What’s next for Australia? Rupert Murdoch’s people have a few thoughts

WHEN MURDOCH IS THE MESSAGE 

How much power does Rupert Murdoch have over political leaders? Not a jot. Nary a skerrick. Not a sausage. Nada. Zippo. Rien du tout. Nuffink. None. Gedouttahere! Rupert who?

They all say so. Every single one. Well that’s a relief.

So how much power does he have over corporate leaders, who have the advantage that they don’t need to get re-elected by popular vote? Would he be able, say, to get Australia’s commercial television stations to refuse to run an anti-Murdoch ad days before an election? How implausible.

Several conclusions will be drawn from the wreckage of the current federal election. The first one is the bitter truth that complaining about adverse media coverage, no matter how justified, is usually not a winning game. It becomes a diversion.

The second conclusion will be whether the ferociously one-sided coverage by News Corp Australia actually won the election for Tony Abbott. That one’s harder to pick.

My post “It Was Col Allan Wot Won It” has had a range of interesting responses. Some have been very emphatic that what appears on the front page of a paper like the Daily Telegraph is seen by such a minor part of the population that it has little impact on nationwide voting intentions; and that the idea that News Corp Australia has any sort of near-monopoly on news in three states is redundant at a time when you can get almost any news service in the world on the Net.

My starting assumption was that the Coalition was going to win this election anyway. My focus was not on whether the News Corp coverage actually shifted votes, but whether News Corp editors and more importantly Rupert Murdoch himself would claim and/or believe that they had shifted votes.

I think that’s a no-brainer.

Secondly, for Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart or Darwin, where the only options are News Corp papers, a section of the community does not go on to the Net for news. They want a paper. Often it’s what they read at work. Frequently it’s an older cohort.

The force multiplier here is the role that newspapers still have in setting the agenda for talkback radio and television news and current affairs, which means you don’t actually have to read newspapers to be influenced by them.

What’s more interesting for me is what this means for Murdoch’s business model. Some numbers: as of June 2013, on average 1,780,570 metropolitan newspapers were sold each day from Monday to Friday. Some 68.9 per cent of them were produced by News Corp Australia.

If you add in Saturday and Sunday editions, a total 13.69 million metro newspapers were sold each week. News Corp sold 70.2 per cent of them. The reason for the higher weekly reach is that News blitzes the country on Sunday, when it sells 80.9 per cent of metro papers (see table at end). In some states it’s said to be the only day that News makes a profit.

These are higher percentage figures than those quoted in the Finkelstein inquiry, a reflection of the changing mix as Fairfax has dropped unprofitable sales.

Compare this picture with Tuesday’s Age-Nielsen poll of voting intentions in Queensland, tracked against age.

Age/Nielsen Poll.  What Queenslanders say
Age vs % voting intentions SMH Sept 3 2013
        18-24         25-39        40-54               55+             Total
Labor 45 34 29 25 31
Coalition 34 37 44 57 45
Greens 12 10 10 4 8
Family First 4 1 1 1 1
Palmer United Party 1 9 9 8 8
Katter Aust Party 2 5 2 4 4
Other 3 4 5 2 3
% of total registered voters 10.8 24.3 27.8 37.4

The Liberal National Party primary vote is only 34 per cent for 18-24-year-olds. The LNP’s strongest base is those aged 55 and over, where 57 per cent support the LNP. That’s without counting the 12 per cent of 55-plus who say they are voting for Katter Australia Party or Palmer United Party.

These are volatile results based on relatively small samples in some age groups. But the age skew is a consistent element in polljng results. The youth vote for Labor does not compensate for the larger older cohort. The over 55s make up 37.4 per cent of total registered voters.

Consider that combination: the Courier Mail has been virulently anti-Labor. The cohort that most reflects that viewpoint in the current poll is the over 55s, who are also arguably the group most likely to read newspapers and least likely to seek their news elsewhere.

Which comes first—would the voting intentions be the same without the coverage or is it a product of the coverage? But that’s not really the question. We need to ask, what’s the business model?

The Courier Mail and the Daily Telegraph have been anti-Labor to the point of caricature. This is not newspaper reporting as we have previously seen it. The effect is more akin to Alan Jones and Ray Hadley on talkback radio.

15p45shockJocks

Alan Jones’ ratings tracked against his anti-Gillard campaign. + 2GB’s rising earnings

Now there’s a thing. As I wrote last November, if you examine 2GB’s ratings, the increase in Alan Jones’ ratings has come from the over-55s. That cohort has made John Singleton and Mark Carnegie a lot of money (see right).

Back at News Corp Australia, Col Allan as per his original timeline was to return to the US in October. Whether he does remains to be seen. But he has set a template for a new style of newspaper here, whether he’s here or not.

Joe Pompo in his piece on Allan’s move to Australia in Capital New York put the expectations for Allan’s return to the US as minimal:

“The common consensus is: I don’t think there’s anybody who thinks Col will be returning,” one insider told Capital. “Most people are expecting that it’s not a temporary change,” said another. “The obvious message is that Jesse’s in charge,” said a third, adding: “The website is what’s important now. Jesse is the future, Col is the past.”

