Fairfax Media building at Pyrmont, NSW
John Fairfax purchased The Sydney Morning Herald in 1841. Several generations of the Fairfax family continued to control the company. Fairfax Media was founded by the Fairfax family as John Fairfax and Sons, later to become John Fairfax Holdings. The Fairfax family lost control of the company in December 1990. It was renamed from John Fairfax Holdings to Fairfax Media in 2007.
1950s to 1999
The Australian Financial Review was founded in 1951. In that decade, Fairfax started two television stations, ATN and QTQ. Fairfax began expanding in the 1960s, acquiring, among others, The Age, The Newcastle Herald and the Illawarra Mercury. In 1979, Rupert Murdoch attempted to take over rival The Herald and Weekly Times. Due to the costs of defending the takeover, Fairfax sold its television properties, including the Seven Network. In 1988, Fairfax sold its magazines (including Woman's Day, People, Dolly, and Good Housekeeping) to Australian Consolidated Press, and discontinued its Sydney afternoon tabloid The Sun, transferring some of its content and the sponsorship of the City to Surf to its new Sunday tabloid The Sun-Herald which also replaced the broadsheet Sunday Herald.
In 1987, Warwick Fairfax, then aged 26, controversially bought out his family's holdings in the company by borrowing heavily. He successfully took it over; but, on 10 December 1990, the company collapsed and a receiver was appointed, with company debts of A$1.7 billion. By 1993, the company was re-listed on the Australian Stock Exchange and the two biggest shareholders of John Fairfax Holdings were the Canadian newspaper magnate Conrad Black and his Hollinger Group with 25%, and the Australian media mogul, Kerry Packer and his publicly listed company, Publishing and Broadcasting Limited with 15%. Due to Australian government concerns over media consolidation that limited any single foreign shareholder holding more than 25% interest in national and metropolitan newspapers, after intense lobbying for the right to increase his stake, Black conceded defeat in 1996, selling his holding to the New Zealand corporate "raider" Brierley Investments, that was ultimately subject to the same restrictions.
2000 to 2009
In 2003, Fairfax acquired many of New Zealand's highest-profile newspapers when it bought the publishing assets of that country's Independent Newspapers Limited, whose cornerstone shareholder was News Corp Australia. In July 2005, Fairfax acquired the RSVP dating site for A$38 million. In August 2005, Fairfax's general classifieds site created in March 2004, Cracker.com.au consistently exceeded 500,000 unique visitors a month. In December 2005, Fairfax acquired Stayz Pty Ltd for A$12.7 million. This investment proved to be very successful as Stayz was sold on 27 November 2013, for $220 million, far exceeding its estimated net debt of $154 million.
In August 2005, Fairfax ended its 16-month search for a new chief executive officer with David Kirk, a former Rugby Union World Cup winning captain of the New Zealand All Blacks being appointed to replace departing CEO Fred Hilmer. David Kirk got the job ahead of Fairfax COO Brian Evans (former head of Fairfax New Zealand) and Doug Flynn, who took the top job at UK Pest control company Rentokil after negotiations with Fairfax broke off. In March 2006, Fairfax acquired New Zealand auction website Trademe.co.nz for NZ$700 million. On 4 March 2006, it was announced that Fairfax would purchase The Border Mail newspaper in Albury-Wodonga for A$162 million. In October 2006, speculation began to grow that the company would be bought out and split up after the passage of changes to Australian media laws. Rival media company News Corp Australia purchased a 7.5 per cent stake in the company at this time, with the stated aim of keeping Fairfax in one piece.
On 7 December 2006, John Fairfax Holdings and Rural Press announced the beginning of their merger proceedings. Once merged, the new entity formed a publishing company worth A$9 billion and resulted in regaining control of The Canberra Times (which it owned in the 1980s), and through John B. Fairfax of Rural Press, saw the return of the Fairfax family to the company board. The company also gained a number of other regional newspapers, radio stations and websites; plus agricultural publications in various countries. On 12 January 2007, John Fairfax Holdings changed its name to Fairfax Media.
On 7 March 2007, Fairfax Media announced a new website for Brisbane, called the Brisbane Times. The website initially employed 14 journalists and was an attempt by Fairfax to break into the South East Queensland market. On 20 March 2007 Fairfax Media launched a new business website, BusinessDay.com.au that aggregated feeds from the other news vehicles in the Fairfax stable as well as "from the world's most respected news sources". It featured breaking news updated "every 15 minutes". Also in 2007 Fairfax Media bought the radio assets of Southern Cross Broadcasting. Macquarie Media Group purchased Southern Cross for A$1.35 billion and onsold these assets to the Fairfax Group.
On 26 August 2007, Kirk and Deputy CEO Brian McCarthy announced that 550 staff would be cut as part of a "business improvement" programme. The staff reductions would take place in both Australia and New Zealand, with the latter country bearing the brunt of the cuts, with 160 full-time employees losing their jobs. On 5 December, David Kirk tendered his resignation, and on 10 December Brian McCarthy (former Rural Press CEO) was appointed as CEO. A new campaign, "Fair Go, Fairfax: Don't discount journalism", was launched by the MEAA in protest to the cuts arguing that the jobs losses will affect "quality journalism".
