The Observatory

Press war down under

Fairfax Limited, one of Australia’s largest media conglomerates, is at war with its largest individual shareholder, the world’s richest woman.

The soap-worthy drama began on June 18, when Fairfax—which publishes The Sydney Morning HeraldThe Age, and other leading newspapers—announced that it would cut 1,900 jobs (about 20 percent of its work force) over three years, shut down two printing plants, and reduce all of its broadsheet newspapers to tabloid formats.

On the same day, mining magnate Gina Rinehart, already Fairfax’s largest shareholder, increased her stake in the company from 12.6 to 18.7 percent, prompting some to suggest that the $87 million share purchase had “expedited” the restructuring.

Her involvement soon began to look more like a hostile takeover than a well-intentioned effort to stabilize the financially troubled company. Many feared she was making a grab for editorial control that would allow her to push a free-market, anti-regulatory agenda on a large slice of the Australia’s media market.

Indeed, a day after the restructuring announcement, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Rinehart was also seeking three seats on Fairfax’s board of directors. According to its article:

“Prophet of Katrina” stays put

The man The New York Times called “a prophet of Katrina’s wrath” for his prescient coverage of New Orleans’ vulnerability to hurricanes and flooding has decided to stick with the city’s beleaguered newspaper.

On Tuesday, Mark Schleifstein, the Times-Picayune’s environment reporter for the last 28 years, accepted a job offer from the new Nola Media Group, which was formed in the wake a decision to cut the daily paper’s staff (by about 200 thus far) and reduce publication to three days a week. In an update on his Facebook page, Schleifstein wrote:

The decision to stay was difficult for many reasons, including my own anger at how the announcement was made (or not made) of the decision to move to 3-day-a-week publication of The Times-Picayune and the creation of the new/revised online presence, and my continuing concern about whether employees of the new entities will have any say in their direction, development.

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