There’s a real sense of loss among journalists at the sale of Fairfax to the Nine Network. There’s a lot of us around who used to work there – Croakey is full of them – but there’s even more who have admired the Fairfax papers for their efforts to balance news, entertainment and keeping a very close eye on power.
But more importantly, there are a lot of people in Australia who have spent a large part of their lives reading Fairfax newspapers and seeing them as an important part of their daily lives, and who are also feeling the loss.
In recent years the Sydney Morning Herald, the one I know best, has been but a shadow of what it was once. The Herald used to be one of the drivers of the quality end of news, but it largely vacated that space to chase clicks. Maybe it had little choice, maybe a commitment to maintain quality over clicks would have led to an even faster end, but maybe not.
Losing Fairfax is not really the issue – the Fairfax of the 21stcentury wasn’t wonderful. The issue is gaining the Nine Network. Nine has the ability to do what good journalism does – it can examine power, and it can examine structures, and it can look behind the scenes to inform its viewers of why the world is as it is, and how it could be different. But it rarely chooses to. It prefers murders, and fires, and car accidents, and people arguing about a fence or a tree. Most of it is crap, and it knows it.
So the Sydney Morning Herald, and The Age, and the Australian Financial Review, and the regional newspapers, and all of Fairfax’s other media interests are likely to survive in the short term, and some into the medium term. But their decline will be hastened – they have been bought by a company whose prime interest is surely Domain, the property website, and Stan, a streaming service. The mastheads seem like accidental buys, part of a package deal, that Nine can run for a while then close when a suitable time has passed.
Some of the sadness that people like me feel is nostalgia, for sure. Nostalgia for a time when you could buy a newspaper and know that you were getting a version, parochial certainly, but a version of the best there was to offer.
But it’s also a sadness that a group of newspapers that believed in speaking truth to power, even if its performance in that field had faded, has been sold to an organisation that doesn’t hold that as a value at all.
It’s very sad.
Declaration of interest: I worked for the Sydney Morning Herald as a senior writer between 1999 and 2005, when I was retrenched. I’ve never worked for Nine Network, and am pretty sure I never will.
• Croakey is running a series of articles examining public interest journalism as a determinant of health.