After baring the follies of Australia's news publishers to delegates at this year's INMA World Congress, Melbourne academic Mark Ritson is set to face the local industry at the end of this year's Inform News Media Summit.
Bringing some of the best minds in the newspaper industry together doesn’t mean that they’ll all agree.
So as the PANPA 08 conference continued on Queensland’s Gold Coast today, so did the dialogue.
Wednesday had seen speakers from all over the world – and especially the USA – discuss issues and priorities for the industry. But it took a local contributor, Sydney-based consultant Peter Cox, to dare to question their wisdom … and that of media owners: “Americans coming and telling us what we should do – that’s a complete waste of time,” he says.
Cox also questioned the wisdom of TV channel Nine’s financial model which, he says, calls for interest payments of $39 million a month … and thoughts by its parent to establish a $200 million magazine printing plant: “Please, that’ll really bankrupt the organisation!”
The reality was that few escaped Cox’s tart assessment in a lively sales and marketing session. He held up copies of the ‘Australian’ while pointing to two-and-a half pages of advertising in a 36-page section, and a slightly-scruffy Fairfax supplement he thought might be “bleeding to death (but at least it’s free)” … and described the ‘Australian Financial Review’ – with its “absolutely impossible” website and desire to charge a subscription for information which could be gained free elsewhere – as probably “the most f-----d-up paper ever”.
Even comments from PANPA’s most elevated speaker – Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd – came into question: “His kids won’t be getting the news online … they’re probably not looking at the news. They’ll be somewhere else.”
While Cox believes that the future of publishing must lie with IP television – even though free-to-air operators already have scope for more channels than they are using – he sees scope for newspapers, whose segmentation “can kill magazines.
“If you own the content, that’s a great strength,” he says.