Australia's national news agency to survive with new owners
SYDNEY (AP) — Australia's national news agency will continue with new owners, the board confirmed Friday, just weeks before it was due to be shut down. But the agency will be slimmed down, with only about half the former number of staff.
The Australian Associated Press board said an agreement with a consortium of investors and philanthropists led by Peter Tonagh is in the final stages of negotiation. The agreement covers AAP's news division but not other parts of the group.
The newswire was due to close in late June. It will now continue operating as AAP and provide breaking news, public interest journalism, sports coverage and news photography.
“I am pleased that, after months of discussions with various parties, it appears we have been able to secure a new home for AAP’s legacy of trusted news,” CEO Bruce Davidson said.
The sale involves only the news division of AAP, including text and photography, which currently provides reporting on general news, courts, politics, finance, racing and sports, plus images and video.
Other parts of the AAP Group will be retained by the current shareholders. Those include Medianet, Mediaverse, AAP Directories, Pagemasters and Racing operations, and these businesses will continue to operate as usual.
Tonagh, the former chief executive at News Corp Australia, said his consortium is committed to independent journalism.
“We live in a time where trusted, unbiased news is more important than ever. AAP has always delivered on that and we are committed to seeing that continue into the future,” he said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to working with the AAP team to continue its great work and to find new commercial opportunities to ensure its long-term survival."
Tonagh said more information about future plans for the agency would be provided after consulting with stakeholders, including staff and customers.
Davidson said there would be job losses and the new-look AAP will employ 85 to 90 staff, including around 70 to 75 editorial staff. The consortium will continue the AAP FactCheck service. The consortium said it will engage with employees over coming weeks.
AAP had about 180 editorial staff earlier this year before the closure announcement, although some have left since then.
AAP’s board announced on March 3 the entire operation would close on June 26, citing the financial impact of the increasing availability of free online content. It would have meant the loss of up to 500 jobs.
AAP is currently owned by Nine, News Corp Australia, The West Australian and Australian Community Media. The newswire opened more than 85 years ago and its potential loss had been widely described as a blow to democracy.
Editor in Chief Tony Gillies described Friday’s news as a triumph for public interest journalism.
“Finally, a good news story for an industry that has been battered,” he said. “In the 95 days since the original March 3 closure announcement our journalists, photographers and editors have endured the anxiety of an uncertain future and the difficulties of the COVID-19 lockdown. And yet, they have been professional without exception, working as hard as ever.
“Their poise and resilience has been inspiring. The consortium is taking on Australia’s best.”