Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Malcolm Maiden, Fairfax Media, and the decline and fall of an empire

We don't often visit the business pages in search of loons but there was something about Malcolm Maiden's column in The Age - Fairfax moves allow it a little headroom - Media group appears to be weathering the downturn - that was utterly compelling, especially with the news reported in sister paper SMH that Fairfax Media has just taken a half year hit of a $365m loss.

Maiden does a lot of fancy toe tapping with numbers to read in the entrails that Fairfax appears to be weathering the downturn. In much the same way that New Orleans weathered Hurricane Katrina?

I look forward to Maiden's next column, explaining how white is black, red ink is an excellent future profit indicator, and just why Chairman Mao and comrade Stalin were good for their countries, in a cyclical sort of way, with an upturn sure to follow, provided costs are contained, and journalists given their marching orders (since the best newspapers run without them, in the way Fawlty Towers was an excellent hotel apart from the pesky guests).

Guys, is this the final result of banning Mike Carlton and publishing loons like Gerard Henderson? Only time will tell. Meantime, we're so happy we sold our shares while they were north of $3.50, as they recently headed to below a dollar for the first time since listing. 

Management has stuffed a couple of papers with a proud history, and as we all know all the market does is say 'told you so'. You can blame short selling if you like, but free CD's and DVD's don't constitute either sensible marketing or good editorial policies. As for online, they still haven't got their refresh functionality working properly. 

If Citigroup and Bank of America go down, or get nationalised for their incompetence in a de facto ersatz American way, we haven't begun to see what it'll be like weathering a storm. Thanks be to Bush.

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