Not selling, restructuring, as Miller names team for digital transition

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Travel, food and digital subscriptions are the keywords in Michael Miller's blueprint for News Corp following the failure of its talks with Australian Community Media.

Discussions with "the most logical acquirer" of its regional and community titles "have not resulted in a transaction" and executive chairman Miller (pictured) says the Australian media giant is now considering "alternative structures" to best focus it on maximising digital and growth opportunities.

The bottom line has been a choice to restructure - and presumably close some businesses - rather than sell them to a competitor. Reports after the weekend suggested a number of sticking points, and that ACM - which has four printing plants of its own "temporarily" shut down - would not be taking on any from News... making a significant difference to the redundancy and pension obligations ACM might be assuming.

The deal was to have packaged regional and community news businesses - the ones Miller acquired from APN News & Media for $36.6 million and had earlier led when he worked for that company - plus a selection of regional mastheads built up by News over previous years. The problem for Antony Catalano's ACM was then that News wasn't going away; it would remain - albeit at a different level and with a digital focus - as a competitor, perhaps in just the segments to which ACM would itself need to migrate.

It was a nice idea, and Miller might have done well to have pulled it off.

Instead - and apparently at the ready, an email to all staff lists the nine executive and four editorial appointments charged with making the restructuring process happen. Theirs will be the responsibility of taking advantage of the pandemic crisis - and no doubt the government funding which comes with it - to reshape News in Australia.

Clues start with its heading, which refers to News as "a premier consumer and commercial content company", a new focus which has become increasingly apparent with the rebuilding of the News-dominated NewsMediaWorks into a 'Premium Content Alliance' which Miller chairs.

In fact, there is only use of the word 'news' in the announcement in addition to that in reference to the US-registered company making it. "Significant editorial changes will embed a collaborative way of working to maximise our sport and news coverage, hyper local digital subscriptions and drive the success of our all-important weekend editions," Miller says.

Cast an eye over the appointments, and you'll see a focus on group-wide national weekend publishing, and more emphasis on the digital-only community websites that News has been seeding, many in traditionally-ACM communities.

As national weekend editor, (Sydney) Sunday Telegraph editor Mick Carroll gets oversight of the weekend lifestyle, entertainment, magazine, journalism "big hits" and service information which Miller says "drive weekend audiences and subscriptions".

John McGourty's success in establishing digital-only hyper local news mastheads and driving editorial subscriptions is recognised in his appointment as national editor for the community masthead network.

These and other appointments from next month "accelerate News Corp Australia's focus on being a more digital, growth-orientated company".
Miller promises "simpler and more nimble" structures, "less complex for commercial partners to leverage" and prioritising increasing earnings in digital and subscription businesses.

With the sale of the regional and community mastheads now off, "alternative structures to best focus News Corp Australia on maximising digital and growth opportunities" are now "being considered".
The new appointments aim to position News to be more successful in growth areas such as travel, food, digital advertising products and solutions, and digital subscriptions.
Two new 'direct report' roles emphasise the focus - News DNA chief Julian Delany in the new position of chief technology officer, data and digital, and news.com.au editor-in-chief Kate de Brito, who now reports directly to Miller.

A new 'publishing board' for state and national commercial publishing operations reporting to Damian Eales will be chaired by Queensland and NT managing director Jason Scott, with Ish Davies (South Australia), Peter Zavecz (Victoria and Tasmania) and Nicholas Gray (The Australian, NSW and prestige titles).

Chair of the editorial board Peter Blunden - who Miller says is "our most senior editorial leader" - gets the new role of national executive editor to lead a national sports operation, an elite reporting network and the new internal news wire with which News will replace its AAP membership.

Charged with News' transformation into a "world leading advertising services company and data provider" is Emma Fawcett, appointed managing director for commercial product and platform, who expands her role to include News Xtend and News Connect.

Also announced:

Fiona Nilsson becomes managing director for food and travel;

Richard Skimin becomes managing director, news.com.au, Kidspot and Whimn, and e-commerce;

Newly-appointed chief financial officer Michael Ford will also take on strategy and M&A responsibilities;

National sales managing director Lou Barrett takes on the leadership of all direct sales functions; and

Neil Monaghan, who joined News from APN, becomes managing director of the business services group, charged with "driving efficiency and effectiveness" across the whole publishing business services and operations.

Making it work at an editorial level, Mel Mansell continues as group director for editorial transformation and strategy, working with editors to achieve "best editorial practice and efficiency" across newsrooms.

Less positive news will no doubt, filter out in coming weeks, but expect less print, fewer print editions, reduced print capacity and fewer jobs. Watch this space.

Peter Coleman

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