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Fairfax links print, online units

Fairfax Media will bring together its flagship metropolitan newspapers and online properties under one roof in an organisational restructure.

Australian Metro Media will be one of nine business units reporting to Fairfax Media chief executive Brian McCarthy, who presented the new structure to the financial community in Sydney yesterday.

It will combine the print, online and classifieds of metropolitan newspapers the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age in Melbourne and the Canberra Times.

Community newspapers in New South Wales, Victoria and Canberra, as well as the company's online properties in Brisbane and Perth, are also included.

Previously, the online arms of Fairfax's newspapers were managed separately by Fairfax Digital, led by Jack Matthews.

Australian Metro Media would have contributed 22 per cent of Fairfax's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda) in 2009/10.

McCarthy said the new structure would allow the company to adapt faster as the media environment changed.

"It provides for greater content sharing and it provides for more integrated selling," McCarthy said

"It allows us to better evolve our culture and the skills of our people."

Market reaction was muted. In late morning trading yesterday, Fairfax Media was down 1.5c at A$1.37, on volume of 1.95 million shares.

A new position - chief executive of Australian Metro Media - will be appointed to run all the publishing and online media businesses in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Perth, Fairfax said. McCarthy said the position was yet to be filled, with an internal and external search under way.

A Metro commercial director will run an integrated sales team and a new national editor will "oversee an integrated national sections editorial team".

Moreover, Fairfax said there would be a new head of classifieds to provide "common leadership" for the publisher's metropolitan classifieds businesses.

Under this new structure, Fairfax will operate with five multi-platform businesses - Australian metro media, Australian regional media, New Zealand media, Agricultural media, and the Australian Financial Review Group.

There will be two transactional businesses, Trade Me in New Zealand, and digital transactions.

These two units would be "elevated" to report directly to the chief executive, Fairfax said.

There will be two single-platform businesses, radio and printing.

The restructure was expected to result in savings of A$10 million ($12.7 million) annually, McCarthy said, but that was not a "primary driver" for making the change.

"That's an off-the-cuff number that I would be prepared to quote," McCarthy said.

Asked if radio was a core asset for Fairfax, McCarthy said the company had to be "opportunistic".

"We need to be opportunistic on the buy side and we also need to be opportunistic on the sell side.

"If someone comes along and says: 'Here is a pile of money' and we deem that to be a good price and appropriate and in the shareholders' best interests weighing it all up, then we'd look at it."

Fairfax owns metropolitan radio stations such as Melbourne's 3AW and Sydney's 2UE.

Fairfax said it would retain a dividend payout ratio in the short term, but there was "an objective to increase" in the medium term.


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