Fairfax: The Rise and Fall by Colleen Ryan

A common view, established over the past few years, is that the once proud and prevailing newspaper empire, Fairfax, is dying a slow but sure death. Colleen Ryan, who was a Fairfax journalist for more than 35 years, does little to dispel this consensus.

Ryan’s new book has been labelled a ‘devastating expose’ of the continual failures of the various identities behind Fairfax to reverse its demise. Beginning with the media empire’s founding as a family company, Ryan charts Fairfax’s rise to the top of the Australian newspaper hierarchy, to its progressive undoing and dramatic fall. A host of familiar names feature, many of whom have attempted to stifle or appropriate the company, among them Kerry Packer, Rupert Murdoch, Paul Keating and even members of the Fairfax family itself.

Ryan writes with the type of thoroughness and clarity you would expect from one of Australia’s most decorated journalists. She has three Walkley awards, including a Gold Walkley, as well as the Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year Award. Yet the strength of her latest work is her ability to craft a timeline of the Australian media climate that has at times supported a thriving Fairfax and at other times dealt it ostensibly fatal blows.

Since its beginning, Fairfax has been central to a healthy Australian democracy. Despite incursions by key individuals seeking to use it for their own interests, like Packer or Gina Rinehart, Fairfax prides itself on an unwavering journalistic integrity. To that end, it will perhaps always be an icon of the Australian media, yet Ryan’s outlook is grim. This is an immensely telling work of non-fiction, in regards to both the Australian media environment and our capricious corporate culture.

Dexter Gillman is a freelance reviewer.