Dr Mumbo

‘We’re not dead yet,’ groans the Sydney Morning Herald

Doctor Mumbo always appreciates a good Monty Python impersonation so last night he was delighted to receive one from Sydney Morning Herald editor, Lisa Davies.

In her email explaining the SMH is far from defunct under the Nine-Fairfax merger, Lisa did a wonderful version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s ‘Bring Out Your Dead’ skit.

The email;

Mark Twain was famously miffed about reports of his death being greatly exaggerated, but he might have felt better reading reports over the last few decades about the Herald’s parent company, Fairfax Media.

The most recent round began less than a week ago, with the announcement that Fairfax would seek shareholder approval to merge with the Nine television network. This move, unanimously endorsed by the boards of both companies, means the country’s most respected and enduring mastheads including the Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review, stand to become key assets of the country’s biggest cross-media company.

While nobody is under any illusions at the significance of the proposal and how it could change the media landscape, last Thursday was absolutely not – as at least one of our competitors tried to claim – “the day Fairfax died”. Rather, on a basic level, it is a reasonably straightforward ownership change of the company, designed to allow greater investment in journalism, greater scale to appeal to advertisers and increased opportunity for growth. The proposed Nine company will remain independent, answerable to its shareholders.
Many have bemoaned the looming loss of the Fairfax name from Australia publishing as the regrettable end of an era, but such nostalgia should not be exaggerated. After all, the quality, independent journalism many argue is invoked by the Fairfax family name was actually infused in the mastheads directly long ago. Readers don’t identify with a Fairfax story – it’s the mastheads like the Herald that simultaneously give consumers the story and the history, strength and power of those publishing it. Indeed, no member of the Fairfax family has controlled the company close to 30 years, after young Warwick Fairfax’s brief and disastrous tenure at the helm left it in the hands of receivers.

While our competitors have predictably jumped in to fuel uncertainty and speculate wildly about the future of our journalism, it’s important to note that we are in a strong position both editorially and commercially. We have had more than a year of stability in the newsrooms without cost-cutting, and have been entering a phase of consolidation and growth. We continue to produce more game-changing journalism than ever before, as evidenced by our unparalleled recognition at last year’s Walkley Awards. Our newsrooms pack a bigger punch than ever before, as we focus on uncovering the news that matters most to our valued readers.

Our charter of editorial independence ensures that journalists “must record the affairs of the city, state, nation and the world fairly, fully and regardless of any commercial, political or personal interests, including those of any proprietors, shareholders or board members” and “that full editorial control of the newspapers, within a negotiated, fixed budget, be vested with the editors of the papers”.

That has always been a non-negotiable. It is part of the newsroom’s DNA and it will continue to be under any new owners. It was more than encouraging to see the Nine chief executive, Hugh Marks, pledge to sign up to this charter immediately.

The Herald is Australia’s oldest continuously published masthead and is today the most-read masthead in the country across both digital and print. As part of a $4 billion company with rich assets across television (Nine), radio (Macquarie Radio), property (Domain) and streaming services (Stan) we expect to have greater reach across the country and bring our unique and valuable brand of journalism to more consumers.

There’s no doubt these are interesting, and uncertain times, but I am as confident as ever that the Herald’s 187-year publishing history is far from dead – it may even just get a new lease on life.

In the words of the Herald’s chief political correspondent, David Crowe: “The way the competition wishes us dead just makes me more inclined to keep kicking, thanks all the same.”
I couldn’t agree more.

Kind regards,

Lisa Davies
Editor, The Sydney Morning Herald


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