The woman trusted to revive Australia’s premier news agency has set her sights on growth in a shrinking industry, and nothing is off the table after a fast and furious period of consolidation.
Australian Associated Press will live on, albeit at about half its current size, after a consortium of philanthropists and investors signed a deal on Monday to prevent its closure after 85 years.
AAP’s senior legal counsel Emma Cowdroy has accepted the job of CEO. She’s the only woman anywhere in the world running a news agency right now.
Ms Cowdroy is distressed that many of the colleagues she’s worked with for 20 years won’t survive the agency’s dramatic but necessary downsizing.
But she’s also confident that within three years, it will be back in a sustainable position and expanding into new realms, shaking off AAP’s cloak of invisibility with it.
“As wholesalers, we really are the service that probably every news-reading Australian would have read but may never have heard of,” she said on Tuesday.
“We need to expand the knowledge of our brand. We need the general public to know that if there’s an AAP attribution on a story, then that is a badge of accurate, independent news they can trust.”
Ms Cowdroy says strategies for growth are embryonic at this stage.
In the immediate term, AAP will keep doing what it’s always done.
“We will continue with a service that is broadly based on what we have been supplying, so that our customers get a seamless transition. Beyond that, nothing is off the table.”
Ms Cowdroy says the next six to 12 months will be about consolidation and ensuring the agency has staff in the right geographic locations, and a mix of senior and junior professionals.
The new group will number at least 85, including about 70 reporters, photographers and production staff. Andy Drummond will continue as editor.
Formal offers of ongoing employment will start going out by the end of next week after conversations with staff that began on Tuesday, Ms Cowdroy said.
“It will be a smaller and more nimble organisation and we will need to make every story count,” she said.
“People that come across will be wearing many hats.”
It was early March when major shareholders Nine Entertainment and News Corp Australia announced the agency would close on June 26 because they considered it to be unsustainable.
Just over two weeks later, staff were told the closure was on hold after a number of investors expressed interest in acquiring the business.
On June 5, they learned there was a buyer but the sale took almost four weeks to conclude.
A key member of the consortium, Nick Harrington, will join the business as head of strategy and development. The consortium also includes philanthropist John McKinnon, and has been supported by senior media executive Peter Tonagh.
In a statement late on Monday the consortium said it was saving AAP to protect media diversity.
“We feel the best way to do this is to ensure the long-term sustainability of the AAP newswire and its provision of independent, quality journalism on issues that matter to all Australians,” it said.