In the news for his $1 million funding of the Walkley awards for young journalists, John Brehmer Fairfax has taken the opportunity to remind media owners of their obligations to society.
The fifth generation of the dynasty built on the Sydney Morning Herald, he and brother Tim – who this week endowed an $8.5 million learning centre for the National Museum – are sons of Sir Vincent and Lady Nancy Fairfax.
Now 79, he sold his Rural Press business into Fairfax Media and was for some time its biggest shareholder.
The comments came in an interview with Zoe Samios for the Herald and Melbourne stablemate The Age.
JB Fairfax took the opportunity to lament “savage cost-cutting” by some publishers during the pandemic, naming the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp and Antony Catalano’s Australian Community Media (formerly part of Fairfax Media prior to its sale to Nine Entertainment), who “took a pretty harsh attitude to it all.
“If you’re going to be in newspaper publishing or even the media, you shouldn’t necessarily focus entirely on profit,” he told the papers. “You need to consider your role within in the community generally, and have a slightly sanctimonious view of doing your job.”
The transition from print to online in some small communities was “really sad.
It’s not as though local regional papers cannot exist. They can,” he said, citing the launch of Manning Community News by author Di Morrissey as evidence that the public will pay for local news in regional areas.
“There’s the importance of a good local newspaper... to keep people honest. An online situation won’t do what a newspaper can do in that environment.”
He said there was “still value” in an individual proprietor running a media company, and argued that could help provide “certainty and trust in a world where misinformation and fake news exists.
“There needs to be at the head a body or an individual that has the reputation to deliver what we regard as trustworthy and independent material,” Fairfax said.
The $1 million contribution on behalf of his family is to the Walkley Young Australian Journalist of the Year Awards over the next decade.
JB Fairfax already funds an annual award for rural and regional journalism and communications which includes a $10,000 cash scholarship and opportunities of diverse practical reporting experience through three internships.
“Journalism still remains one of the most interesting and fascinating vocations that you can have,” he told Samios. “It’s absolutely vital that we have good talent, good people who dig and, and expose and convey the appropriate messages to the larger community.”
Pictured: SBS journalist Laura Murphy-Oates won a two-week trip to US newsrooms as the 2018 Young Australia Journalist of the Year (Photo The Walkley Foundation).