(Pictured: Robert Gottliebsen)
BRW is/was more than a magazine. It changed the way big business interacted with the media and, consequently, the wider world of investors and consumers. Its last print edition will appear on November 28. Buy a copy and keep it.
Fairfax launched Business Review Weekly in 1981, during the Fraser Government period, prior to the revolution in finance which followed Bob Hawke’s 1983 election: the flotation of the dollar, the big bank mergers, the lowering of tariffs, the deal with the unions which led to universal superannuation. BRW was there to report on the way Australian business entered, belatedly, the 20th Century. And it beat Packer at the same time.
Bob Gottliebsen was seconded from his pioneering ‘Chanticleer’ column at the Australian Financial Review as the launch editor. He steered the magazine, and several side ventures for Fairfax, including Personal Investment and ‘Money Management’ with David Koch, over the next 19 years until 2000.
They were the days. I was an assistant editor and business editor at the Australian Financial Review (AFR) in 1981. The late Paddy McGuiness was our editor in chief. Tony Maiden was our editor. Glenn Dyer was news editor and my immediate boss. We all found BRW annoying. Gottliebsen and his team were really good. They invented the slogan: “News you can use” and delivered on it. Clever.
Nicholas Way, now a public relations executive at Shed Media, was an industrial relations roundsman at BRW who joined in 1989. He believes that the main reason BRW succeeded, including beating its direct competitor, Packer’s ‘Australian Business’ magazine, into closure – was the succession of good editors: Gottliebsen became defacto publisher and he was succeeded as editor by people of the calibre of Stuart Simson, Jefferson Penberthy and David Uren.
“Both Gottie (Gottliebsen) and Stuart Simson were astute and commercial,” Way says. “From a journalistic point of view they shied away from hiring big names but they developed them. And they always had a good sub-editing desk. Literals were few and far between.” For the non-journalists among you, the word ‘literal’ is journalists’ jargon for ‘typo’… kind of.
Gottliebsen did an important deal, for instance, with the main accounting bodies which added more than 20,000 to BRW’s circulation.The magazine peaked at nearly 80,000, but has subsequently declined to 37,000 this year. The rule of thumb in publishing is that a news-stand magazine in Australia needs at least 50,000 circulation to wash its face. And that assumes advertisers are still prepared to use print as a medium, which is increasingly doubtful.
Nicholas Way says that BRW had a knack of picking important trends. He was actively involved in the trend to enterprise bargaining and broke a big story on what is now Rio Tinto offering the first individual contracts to its employees.
BRW was also seen as pro-business, whereas the AFR was seen as anti-business. “Gottie would go to the opening of an envelope,” one former investment writer and now investor banker says. “We were always waving the flag and offering support for good business ideas.”
This writer believes the closure of the magazine is a symptom of the broader Fairfax malaise as well as the structural shift in the media towards the much-less-lucrative digital space.
Ironically, Amanda Gome, a former BRW journalist who left the magazine to start up ‘Smart Company’, an online small business news service, was recruited early this year back to the fold to run the Fairfax business magazines. She now presides over BRW’s last issue.
The note to staff last Friday from Sean Aylmer, group director of Fairfax Business Media, put a positive spin on it, of course: “The BRW brand, journalism and content, including the Rich 200 list, will continue as part of the (AFR) and the broader Business Media unit, in print, online and video. BRW.com.au will continue as a free website.”
Fairfax is looking for about 40 redundancies but only a handful of people have put up their hands. Compulsory redundancies will now occur.
– Greg Bright