For super funds and their advisers

Garry’s back: tongues wagging over New Daily

Comment by Greg Bright

I’m not sure anyone knows the likely direction of the news media into the future. Fairfax last week accepted about 35 voluntary redundancies among journalists following the closure of the print edition of BRW. The company has shed more than 20 per cent of its staff in the past three years. News Corp is not fairing much better.

The jury is still out on whether pay walls will work, notwithstanding the claims by both Fairfax and News that the early signs from their pay walls being erected this year are positive. And the pay walls will do nothing to improve the level of advertising on their websites – of course it must have the opposite effect.

So, it is somewhat bemusing that some journalists have criticized the launch of The New Daily, the news website supported by AustralianSuper, Cbus and Industry Super Holdings. Respected banking writer Tony Boyd, in the Australian Financial Review, and contributing economics writer Judith Sloan in The Weekend Australian both questioned the use of members’ money in such a fashion. Neither welcomed the new job opportunities nor the improvement in diversity of media ownership.

The funds’ money is actually coming out of their marketing budgets. It’s not an investment. Whether this proves worthwhile is a moot point. But is it any sillier than LUCRF advertising on the jockeys’ pants in the Melbourne Cup? Or HostPlus sponsoring a rugby league team based in Melbourne?

Garry Weaven, as the new company’s chair, prompted memories of the early days of industry super, when he and Mavis Robertson (mainly Mavis) decided to hold their own industry conference, CMSF, in, of all places, Wollongong. The unexpected long-term benefit of that little conference is an educational and lobbying body, AIST.

With so much uncertainty about the future of news media and with those pay walls going up it shouldn’t be too surprising that some new media owners emerge, especially to place a bet on free-versus-paid editorial. My money, for what it’s worth, is on free.

Newspapers have always been almost free. The newsstand price barely covers the cost of the newsprint let alone the words written on it. Classified advertising subsidized the words and now it has all-but gone to the new media moguls at Seek.com, RealEstate.com, CarSales.com etc.

The New Daily is a low-cost operation, with about nine staff and an important news feed from the ABC. The ABC deal appears to have gotten up Judith Sloan’s nose, as she wrote in the Weekend Australian. Sloan is a former director of the ABC and she recalled the board rejecting a request by Foxtel some years ago to buy ABC material on the grounds that this was inappropriate. That’s not a bad point but it’s not really relevant to the ownership of The New Daily.

AustralianSuper had some ads on the editions last week but the editorial was not skewed to superannuation matters. Most of the Money section was supplied by the ABC. It was, sort of, a thinking person’s tabloid style. The news service will evolve, hopefully, over the next few years as the media landscape continues to change.

There’s an interesting theory about the future of journalism doing the rounds in New York, where the venerable New York Times is battling for survival. It is that newspapers and their websites will return to their roots as pamphlets, often of a political nature and always very opinionated. The separation of objective news from comment was a relatively recent phenomenon early in the last century.

I suspect that Garry Weaven would enjoy that environment.

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