Local residents in the Casey municipality have been puzzled at the quality of the coverage of the third wheel in local newspapers, the debt-ridden and ailing Star News Group.
While Fairfax and News Limited owned publications there appear to be fair and balanced, the Star News rag is considered to be little more than a mouthpiece for beseiged Casey CEO Mike Tyler who presided over the poisoning of thousands of local residents in Brookland Greens estate by potentially lethal methane and other gases from a municipal tip within Tyler’s responsibility.
In this week’s edition, their self-styled “chief of staff” Elizabeth Hart, a PhD candidate and regional university academic who ironically teaches journalism ethics to a puzzled few, has written a passionate front-page defence of the infamous Tyler, who is one of the best paid council CEOs in the state while appearing to hold no qualifications for the job and managing to avoid interviews for the job despite being re-hired a couple of times.
Council insiders believe that Council telephone records show an astonishing amount of telephone traffic between Mike Tyler and his council high command and senior figures within the shadowy and little known local news chain. Fingers are particularly pointed towards that of Star News columnist Jim Mynard, who once notoriously tagged along a Casey Council junket, enjoying lavish hospitality in return for slavishly obedient copy in a “Trip for Tributes” scandal.
STAR NEWS PAID OFF
VEXNEWS has learned that while there are three local newspapers operating within the municipality that the Casey CEO refuses to split any of the council’s considerable weekly ad spend with the News Limited or Fairfax owned competition. For at least the past two years, all of the council’s advertising has gone to the Star News Group.
Local government observers have expressed concern over the arrangement, with one saying “It reeks of favouritism, doesn’t it? I don’t know of any council that would dare advertise in only one of its local newspapers, normally they share it around a bit, for appearance’s sake. It must be pretty dodgy down there.” Indeed it is.
Casey council’s “community directory” claims that there is only one local newspaper in the municipality: There is one result found in News & Postal Services / Newspaper. You guessed it, the Star News Group.
There is a good explanation for Star News being concerned about a changing of the guard at the Casey council, whether triggered by angry local residents or corruption investigators at the Ombudsman’s office. They are desperate to hang on to the revenue. Very desperate as it turns out.
VEXNEWS has been told by Star News insiders that the company is “staring down the barrel” of a serious debt crisis.
Once a reasonably pedestrian although quietly successful Berwick based local newspaper company founded by Ian Thomas, under his son Paul Thomas’s management the company dramatically expanded during the recent boom.
The heir Paul Thomas lives in the leafy suburb of Glen Iris, many kilometres away from the company’s base in Pakenham.
Star News Group or South East Newspapers – as it was – acquired the Geelong Independent newspaper, regional newspapers and spent a fortune expanding throughout the western suburbs of Melbourne. It was a debt-fuelled spending binge of the kind that once had plasma screens flying out of Harvey Normans across the country.
Documents obtained by VEXNEWS reveal that a Paul Ian Thomas of the Star News Group agreed to a bank charge over $7.6 million assets of the company. We understand that Thomas’s company has borrowed nearly the full extent of this under their facility with the Westpac bank. We are also advised from a source within the company that they have recently refused an extension of this facility.
While interest rates are coming down, ad revenues are crashing, particularly for poorly run newspapers. News Limited’s realestate.com.au continues to benefit from the migration of most real estate advertising to the superior online environment.
Our publication, launched on August eighth but inheriting a loyal readership of OC readers on which we have built, has considerably more – independently verified – web traffic than the combined mastheads of Star News Group which are merged into one site.
WESTPAC’S MONEY AT RISK
It is not – we are told – secured on a printing press (they don’t own one – they outsource all printing) or real property. The bank’s charge is on some rather generously valued mastheads. Valuations based on a pre-crash level of real estate advertising.
In a firesale situation, given there are usually two competitors owned by Fairfax and News in most markets in which Star operates, some say the value of many of these deeply indebted mastheads is practically zero.
It’s enough to make you wonder whether Casey council should continue to prop up this ailing enterprise with its exclusive advertising arrangement. Certainly competitors in the News Limited owned Leader and Fairfax Community Newspapers will be keen to take up the slack if and when Star News Group collapses under the combined weight of debt and cash for comment scandals.