We all know what a ‘White Knight’ is, right? A stereotype, a stock fairytale character. A dashing creature – male, of course – on the back of a horse, fighting for truth and justice.
Knights belong on round tables, or nobly cantering around medieval villages, or rescuing damsels. They are romantic figures; heroic, virile, storybook characters.
Mining magnate and wannabe media mogul Gina Rinehart sees herself as a white knight. In response to questions from Four Corners about her plans for Fairfax, her company Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd said:
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The proposed mass sackings at the Fairfax media group and the apparently sinister arrival of mining billionaire Gina Rinehart on the company’s board have triggered some strange and disturbing contributions from Canberra this week. The strangest came from Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis who made the straight-faced claim that the carbon tax was to blame for the 1900 Fairfax redundancies.
It seems that there’s a link between rising world temperatures, the introduction of a tax on polluters, and the shift from a robust print readership to a less lucrative digital model. The science behind it is fascinating, and hopefully George will pop up on Quantum soon to draw a diagram explaining it all on the back of a beer coaster.
At least Brandis was only making a fool of himself. Others in the Parliament used the arrival of the dastardly Rinehart to float some remarkably stupid policy ideas which would make fools of us all, and leave Australia a free speech laughing stock. Unsurprisingly these calls have been put with the most force by those with an axe to grind against the media, on account of the media’s pesky habit of rightly highlighting their own past foolishness.
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Newspapers are facing a crisis of confidence but like any crisis it is based partly on reality and partly on mythology. There is vast evidence that circulation is struggling worldwide as more people embrace the digital experience and want their news to follow them on their phone and their tablet. But there are many millions of people out there for whom the newspaper is still an integral part of their day. This week in Australia, News Limited alone will sell 12 million newspapers.
For many of you, if newspapers were to disappear tomorrow, it would wreak havoc on your morning coffee and ruin your lazy Sunday morning in bed, your partner reading Body and Soul while you devour the footy coverage. That’s not written out of any journalistic neediness, but because it is what people say. Millions of people have an affectionate relationship with their newspaper and newspapers still make many millions of dollars.
We have a weird situation in Australia where the second-biggest newspaper company appears to have decided that newspapers aren’t any good. I don’t write that with any mercenary sense of glee at Fairfax’s troubles – indeed it pains and angers me to watch their bosses act like a bunch of crazed sickle-wielding accountants, as a few of my closest friends in journalism work there.
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Reports out of the Fairfax buildings this morning were of stunned newsrooms, shocked into silence as Greg Hywood announced 1900 jobs to go, the broadsheets shrunk to compact size, printing presses closing, and an acceleration of the shift to a focus on digital.
The Fairfax statement to the Stock Exchange made it very clear the company is hanging its future on its news websites, which will start charging for some content.
Many people took to social media to decry the company charging for access to its sites, conveniently ignoring that someone has to pay the salaries. The share market reacted somewhat differently to the staff and readers, with Fairfax shares immediately jumping 4 per cent. Clearly investors are not nostalgic about the smell of newsprint.
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