Advertising & Newspaper News, March 19, 1971, p. 12, 18
Isn’t it possible to be a provocative journalist without buying writs? “No,” says Australia’s most provocative journalist, Max Newton, “I don’t think it is.”
In the mere six years he has been in business on his own account, Max Newton has had 30 writs taken out against him. One lot was worth about $39 million. They have all been withdrawn.
The first publishing business venture was a newsletter, Incentive, started from his home in 1965. Today, his complex range of publications are worth over $2 million.
“He has gone beyond the point where he can fail,” according to Peter Kelly, one of Max Newton’s closest executives in the Maxwell Newton Publications group.
To those not in the know, the pattern of growth may seem wild, volatile, energetic, but without developmental aims. The first major purchases were a group of newspapers on N.S.W.’s south coast — which now only represent 10% of business.
But there is a pattern in the violently outspoken, restless mind of Max Newton. And the pattern stretches from Japan, to the South Pacific, to New Zealand.
Maxwell Newton Publications Pty. Ltd. now has about $2 million invested in the business, employing about 200 people. The nerve-centre is in Canberra.
To achieve this substantial level of business he has raised about $1 million in cash, and at least another $500,000 in vendors’ loans. Max is the major shareholder, and there are two others who shall remain silent.
He says he is not at liberty to disclose who the “silent” partners are, except they are not in the publishing business. When finally revealed, people will be a bit surprised.
They are not the Perth mining duo, Hancock and Wright, who paid Max Newton a fee amounting in all to about $60,000 to start the Perth Independent newspaper for them.
“What I have tried to do on all my takeover is make them self-financing,” he said. “We make a deposit to the vendor, and repay the rest on terms.”
He has been approached by a major Australian publisher to go into partnership with them, but no hint as to who that is, either. That remains to be seen.
Primarily, it is the outspoken views of Max Newton that is his most saleable asset. And it has also led to the most rows, the most writs, and to be being the most hotly pursued by the Commonwealth Police.
He reckons that the trouble with writs in this society is that they are a “one-way option”. Anyone can issue them, and do not get punished if they fail.
Because all his journals are outspoken, he is in the market for writs. So, to protect himself, he has set up an investigation bureau which goes into the private lives of those who issue them. “This will make it very uncomfortable indeed for anybody to have a go at us,” he said.
“We have been very bold in what we’ve done by way of publications. But I believe in journalists working on our papers being given maximum freedom. That means taking a lot of risks. But so far we have not had one successful action of defamation.”
Maxwell Newton was born in Perth in 1929. Went to Perth Modern School, in the same class as A.C.T.U.’s Bob Hawke — and sang in St. George’s Cathedral choir in Perth with Rolf Harris.
He read economics at the University of Western Australia, won a scholarship to Cambridge where he took first class honours in economics.
He went into the Commonwealth Treasury in 1953, but left the next year when he decided he was not suited for a Civil Service career. He worked in the economic department of the Bank of New South Wales in Sydney in 1956, for the grand sum of £21 a week.
“Because this amount was not sufficient to live in the style to which I wished to become accustomed, I used to make batteries at my home in Harbord,” he said.
Maxwell Newton was a regular contributor of letters to The Sydney Morning Herald on economic policy in those days. This led to him being appointed to the newspaper as a political correspondent from 1957-1959. Then he was appointed managing editor of The Australian Financial Review, then a weekly. When he left, after “a series of rows,” it was a daily.
He was appointed by Mr. Rupert Murdoch as managing editor of The Australian.
By training I am an economist, and after I left The Australian I went out on my own, and turned by hand to what I could make money out of quickest.
So what I did is, firstly, work for foreign newspapers — I used to do work for The Economist, The New York Journal of Commerce, London Financial Times, Life.
In addition, I used to work for some big financial institutions, advising them about politics and economic policy.
From this arose, in mid-1965, the newsletter Incentive, which involves itself in economic policy and politics in which Max Newton had worked for years.
This provided enough money to live on, working from the garage of his house near Deacon, Canberra.
He bought a couple more newsletters — Management Newsletter from Walter Scott, and Australian Parliamentary and Legislative Review. He started two more, called Tariff Week and Minerals Week.
All this activity took him through 1966 and most of 1967.
“It was making enough money to live on — and to get enough self-confidence, I suppose, to think of being something else,” he said.
Shortly after this, he was joined by Richard Farmer, formerly of the Public Service Board in Canberra. They purchased The Braidwood Despatch in 1969.
Using a Rotaprint duplicator, they printed the newsletters, another publication called The Business Review, and The Braidwood Despatch in a room at the back of the home of Ken Newton, brother of Max.
“I think in that financial year 1968-69 we turned over about $160,000. In 1969-70 we turned over $750,000. And, in 1970-71, we will turn over more than $2 million,” Max Newton said.
The four main executives now working with Max Newton in the group read like a breakaway Canberra department. They are:
- Peter Clarke, former press secretary to Mr. McMahon.
- Financial controller: Peter Van Vugt, formerly executive officer for the National Capital Development Commission in Canberra.
- General manager: Ken Newton, formerly director of Agriculture for the South Pacific Commission.
- Group advertising manager: John Gaul, former political correspondent with The Canberra Times.
“When John Gaul came into that job in the middle of last year we had two salesmen working for us. Now we have about 30.”
The financing of the Maxwell Newton group purchase of Shipping Newspapers publications, which cost nearly $500,000 was also vendor’s loan, as with other purchases of the group.
The effect of that one deal was to virtually double the size of the Maxwell Newton business.
Further expansion programmes are on the way — the group has already purchased Queensland Shipping Newspapers, and similar negotiations are going on in Perth.
