Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hywood's Hire Calling

WHEN declining to examine the media sins he regards as the merely venal  (Drum editors “nudging” elections toward the left, for example) or, on a more active day, suggesting with a wink that warmists should seek the authorities’ help in gagging those low sorts who deny all that settled science, the ABC’s Jonathan Holmes sometimes allows Media Watch to, well, watch the media. It doesn’t happen all that often, so last night, when a chat with Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood was billed as occupying  the entire show, it seemed there was a chance the sort of journalism found daily in the Silly, Phage and Finis might get just a little bit of attention.

Well, it did, sort of. Taking the line he has been throwing to other media outlets, Hywood swore that his company’s worst days were over – there is no more classifieds revenue left to lose, which is apparently a wonderful thing – while further promising Fairfax would be stepping up its investment in the words. Holmes nodded with approval at all this, but pointedly declined to pose the question that suggests itself most readily to many former Fairfax readers and ex-advertisers: What sort of journalism, exactly? From Holmes’ disinclination to further pursue the topic and Hywood’s passed-up opportunity to expand upon it, the immediate suspicion was that neither man sees any great need to embrace a broader diversity of opinion or, more to the point, to replace editors who believe it their responsibility to filter the news rather than examine and report it.

And thus they chatted agreeably for the remainder of the show -- Hywood’s composure never ruffled, for example, by any request for an explanation about the Fairfax press’ absolute refusal to report Larissa Behrendt’s preference for equine lust over the opinion of someone with whom she disagrees. That silence has been reigning for the past two weeks, ever since the infamous tweet, so it would have been encouraging to hear Hywood say he aims to recruit people who are prepared to look at and write on such matters, even if they must hold their noses while doing so.

And then there were the CEO’s thoughts on the Australian Financial Review, where he restricted his observations to the possibility of revamping the business model for the paper’s web site. All very well and good but, again, not a hint of a whisper of a suggestion that it might be the likes of Laura Tingle, Labor apologist and Alan Ramsay’s love slave, who might be driving away readers. Nor in regard to the paper’s opinion page was there any acknowledgment that it is a very silly policy to allow John Quiggin, week after week, to sing the praises of taxes, regulation and wealth redistribution to a readership that loathes the first, despises the second and lives in fear of the third. Wouldn’t it have been lovely to hear Hywood say that the Finis' opinion section was never better than when in the care of Tom Switzer (now running the Spectator in Australia).

The most optimistic gloss to be drawn from the Holmes/Hywood shmooz-a-rama is that, just maybe, the Fairfax chieftain, who is said to be quite sharp, understands there can be no future in alienated readers and that he declined to telegraph that conclusion for fear of prompting a luvvies’ revolt.

If that is not the case, if he really does intend to invest more money in the same old selective blindness, endemic bias and the insititutional affection for all things left, then there is no chance Fairfax will forsake its position as the market’s most-shorted stock. Hywood can put all the money his board will permit into boosting editorial budgets, but if it does no more than hire more of the same his company is finished. It really is that simple.

UPDATE: More on Fairfax, Hywood and the Finis from Sinclair Davidson at Catallaxy      


  1. Hallelujah!!!
    The Billabong bubbles once more with astringent vapours, for which we all give thanks.
    Gloom and despair, of course, for the usual suspects; the bourgeois Marxists, the poseurs, the freeloaders and the charlatans who hog the high moral ground.

  2. Happy to see your praise of Tom Switzer, who was the opinion editor when I became a regular at the Fin. He understood that people read the paper to find something interesting, and not merely to have their prejudices confirmed at tedious length.