ON RADIO NATIONAL this morning there was an extended report on what went wrong at Fairfax, the gist being that the company stuck its head in the sand while Internet ads ate its lunch. No doubt that observation is valid, but it is only a partial explanation, as the broadcast comments of a former head of the publisher’s online unit establish beyond doubt. Apologies for not taking down the speaker’s name (Higgins?) or the direct quotation, but the Billabong’s toaster had just set off the smoke alarm and it was very difficult to catch the finer details. What he said is still worth paraphrasing because it points to the bigger problem that has driven Fairfax to the very brink of death.
All Mr Unintelligible’s approaches to management, all his urging that the Web was the future, fell on deaf ears, he lamented. There he was, blazing a trail into the e-future and eager to do wonderful things, and the bosses simply would not listen.
And those wonderful things that were achieved, what were they? He did not mention it, but one notable innovation was the promotion of Margo Kingston and the original Wed Diary as the faces of Fairfax’s presence on the Internet, and we all know what that produced: The Jews run the media, the Bali bombing was not terrorism but an exploding gas bottle, Australia was helping to liberate Iraq because it wanted access to the Yank’s anti-gravity machine, unflushed toilets are saving the planet. They were just some elements of Fairfax’s addled bid to make its bones on the Web.
When you get past the bitter griping about an ex-employer’s lack of vision, the fact remains that Fairfax laid itself low by packaging crap in industrial quantities, both in pixels and on paper, and promoting those who could not tell the difference. It is that simple.