Pompo describes an all-day retreat New York Post execs went to late last year for a crash course in digital journalism led by Jesse Angelo, who is acting as editor of the Post in Allan’s absence. Allan started the session from up the back of the room by saying:

“As most of you know, there was nobody less interested in the Internet at this newspaper than me. It seems I was wrong about that.”

If you want an example of “grin-fucking”, as expounded by Kim Williams, this line has to be it. The New York Post is having a major relaunch of its online site this month and Allan isn’t there for it. Digital journalism is really so not about the Tummy Compass. Allan might have been saying what he had to in the US, but there’s no way he had to believe it.

Hence the scorn he showed when he was cut loose in Australia.

Digital journalism is not something to sidle into. It upsets everything about the way that news is reported.

As the major newspaper group in Australia News Corp has enormous resources at its disposal that could make it an overwhelming force online.

But it’s not going that way. Kim Williams’ exit leaves the company going back to its knitting, making the strategic decision that embracing digital will be too costly even as its print ad revenue dives.

News Corp Australia is not embracing the digital future. It’s looking to keep its print papers going.

And that leaves the challenging prospect that News Corp Australia will seek a natural audience for its legacy products. Aint It Awful Media. It’s the same audience that 2GB chases: angry old geezers.

So if you’re thinking about where News Corp’s papers go after the election, then consider: what would Ray Hadley and Alan Jones do? They’re not going to stop being angry. It’s way too profitable for that.

For News, you can see the business sense in it. The effect on the broader body politic takes a little thinking about.

Australian metro circulations June 2013
Monday-Friday Saturday Sunday Weekly total papers sold
Jun-12 Jun-13 Jun-12 Jun-13 Jun-12 Jun-13 Jun-12 Jun-13
Advertiser/Sunday Mail 172,899 155,635 231,529 208,624 271,293 246,007 1,367,317 1,232,806
Age 169,582 142,050 238,818 203,753 194,040 171,255 1,280,768 1,085,258
Australian 129,655 116,655 285,644 254,891 933,919 838,166
Aust. Financial Review 71,061 66,220 75,575 64,478 430,880 395,578
Courier-Mail/Sunday Mail 189,733 173,095 250,988 223,335 450,922 415,808 1,650,575 1,504,618
Daily Telegraph/Sunday Telegraph 350,059 310,724 325,501 290,922 610,253 541,749 2,686,049 2,386,291
Herald Sun 463,543 416,027 454,318 416,662 529,063 485,943 3,301,096 2,982,740
Sydney Morning Herald 170,666 141,699 292,413 233,335 1,145,743 941,830
Sun-Herald 346,960 276,172 346,960 276,172
West Australian 195,394 178,385 301,923 290,636 1,278,893 1,182,561
Sunday Times WA 274,955 250,290 274,955 250,290
Canberra Times 28,550 26,153 46,879 40,475 29,134 26,138 218,763 197,378
Mercury 40,240 37,419 55,665 51,302 52,590 48,605 309,455 287,002
NT News 18,977 16,508 28,874 26,375 21,034 18,087 144,793 127,002
Total 2,000,359 1,780,570 2,588,127 2,304,788 2,780,244 2,480,054 ## 15,370,166 13,687,692
News Corp Aust 1,365,106 1,226,063 1,632,519 1,472,111 2,210,110 2,006,489 ## 10,668,159 9,608,915
% News Corp 68.24% 68.86% 63.08% 63.87% 79.49% 80.91% ## 69.41% 70.20%
*Sunday papers are reported under the Monday-Saturday title eg Sunday Telegraph under Telegraph, Sunday Mail (Qld) under Courier Mail. Exception Sun Herald.
Weekly papers sold are the average Monday-Friday total multiplied by 5, plus Saturday sales plus Sunday sales

4 thoughts on “What’s next for Australia? Rupert Murdoch’s people have a few thoughts

  1. Clearly, around 70% of metropolitan print newspapers are Murdochs. But those newspapers also define the news narrative for the day adopted by the commercial TV channels and radio stations, Fairfax and the GuardianAus. Also, sadly, they define the narratives adopted by the ABC news outlets, who actually have the funding and staff, but obviously not the commitment, to define their own narrative if they chose to.
    Furthermore, Murdoch has the most accessed news website, news.com.au, is the dominant SkyNews partner [management, CEO], has 50% and is the active shareholder at AAP from which so much of Australian news is sourced, and takes an active, agenda setting role in the National Press Club.
    So when it comes to assessing Murdoch’s influence on the news narrative in Australia, it’s more like 95% than 70%, and more like time we implemented some decent media regulation with sanctions.

    • Yes I think grinding retrenchments at Fairfax & other more direct factors have led to the Oz having an unusual ability to affect the ABC. If you look at most viewed on news.com.au though it’s generally not political

  2. Not that there is a lot of genuine interesting content and mostly a real estate advert, I’ve just noticed that our free local Inner West Courier , delivered to our door step every week, is also Murdoch.

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