Stay indoors, practise social-isolation and wear a mask when you go outside. This Notebook edition falls on the 21st anniversary of Tiananmen Square on June 4. Let’s hope Chinese mainlanders with a TV set watch the unfolding events in Minneapolis, Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia and elsewhere.
Read independent (non-Murdoch) current affairs and stay informed. It’s FREE. No paywall. This edition’s menu: Murdoch’s jobs and titles bloodbath in Australia; Murdoch’s chairman, Michael Miller, puts in the boot; Complete list of shut titles and those going behind a paywall; Tribute to my former London Sunday Times colleague and dear friend, Stephen Fay; link to my review of Stephen’s final and outstanding book on cricket and UK social history; House of Saud, the Arab Gulf’s murder regime, attempts makeover; Favourite quotes and Cartoons of the Week.
Rupert Murdoch’s jobs bloodbath
Prime Minister Scott Morrison launched his “social contract” Mark II be telling Australians, “This is about jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Rupert Murdoch must have had his hearing aid turned off; he didn’t get the message. Michael Miller, executive chairman of News Corp Australasia, announced a jobs bloodbath immediately afterwards.
The mainstream media is either owned by Murdoch or terrified of Murdoch. The result is that the media’s coverage has been contrived, controlled, edited or censored. As a non-Murdoch IT site, I have compiled an easy guide to Miller’s announcement:
Miller’s CV with the Murdoch organisation, described at Lord Leveson’s inquiry into phone-hacking as a “criminal conspiracy”, is that of a veteran Murdoch liegeman.
He was NSW regional director of News Ltd during the era of ruthless cost-cutting, managing director of Advertiser News Media where his closures, redundancies and penny-pinching were legendary, and News Ltd’s group marketing director across News Corp’s 11 divisions.
He has sat on the board of directors of News Ltd, Fox Sports Australia, cars-guide.com.au and Sky Network Television Limited earning fabulous director’s fees and becoming a very rich man.
He has also followed Sydney’s well-established pathway to corporate influence by belonging to the Committee for Sydney and Waratahs Rugby where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Alan Jones, the failed Liberal Party candidate, the former radio ranter, thoroughbred horse owner and SCG board member.
Share investors welcomed the bloodletting and the price of News stock rose. PR firms were delighted that busy-body journalists were being axed with one sending an internet message to followers saying: “No one under the age of 40 outside the industry sees the problem with there being any newspapers around.”
Where Murdoch’s axe has fallen
News Corp will stop printing 112 regional newspapers at the end of June. A total of 76 regional mastheads will switch to online only production and 36 will close altogether.
“Online” is a euphemism for paywall. In other words, every Murdoch paper switching to “online” will have a “paywall”. Users will have to pay to become subscribers to read press releases and advertorials written by publicists and influencers. Are you going to pay cash to read Murdoch’s trash-pretending-to-be-news? Not me anyway!
The Crikey.com website has calculated 23 regional papers will be shut down entirely – 15 in Queensland, three in NSW and one in Tasmania.
Neither the company nor the media union would say how many jobs will be axed, but the total number is expected to reach thousands.
Miller’s note to staff said: “Over recent months [ahem, he means since a second Global Financial Collapse became inevitable and a global pandemic led to a devastating economic and social meltdown] we have taken a comprehensive review of our regional and community newspapers. [No mention of metropolitan newspapers].
“This review considered the ongoing consumer shift to reading and subscribing news online, and the acceleration of businesses using digital advertising. Our portfolio review highlighted that many of our print mastheads were challenged, and the double impact of COVID-19 and the tech platforms not remunerating the local publisher whose content they profit from [a swipe at the US techno giants] has, unfortunately, made them unsustainable publications.” (Translated into plain English: It’s not News Ltd’s fault that we have to close papers and sack journos, it’s those dastardly US behemoths and the killer virus wot’s dunnit.)
From June 29, most News Ltd regional and community titles will move to digital publishing. In future, 375 journalists will cover regional and community news. Previously, this task was done by more than 1,000 journalists.
