How this merger will affect you
By Alex Komarowski
This article discusses the key takeaways from the first episode of the Straddl Podcast: Double Tap. Go check it out if you haven’t listened to it yet!
If you’re anything like me, chances are you also feel pretty overwhelmed by all the tectonic shifts occurring in Australian society right now. Grocery stores are ditching plastic bags (and apparently the nation is SHOOK), the Government is chanting ‘shame’ and crumbling while Australian voters are at work (you know… doing their jobs), and our blue chip Australian media companies are cannibalising each other for survival.
If you haven’t already heard, Nine and Fairfax—two veritable sandstone Australian media giants —have announced their plans to join forces. In the “biggest change to the media landscape in 30 years”, the new company (to be called Nine) will be Australia’s largest media company (aside from multi-national chimera NewsCorp). Reaching over half the nation every day , it’s poised to emerge as a contender in the battle against new digital giants like Facebook, Google and Netflix.
Not ringing a bell? Look, I get it. With all these changes going down literally behind closed doors, it becomes incredibly easy to disassociate from the world around us. Especially when you have impending assessments and some semblance of a life. But #NineFairfax is a bigger deal than it seems at first glance, and it sets a dangerous precedent for the future of media concentration in Australia. Here are three reasons why #NineFairfax matters, particularly for emerging media practitioners, and what it means for a future in the media industry.
1 – FEWER JOBS
The immediate and most obvious implication for a deal of this magnitude is the inevitable loss of jobs. CEO of the new company Hugh Marks has already announced at least $50 million in cost synergies. But while these cuts will allegedly fall outside “core content creative functions,” it’s difficult to imagine Fairfax’s investigative journalists and regional outlets (all 160 of them) getting off scot-free, especially after seeing how sales of Fairfax mastheads have plummeted by nearly two-thirds this decade. Digital consumption has completely restructured how we consume media content, and Australian consumers are increasingly reluctant to pay for news, given the proliferation of free online content. So it isn’t crazy to imagine a future where one consolidated newsroom collaborates to deliver hard-hitting exposés one day and fear-mongering fluff pieces the next.
As future practitioners, this has obvious implications for finding a job. More people are hunting for less work, so it will be harder to stand out. It may be necessary to diversify your portfolio and expand your skill set so that you can wear multiple hats in your workplace. Perhaps you need to start considering what stories are being told, and what stories you want to tell before you think about where to work or with what medium. To make an impression in a concentrated job market, new practitioners need to be critically aware of what is happening in their industry, so that they can prepare for the ensuing seismic shifts.
2 – LESS DIVERSITY, MORE BIAS
We asked around Kelvin Grove, and while the majority of QUT students were unaware of the merger itself, everyone knew what it meant for media bias. The deal is still subject to a ‘thorough’ review by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), so it remains to be seen the extent to which Nine’s commercial interests will stand in the way Fairfax journalists delivering high quality, impartial reporting. However, it seems unlikely that Fairfax will continue to run stories criticising Nine’s actions , let alone Nine’s core advertisers. Despite claims that “culturally there is no better fit”, one can’t deny that the agendas of these media organisations are different as commitments to maintaining editorial independence won’t quell the concerns held by Fairfax contributors.
Media bias is inextricably linked to growing media concentration; it is simply common sense that fewer media owners translate to fewer featured perspectives. In fact, merged media conglomerates carry immense power to influence the public. This occurs during times of political change —and informed rational citizens are not immune from this power, as they have no way of knowing what information is omitted or reframed by the powers that be. With a federal election on the cards, and given Nine’s right-leaning slant, it’s crucial that emerging practitioners look carefully at what stories are being told, and whose voices are being heard. Without this, it’ll be impossible to counteract politically-motivated reporting, present a whole picture and empower the Australian citizenry to uphold democracy.
3 – GROWING DEPENDENCE ON DATA & PROFITS
Hugh Marks claims that the new Nine will revolve around becoming the epicentre of ‘quality content creation’ in Australia. However, Nine’s actions after announcing the merger—such as introducing targeted ‘addressable’ advertising and emphasising the cross-promotional opportunity afforded by owning both Domain and The Block—suggest this notion of quality is more focused on providing unique engagement opportunities for marketers, rather than quality content for audiences. As both organisations are struggling to compete in a digital landscape, profitability must necessarily be a focus of the new company. But in an effort to adjust to shifting methods of media consumption and compete against Facebook and Google, #NineFairfax seems to be placing all its eggs in the ‘big data’ basket. As sandstone media companies move more closely toward resembling new digital giants, it’s important to remember that data-driven content may generate revenue, but it has also eaten away at the credibility of digital platforms. Look no further than the ongoing Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal and you’ll agree that big data is more complex than a revenue source.
All in all, it seems these ‘old media titans’ have chosen certain aspects of new media to imitate (i.e. proliferated content, data-driven curation, revenue generation and clickbait tactics), while disregarding what made new media appealing to mass audiences – that is, user-generated, decentralised discussion; a voice for the previously voiceless. New media practitioners should remember that consumers now want to participate in conversations, not be told what to think by the same voices over and over. In thinking about your future in the industry, never forget that audiences are empowered and complex: they can seek out information, make meaning and contribute in ways that old media seem to continually disregard.
At the end of the day, one can only speculate about what this deal will mean for the Australian media landscape, but it would be naïve to say that there won’t be other media companies following suit. But it is important to remember that such mergers are more about survival than market domination, and that #NineFairfax is more afraid of you, the empowered consumer than you are of them.