What I’ve been trying to do is to build up the specialised publications. And one area where we have evidently found a very profitable outlet is in the area of transport.
So what I want to do is to buy more shipping newspapers in strategical points — in the U.S.A., England, and somewhere in Asia — because there is a lot of interconnecting in advertising and editorial between all these papers.
Between 1967 and 1975 the volume of dry cargo is going to go up from 150 million to 240 million tons.
At the same time, Australia is enjoying a very rapid growth in its international trade and in its influence in the Pacific Basin region.
What I have always tried to do is to get on to the growth points. It is evident there is now a very great market occurring in the Pacific for Australian products of all kinds, and it is only logical that Australian publishers should move into that region.
The result of this publishing concept has been to have discussions with publishers in Singapore about a joint venture there to publish a business weekly paper to circulate into the region near Singapore — Thailand, Indonesia, The Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
In addition, the group has just purchased Pacific Island Trade News, published in Auckland and distributed in the New Zealand area of influence of the South Pacific. In April this year this monthly will become a weekly, distributed throughout Papua New Guinea, the New Hebrides, British Solomons, Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa and New Zealand, to the extent of about 6000 copies a week.
“It will be a paper of commerce to serve that region — which is a region of very rapid economic expansion in itself, and also one in which our trade is expanding very rapidly,” he said.
Because the fundamental “engine” of growth in that region of the Pacific is Japan, Maxwell Newton Publications also found it essential to have a strong base in Japan — to obtain appropriate news links. Max Newton said:
It is very difficult for Westerners to penetrate Japan. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo is the main source of information out of Japan. But the Japanese economy is imperfectly covered by Western publishers, mainly because they haven’t spent enough time in developing their links with Japanese publishing houses and news media.
Western publishers usually send a Western journalist up there who has to take a very long and painful process of self-indoctrination.
What I started to do three years ago was to build up links with a Japanese publisher. Last October I signed an agreement with a Japanese publisher to set up a Japanese news service in Tokyo. The company is called The Japan Commerce.
In addition, we have set up an office in Akasaka, a central commercial area in Tokyo, and we now have eight Japanese journalists working there.
Commencing July, these journalists will sending in big Japanese news service each week. They will be supplying a minimum of 10,000 words a week as part of the contract. It is extremely expensive, one way or another costing us over $1000 a week already.
But I take the view that Japan will be, in a measurable period of time, second only to the United States in the world in terms of economic power. And by the end of the century it is possible the Japanese will be more powerful than the United States.
Of all the Maxwell Newton group publications today, Newton himself considers the one with the most potential for circulation is Jobson’s Investment Digest — but by far the most profitable is The Daily Commercial News.
The group publications all have high cover prices. The Australian Miner, Jobson’s Investment Digest and The Daily Commercial News cost 40 cents a copy. Business Review costs 80 cents.
“Partly this has been forced on me by necessity, because I didn’t have enough money to be able to wait for the advertising build-up. But also, it’s had the effect that we can say to an advertiser that if a bloke’s going to pay 40 cents, he’s going to read every word in it,” he said.
Max Newton’s “rows” with publishers has led to considerable banning of promotional advertising for his publications by a considerable sector of the news media.
Has the Newton brand of criticism of government ever led to advertisers banning him also?
“Yes, a lot of the big companies used to get a bit nervous about advertising in our publications. It is decreasingly so now. B.H.P. used to be nervous, but they take ads with us now. Reg Ansett won’t take any ads at all. But this will become less and less important as our publications because more influential and the use of them become logical.”
This year the advertising revenue of Maxwell Newton Publications will be $900,000. Last year it was about $200,000. Describing the advertising situation now, he says, “it’s good, getting better, but still not enough.”
Asked about distribution pressures, he said:
The problem of distributing newspapers in Australia is not as great as might be popularly thought. It is very difficult for big publishers to bar other newspapers, if the other newspapers act sensibly.
Gordon Barton had his problems in Melbourne to distribute The Sunday Observer on Sunday — but that’s a very difficult one to crack, because the Sunday market in Melbourne is very under-developed. And Gordon is faced with the problem of trying to get the newsagents to open virtually just for his paper.
Newton says he believes publications today have to be marketed a lot more energetically.
The old idea is that if you had an interesting paper it will sell itself. Well there’s a lot in that — and if you’ve got a crook paper you won’t sell it, no matter how much you promote it.
So the two parts of our company that are the most important in terms of our management criteria, and our priorities, are marketing and finance.
He believes financial newspapers are becoming far too over-crowded in Australia. Whereas 10 years ago there was nothing, there is now a tremendous expansion in financial journalism to the point where it is being done to death.
“So we are giving it up. We’ve gone beyond that into more specialised publications. I’ve given away the idea of general business publications. You can’t keep up with the amount of stuff that’s being written about it now — much of it repetitious.”
Despite what people may think about media monopoly, they should be careful about government control.
The point about our economic system is that, in almost every industry, three or four big companies end up controlling about three-quarters of the output. This applies to almost every industry in Western capitalist economies.
In the media business, it happens to mean that a number of people have a disproportionate control over what other people think — or what they want other people to think.
Well, that’s not very desirable. But the alternative, which is to have some sort of State control, would be even more hideous. So I would support a policy of letting the media look after themselves, leave them alone.
If people accumulate a lot of power in the process, well, bad luck. I can’t see any way of stopping it. One way or another somebody is going to get a lot of power. So I would rather it be in the hands of somebody like Sir Frank Packer than somebody like John Gorton, or even some official in the Government. I think that would be tremendously dangerous.
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