As Miller said: “Today’s announcements will mean some job roles will change and regretfully [sic], will lead to job losses. We’re not talking to numbers, we’re talking about people and we’re having those conversations today and tomorrow, so I’m going to prejudice those conversations, we’re going to talk to them individually.” (i.e. with no trade union, lawyer or accountant present. Partners of departing journalists are not welcome if they are lawyers or trade union officials.)
The “conversations” aren’t with Miller either, but with hard-nosed loyalists from “human relations” whose task is to sign off as many employees as possible in the shortest possible time.
In total, between 650 and 1,000 jobs will be axed. “These initiatives are significant and necessary. They will involve fundamental changes to how we operate as a business,” Miller said vaguely. One headline from the media coverage said: “Union unsure of number of job losses.” Media Alliance CEO Paul Murphy said: “We are still waiting for clarity from the company on how many editorial staff will be affected by these changes across the News Corp network.”
If Miller won’t give the number of jobs being axed and the media union is “unsure”, it’s no wonder News Ltd journos are in a state of trepidation and confusion.
In desperate PR to soften the bloodbath, Murdoch took a pay cut (after the US company reported a US$1.1 billion loss) and News executives in Australia offered to take a pay freeze.
Far North Queensland will be hit hardest. The Atherton Tablelander, Innisfail Advocate, Port Douglas and Mossman Gazette will cease printing and a down-sized Cairns Post will increase its regional coverage (with fewer staff!).
Gavin King, a retired News Ltd editor, said: “I can’t see how the Cairns Post will be able to fill the news gap given the unfortunate job cuts that have taken place there over recent years coupled with the very low take-up of paywall subscriptions for the Post’s online site.”
Sydney’s most affluent suburbs will continue to receive printed copies of the Wentworth Courier, Mosman Daily and North Shore Times. The Manly Daily, Parramatta Advertiser and Inner West Courier will cease publishing in print and produce digital only editions. In Melbourne, the Progress Leader and Sydney’s Rouse Hill Times will cease publication altogether.
Larger regional newspapers will continue to be published. These include the Townsville Bulletin, Hobart Mercury and NT News in Darwin. Special sponsorship and advertising deals, tax and rates breaks are reportedly involved with all three publications.
The demise of print editions will result in a 1,400 km stretch of the Queensland coast without access to local daily newspapers, including the Sunshine Coast, Bundaberg, Rockhampton and Mackay.
Miller said there would be a “fundamental shift in the way the company operated”, including hiring digital-only journalists with a focus on online advertising.
News Ltd staff across Australia have been told to get rid of their annual leave and long-service leave entitlements in return for accepting redundancy cheques. All staff have had their working week cut from 10 days to nine days a fortnight, thereby cutting the company’s current wages bill.
Michelle Landry, right-wing Nationals MP for Capricornia in Queensland, said she had heard seven jobs would go at Rockhampton’s local newspaper The Morning Bulletin. “That’s devastating, that’s nearly half the team that’s going,” she said, accepting the job cuts and deciding not to criticise News Ltd or the Murdochs.
NSW titles that were formerly published with some printed editions will now be published digitally online. They are: Canterbury Bankstown Express, Central Coast Express, Hills Shire Times, Hornsby Advocate, Liverpool Leader, Manly Daily, Northern District Times, Parramatta Advertiser, Inner West Courier, Southern Courier, Illawarra Star, Wagga Wagga News, St George Shire Standard, Canberra Star, Newcastle News, Blue Mountains News, Central Sydney and South Coast News.
Other major NSW newspapers to become digital only are: Tweed Daily News, Ballina Advocate, Bryon Shire News, Coffs Coast Gazette, Grafton Daily Examiner and Lismore Northern Star.
Those to cease publishing printed editions are: Coastal Views, Northern Rivers Echo and Richmond River Express Examiner.
Miller said: “We are reshaping News Corp Australia to focus on where consumers and businesses are moving and to strengthen our position as Australia’s leading digital news media company. This will involve more digital only journalists and making investments in digital advertising and marketing solutions for our partners.”
No mention of news-gathering!
Foxtel, in which News Corp holds a majority stake, has separately axed more than 250 jobs, mainly in drama, music and documentary production.
