There are concerns over the future of the Fairfax’s local newspaper titles, after Nine chief executive Hugh Marks hinted the company would consider closing or selling Fairfax’s regional newspapers when it assumes ownership of the business later this year.
The historic takeover, announced on Thursday morning and set to go through at the end of the year pending regulatory and shareholder approval, will create a powerful player in the Australian media landscape.
Hugh Marks will remain chief executive of the new business, and Nine chair and former federal treasurer Peter Costello will remain chairman. Fairfax chief executive Greg Hywood will leave the company.
In an investor teleconference following the announcement on Thursday, Hugh Marks was asked what the multibillion-dollar takeover deal would mean for Fairfax’s regional papers, when he confirmed Nine would focus on the “high growth components” of the deal.
“We want to ensure that the management team have the ability to focus on those high growth areas. Other businesses that may not fit that high growth model may be better off serviced by being part of some other environment,” Mr Marks said.
In seperate teleconference, outgoing chief executive Greg Hywood told regional Fairfax staff the new business was “looking at options” for the company’s 160 local mastheads, which is understood to have been not quite the reassurance staff were looking for.
Nine CEO Hugh Marks speaks on future of Fairfax regional newspapers.
“Whenever businesses merge, there’s a review of assets. We’ve looked at the future of the regional assets. It’s a tough business and, you know, we’ve been pretty explicit that we’re looking at options,” Mr Hywood said.
Also weighing in on the future of Fairfax regional newspapers was former Sydney Morning Herald editor Darren Goodsir, who told ABC Radio National breakfast host Fran Kelly that he has long been concerned about regional and rural coverage.
“The revenue pressures that have descended on Fairfax at the metropolitan level are only more acutely felt in the regional and rural centres and the cuts have been swingeing over the last ten years or so. I think this is one to watch really closely,” Mr Goodsir said.
Former editor Darren Goodsir speaks on future of Fairfax regional newspapers. (ABC)
Fairfax owns 60% of Domain, which owns 67% of MMP Star (Star Weekly), with the remaining 33% owned by Star News Group. Domain and Star News Group came together in February 2014 to produce Star Weekly titles from May 2014.
MMP Star General Manger Colin Moss said that whilst Star Weekly is part-owned by Domain, which is part-owned by Fairfax, it is separately and independently run and is in no way affected by the proposed merger of Nine and Fairfax.
“We have seamlessly continued publishing through various ownership changes on the Fairfax/Domain side and the changes of board directors on that side of the business and will continue to do so in spite of the recent announcement,” Mr Moss said.
Star Weekly has six local media titles including Maribrynong Hobsons Bay Star Weekly, Brimbank Star Weekly, Melton Moorabool Star Weekly, Sunbury Macedon Ranges Star Weekly, Northern Star Weekly and Wyndham Star Weekly in Melbourne’s West and North.