FORMER Fairfax chief executive Fred Hilmer has confessed that he struggled to cope with an editorial culture that naturally leaned to the Left and where journalists saw themselves as advocates rather than straight reporters.The admission comes in a book to be published next week which contains a revealing account of his seven years at the helm of the group, publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review.
"Fairfax's default position was to turn left and be agenda-driven," Mr Hilmer writes in The Fairfax Experience.
"Journalists often conducted campaigns where they persisted in covering stories long after readers had lost interest."
Mr Hilmer also admits he failed to save the business from the threat of the internet.
"I found no media model for a broadsheet, classified-dependent newspaper organisation that would pull me out of the hole I found myself in at Fairfax," Mr Hilmer writes.
Now vice-chancellor of the University of NSW and a Westfield director, Mr Hilmer concedes he was an "off-the-wall" appointment to the publishing group.
He describes how he was lampooned by rivals such as PBL chairman James Packer for passing up on important web assets such as Seek.com.au and carsales.com.au while classified advertising revenues - the fabled "rivers of gold" that underpinned the group's profitability for well over a century - drifted away from print media.
"I knew Seek was not prepared to sell its business to Fairfax, but until the day I left the internet team was saying that Seek could be overtaken with organic growth - and I almost believed it," he writes.
"In hindsight I should have seen that classifieds tend to gravitate to the leading site in any category ... I should have done something other than try to compete head-to-head."
Comparing total shareholder return during his tenure at Fairfax, Mr Hilmer estimates he delivered a "reasonable" 9 per cent a year between 1998 and 2005, while publishers of world-renowned titles such as The New York Times went backwards.
But Mr Hilmer reckons he was left with the unprofitable rump of the Fairfax empire after it was carved up in the aftermath of Warwick Fairfax's unsuccessful takeover bid in 1987.
Original piece is http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,21108534-2702,00.html