The job cuts came with a corporate reshuffle effective from June 1. Kate de Brito is Editor in Chief of news.com.au reporting directly to Miller, Emma Fawcett is managing director of commercial product and platform, Fiona Nilsson is managing director of food and travel, Julian Delany is chief technology officer, data and digital, Michael Ford is new chief financial officer (CFO) and Jason Scott, currently managing director Queensland and NT, will be chairman of the new Publishing Board and Mick Carroll, editor of the Sunday Telegraph, will become national weekend editor, while Peter Blunden becomes national executive editor to “lead a national sport operation”. Miller has promoted the Chiefs, and sacked the Indians. Brilliant!
Almost as an afterthought, Miller thanked the company’s editorial staff who were being made redundant. “You have provided News with invaluable years of service. Their passionate commitment to the communities in which they live and work and their role in ensuring these have been informed and served by trusted local media has been substantial.”
Thanks very much for thinking of us, Mr Miller. What about a gold watch each?
Convivial journalist and author who had a distinguished career on Fleet Street before reinventing himself as a cricket writer.
NB: Obituary in The Times of London on 27 May 2020 by Michael Henderson.
As a young reporter for The Sunday Times, Stephen Fay heard Sir Alec Douglas-Home address a Conservative Party rally at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. An older colleague not long from the pub told him bluntly to make sure there was a phone to hand when the prime minister had finished speaking, or face the direst consequences.
The phone duly secured, and guarded with the tenacity of Cerberus, Fay heard his grizzled comrade dictate a paragraph of boilerplate hackery and then tell the copytaker “that’ll do, take in the rest from agency”. Back to the bar. It was a scene Michael Frayn might have composed for his classic novel of Fleet Street, Towards the End of the Morning.
Fay was proud to belong to the old school, being one of those newspapermen forged in the furnace of conference hall, newsroom and alehouse. In those days El Vino was a favourite haunt. Later it was the Garrick. He said the most useful advice given to him when he first came to Fleet Street in the early 1960s was: “Always keep some miniature bottles of whisky in your pockets. You never know when you’ll need them.”
Those fagging days behind him, Fay grew up to be a consummate and versatile journalist. A man of wide interests, he covered industry, finance, politics, travel, music and theatre with a scholar’s reach. The author of books on subjects as varied as Barings Bank, the silver trade and Richard Wagner, he always answered to “reporter”.
In the estimation of Phillip Knightley [obituary, December 8, 2016], one of his formidable allies at The Sunday Times, he was the best reporter of all. Though the editor’s chair was not to be his, Fay was not haunted by disappointment.
In later years, he took a fresh guard as a writer on cricket, a sport he had loved since his earliest days in Lancashire. In this new role, the man dubbed Captain Claret by Private Eye relished the company of younger journalists, who took readily to this representative of a fabled past. Dazzled by his fund of tales, they promoted him to Major Margaux.
Stephen Francis John Fay was born in Littleborough, Lancashire in 1938. His grandfather, Frank Fay, had helped William Butler Yeats establish the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, and told the great poet: “I admire you as an artist, and despise you as a human being.” His father, Gerard Fay, married to his mother, Alice, née Bentley, was a well-known reporter on the Manchester Guardian. After the war, in which he saw active service at the D-Day landings, Gerard was appointed London editor of the newspaper.
Stephen attended Highgate School before winning a Beaverbrook Scholarship to read economics at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. He was interviewed personally by Lord Beaverbrook. When asked about the Suez Crisis he was the only candidate to tell the newspaper magnate that the invasion was a bad idea. After postgraduate studies at the London School of Economics, Fay joined The Glasgow Herald (now The Herald), where he was industrial correspondent. In 1964 he went to The Sunday Times as labour correspondent, before moving to the Atticus column and then joining the acclaimed Insight team.
Between 1970 and 1972 he was posted to New York. With his colleagues Lewis Chester and Hugo Young, he wrote The Zinoviev Letter in 1967. Hoax, about a biography of Howard Hughes, followed five years later. In 1976 he collaborated with Young on The Fall of Heath, and with Knightley on The Death of Venice. The Great Silver Bubble, which explored the international silver market, was published in 1982.
