisher is clearly going down a click-bait strategy.

“The strategy appears to be “costs out” while, content-wise it’s quite clear that the strategy is a clickbait one. It might have worked in getting a big audience but it is undermining the long-term value of the mastheads and of the journalism,” he said.

“Essentially what’s happened with my redundancy is management caved in, they no longer backed me. As far as I’m concerned the outcry on Twitter was not because of me but because of what I represent: someone willing to have a go and try to tell the truth and stand up and tell truth to power, which is what, as journalists, we’re meant to do.

“The fuss about my departure, it wasn’t me so much, but what I represent. A lot of people felt ‘where is the commitment to journalism’?” West said.

“Clearly managers are going to come under pressure when you go up against a big corporate entity, especially when that entity is an advertiser. There’s going to be pressure, but in the old days, when I was an editor, we’d stand up against that pressure and say ‘if they go, I go’.

“The bosses are on KPIs where they benefit personally and financially by sacking their own staff. Their KPIs are short-term – you might get the share price up a few cents and you might get the cost base down a little – but in the longer-term it’s a fast path to oblivion.

“It’s very sad for the public interest. There’s some still very fine journalists at Fairfax but the management isn’t very crash hot,” he added.

On his redundancy, West said Fairfax had “unwittingly” done him a favour.

“When I posted #sacked on Twitter it looked like a terrible situation but by that evening the calls had already started to come in.  The support was really good, it just showed there was some interest out there in journalism,” he said.

On launching his own website, West said he “didn’t want to fade away into corporate PR”.

“I wanted to continue to fight and to work in the public interest. Fairfax has unwittingly done me a favour – although they haven’t done a favour for their readers.

Michael West website“Suffice it to say, I’ll be committed to doing investigative journalism and continuing to work with my very good contacts and the public to deliver stories that are in the public interest.”

On his new independent venture, West said the website, which is yet to settle upon a funding model, will provide readers with a mixture of contributor content and content written by West himself.

“The business model isn’t settled yet. I’ve had interest from various funders and other parties wanting to do a joint-venture. I’ve had really good interest,” he said.

“There’ll be contributors and research joint-ventures and hopefully big scoops.”

West has not ruled out an advertising-based funding model.

“Ad funding on its own, unless you have massive traffic, it’s hard to make a reasonable living. That may not be viable but I’m not ruling it out.”


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