‘Unbelievably sad’: Backlash to Nine’s $4b takeover
SOMETIME towards the end of the year, the Fairfax name will be levered off the side of the company's harbourside HQs in Sydney's Pyrmont and Melbourne's Docklands.
This will be the clearest indication of the completion of Thursday's blockbuster deal between the publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age and Nine Entertainment.
Despite Nine shareholders owning just over half the combined group and it being spoken about as a "merger", all the signs are the new firm will be dominated by the TV network. The Fairfax name will be ditched from the parent company and Nine CEO Hugh Marks will run the group.
"This is a Nine takeover of Fairfax folks, it ain't a merger," tweeted Katherine Murphy, political editor of the Guardian Australia.
It's less a meeting of minds and more a Ninja Warrior battle royal between the likes of Nine presenters Karl Stefanovic and Scotty Cam, and the SMH's heavyweight reporters Kate McClymont and Adele Ferguson, the latter of which uncovered the scandals that led to the banking royal commission.
Stefanovic and Cam appear to have topped the warped wall at the end of the course, with McClymont and Ferguson languishing in the drink below. Although McClymont tweeted that she looks forward to co-hosting Today.
Fairfax's CEO Greg Hywood has said despite the total erasure of his company's name, there will be lots of "Fairfax DNA" in the new souped-up Nine. His own staff don't seem convinced with one simply tweeting "send help" this morning.
Paul Syvret, a columnist at News Corp title the Courier Mail and a former Fairfax employee, said the news was "incredibly sad".
"As an SMH and AFR alumnus, watching the name disappear from our media landscape is like a death in the family." he wrote.
"Unbelievably sad that the Fairfax name will depart the Australian media landscape," said Cameron Atfield, an editor at Fairfax's Brisbane Times.
There are other questions about the melding of the culture between the two organisations.
Nine is the home of well-regarded current affairs shows including 60 Minutes and veteran journalistic talent such as Tracy Grimshaw and political editor Chris Uhlmann.
It's also brought Australia the semi-naked dating show Love Island and, in Nine Pickle, a website dedicated entirely to viral videos.
The company was criticised last year when Lisa Wilkinson jumped ship to Ten, as she accused the network of underpaying female talent while the boys got juicy pay packets.
For some it was an uncomfortable reminder of Nine's 2007 "boning" of then-Today host Jessica Rowe who was pulled off the air. It was Wilkinson who took her place.
On Thursday, former Fairfax music writer Bernard Zuel thought aloud what the 2019 TV schedule of the merged company might be: "Two And A Half Men And A Token Woman" he pondered.
Nine traces its history back to 1956, when it became the first television network in Australia, just beating the ABC to the screen. Fairfax goes back another century and more to 1831 when the SMH first hit the Harbour City's streets, becoming one of Australia's journals of record.
While neither family now owns the companies involved, the deal brings together the legacies of two of Australia's most famous media dynasties, the Packers and Fairfax.
The Fairfax family connection to Australian journalism started in 1804 in Warwickshire, in the English Midlands, with the birth of John Fairfax.
He reached Sydney in 1838 with his family and, reportedly, just five pounds in his pocket. A decade later, John bought what would become the SMH with the family keeping control of the paper for 150 years.
His son James would helm the company for almost seven decades while the Fairfax family would go on to hold prominent positions in Sydney society and Australian companies and charities, hobnobbing with the equally rich and powerful.
Huge wealth came the Fairfax way, along with a sprinkling of knighthoods.
Lady Mary Fairfax, latterly the matriarch of the clan, died in 2017, her funeral attended by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
She had a fierce reputation as someone who was not to be crossed with and held views that would be considered old fashioned.
At her funeral, one of Lady Fairfax's sons, Garth Symonds, told mourners: "She didn't like it if you talked too much. The safe move was to dress in a suit 24/7," reported the AFR.
Another son, Warwick, said she would ask female guests to leave the men to discuss business and politics after swanky functions at the family's Point Piper pad overlooking the harbour.
There were grumbles but Lady Fairfax was not for turning: "My mother was firm and such protests were not successful," Warwick said.
But his mother was also supportive of her family, consoling Warwick when he took Fairfax public in 1987 only for it to collapse three years later.
Despite the family having no control of the current firm, it continues to bear their name - for now at least.
Gay Alcorn, a journalist at Guardian Australia, expressed the concerns of many Fairfax veterans in a tweet on Thursday: "The name Fairfax has stood for so much over more than 150 years: quality, independent, fierce journalism, proud staff and loyal readers. Now it's to disappear - the symbol is the loss of the name, but it's far more than that."
But it was the Australian's Rick Morton who summed it up most succinctly, referring to the SMH and Age's slogan, "Independent. Always".
"Independent. Once," he wrote.