Going freelance in 1983, he spent a working summer at Bayreuth, where Sir Georg Solti and Sir Peter Hall were staging “the English Ring”. After The Ring: Anatomy of an Opera (1984) came Power Play, a biography of Ron Hall, in 1995. By then he had edited Business magazine for five years and served as deputy editor at The Independent on Sunday.
Changing horses, he began a new life as a cricket writer for the “Sindy”, and for Wisden Cricket Monthly, which he edited. He took an almost paternal interest in the career of Mike Atherton, who, like his childhood hero Cyril Washbrook, opened the batting for Lancashire and England. Atherton, now an experienced broadcaster with Sky, and cricket correspondent for The Times, became a favoured companion.
With his ruddy complexion, and a courtly manner that softened in the company of the like-minded, Fay looked like an Irish countryman from the pages of William Trevor. He often wore a hat “because Irishmen in hats look like priests or crooks”, an equality he favoured. He could be refreshingly direct at times with those who crossed him and could occasionally seem imperious, as when he got on to the subject of women and MCC, but he was always convivial and was even known to break into the school song from time to time.
The “Captain Claret” sobriquet was not misplaced. He had a connoisseur’s nose for the grape, and served on the wine committee at the Garrick, where, accompanied by friends such as Marcel Berlins and William Keegan, he created a journalistic Valhalla.
His other home from home was Lord’s, where he belonged to MCC’s arts and libraries committee. He was particularly proud of Tom Graveney at Lord’s (2005), a book that marked the club presidency of one of his favourite players.
Two years ago, in concert with David Kynaston, the historian, he published Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket, which proved to be an elegant swansong.
In 1964 Fay married Prudence Butcher, originally from Durban. They had met on a journalists’ trip to Turin sponsored by Cinzano, where, as she recalled, “everybody did their best not to drink the stuff”.
She survives him, along with their children: Matthew, a teacher, and Susanna, a speech and language therapist. Fay was English when it came to cricket, but his rugby loyalties lay unambiguously in the land of his father. “I’m as green as I need to be,” he told those who ribbed him. Whether sporting a shamrock or three lions he was clubbable, witty and frank and, however late the night, never indulged bores or malingerers.
[AM: My review of Stephen Fay’s co-authored book, Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket, can be read on this site by clicking here.]
Saudi royals try to perfume their image
Saudi Arabia is using “sportswashing” to clean up its horrific image for killing gay people and feminist activists. After staging British boxer Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight title fight, UK promoters are now booking a AU$5 million snooker tournament in October.
Jason Ferguson, chairman of World Snooker, is unashamed: “We are not there to interfere in politics and government, wherever we are in the world.”
While Amnesty described the human rights record of the blood-drenched House of Saud as “appalling”, Ferguson remarked offhandedly: “Everyone is equal on the green baize of a snooker table.”
Trump: Secret weapon to stem urban revolt
“I have a great relationship with the blacks.”
“I have a great relationship with African Americans, as you possibly have heard. I just have great respect for them. And they like me. And I like them.”
“If I had a pound for every Tory MP who has told me that they don’t like Boris Johnson, I’d be a millionaire.” – Jessica Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley in UK House of Commons.
FACT: There are 365 Tory MPs in the Commons. Therefore, she would have £365 and not £1 million.
A win-win for Boris Johnson’s mates
Nicola Morgan, British Tory MP who voted against same sex marriage in 2013, has accomplished an unusual career trajectory. A former Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, she stated that she would never serve in a government led by Boris Johnson.
She stepped down as an MP at the December General Election but when Johnson won, he gave her a life peerage and returned her to the Cabinet as Culture Secretary. Why?
Zac Goldsmith, son of the late Sir James Goldsmith, the casino gambler and industrialist, lost his attempt to become London’s Lord Mayor and then lost his Richmond Park seat in the December General Election.
After his humiliating election defeat, Goldsmith appeared to rubbish his voters saying on December 14: “These guys really don’t like democracy.”
But on December 19 he changed his tune. PM Boris Johnson made him a life peer and reappointed him as Environment Minister, Minister for International Development and Minister of State for the Pacific. He is now The Rt Hon The Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park sitting on the Tory benches with The Rt Hon The Baroness Morgan of Cotes, a village of about 100 residents where she lives in Leicestershire.
There’s a name for Scott Morrison