As of May 2008 Fairfax Media had a market capitalisation of over A$5 billion.
The number of printed edition readers has fallen since at least 2006 and the group's stock price has declined by more than 60 percent since 2007, to less than A$2 billion by September 2011, and by 85 percent at June 2012.
On 11 July 2007, Fairfax Media acquired the former radio assets of Southern Cross Broadcasting (on-sold from Macquarie Media Group's purchase of SCB): 2UE Sydney, 3AW and Magic 1278 Melbourne, 4BC and 4BH Brisbane, and 6PR and 96fm Perth. Graham Mott will continue in his role as general manager of the broadcast radio group under Fairfax. Mott indicated at the time of the acquisition that national syndication of programming (such as that of the since-retired John Laws) would largely be replaced on the network with more localised syndication at a state level.
Fairfax also acquired Satellite Music Australia (SMA) as part of the SCB deal, who provide music channels to retailers, as well as Foxtel and Austar (where it is branded AIR). MyTalk Datacasting Channel was officially purchased from Southern Cross Broadcasting on 5 November 2007, and ceased broadcasting on 25 February 2008.
2010 to 2013
In late 2011, John B. Fairfax and his family investment company, Marinya Media, sold their remaining 9.7 percent stake in Fairfax Media for A$189 million. The sale came after an earlier dispute between John B. Fairfax and Ron Walker, Chairman of the Board of Fairfax Media, which led to the very public departure of Walker. Continued poor performance of Fairfax Media in light of changing news services was cited as one of the reasons for the sale of Marinya Media's interests in Fairfax. John B. Fairfax had earlier stood down from the Fairfax board, and his son, Nick Fairfax, was reported to be discussing his future with the rest of the company board.
In 2012 mining billionaire Gina Rinehart (the wealthiest person in Australia) became Fairfax's biggest shareholder, purchasing a 14 percent stake in the company. Rinehart also sought a position on the Fairfax board. By June 2012, Rinehart had increased her stake in Fairfax Media to 18.67 percent, and was believed to seek three board seats and involvement in editorial decisions. There were reports that Rinehart sought to increase her total share to 19.99%, the maximum allowed before a takeover offer must be made. But provisions in Fairfax Media's insurance policy denied cover for directors owning more than 15%, so Rinehart had to sell down to 14.99%. Rinehart was denied a place on the board because she would not agree to Fairfax's charter of independence, and sold her stake in 2015.
On 18 June 2012, as part of evolving to a sustainable model for its news media business, Fairfax Media announced it would cut 1,900 staff and begin to erect digital paywalls around its two main metropolitan news brands, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. It also announced it was shifting to "compact" or tabloid-sized editions of the broadsheet newspapers from March 2013, and that its two printing facilities at Chullora and Tullamarine would close. The changes, prompted by shrinking advertising revenue, were expected to generate A$235 million in annual savings over three years.
In 2012, Fairfax Media acquired Netus Pty Ltd, a technology investment company which owned 85% of Allure Media, and purchased the remaining 15% from minority shareholders. Allure Media own a range of websites, including the Australian licenses for Business Insider, Lifehacker, Gizmodo, and Kotaku.
2014 to 2017
In 2014, Fairfax Media founded online streaming company Stan with Nine Entertainment Co., investing AU$50 million into the joint venture. In December 2014, Fairfax merged with Macquarie Radio Network. Under the deal, Fairfax gained a 55% share in Macquarie. A party may hold only two radio licences in each market, so some stations including 2CH and the Macquarie Regional Radio network were sold. In turn, 96FM Perth was sold to Australian Radio Network. The merger was completed in March 2015.
In 2015, Fairfax created a partnership with The Huffington Post to launch HuffPost Australia. In December 2015, automotive digital business 112 and Fairfax's Drive.com.au announced the formation of a 50:50 joint venture in the online motor sector, with Fairfax to license the Drive brand and Drive.com.au to 112, which owns and operates themotorreport.com.au, an online car-buyer resource.
In December 2015, automotive digital business 112 and Fairfax's "Drive.com.au" announced the formation of a 50:50 joint venture in the online motor sector. Fairfax will license the Drive brand and "Drive.com.au" URL to 112, which currently owns and operates "themotorreport.com.au", a unique independent online car-buyer resource.
In March 2016, many staff from its newspaper divisions went on a 4-day strike over planned job cuts of 120 editorial staff from The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review. All printed and digital editions continued during the action but The Age web site was down on 25 and 26 March adding to a 2-week outage earlier in March. On May 18, 2017, Hellman & Friedman made a A$2.9 billion bid for Fairfax Media, starting a bidding war with
TPG Group for Fairfax. Fairfax opened books to both parties, opening the door for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age to pass into foreign ownership.