News Corp staff shocked at exit of editor whose website broke Brittany Higgins story

The editor whose news website broke the Brittany Higgins rape story has lost her job in a major corporate shake-up at the top of News Corp’s Australian publishing empire.

The shock departure of Lisa Muxworthy, the highly regarded editor-in-chief of News.com.au, blindsided staff who work at the site. Although senior job losses across the company were anticipated as part of the corporate restructuring announced on Wednesday, staff expected them to be concentrated in the financially struggling tabloid newspapers.

news corp staff shocked at exit of editor whose website broke brittany higgins story

Rupert Murdoch passed the baton as chairman of News Corp to his eldest son, Lachlan, who is presiding over the restructuring of its Australian operations.

Instead, News.com.au, the first media outlet to reveal that Higgins had been raped inside Parliament House – a story which contributed to the fall of the Morrison government and continues to reverberate more than four years later – will shift under the control of Mick Carroll, the former editor of the Saturday and Sunday editions of the Daily Telegraph.

“This was a surprise,” one staff journalist said. “What Lisa Muxworthy has done is pretty incredible, and she is leaving the company.”

The mood in the website’s newsroom was “diabolical”, another source said.

Journalists working for News Corp’s newspapers, news sites and magazines were informed on Wednesday of a significantly altered publishing structure which is likely to result in more newsroom job losses in the coming weeks as the company looks for up to $65 million in savings.

The restructure, which comes amid an advertising downturn impacting the entire media industry, affirms Daily Telegraph editor Ben English and the Herald Sun’s Sam Weir as the company’s two most powerful publishing figures.

English will take control of the national news network – teams of reporters and production staff who provide stories to all mastheads – and Weir will add the Hobart Mercury and Weekly Times to his portfolio of mastheads. The editors of the weekend newspapers will now report to the state editors.

Peter Blunden, the last of the old-school News Corp editors whose proximity to Rupert Murdoch saw him wield enormous influence over the company’s Victorian affairs for decades, will relinquish responsibility for the national reporting teams. However, he will retain his board positions as he steps back to three days a week.

News Corp staff were informed of the changes in a series of town hall meetings on Wednesday morning ahead of the ASX-listed company publicly announcing its slimmed-down senior executive team. They were provided no details on what job losses would result from the changes nor the quantum of savings the company was hoping to make.

“Over the next two weeks, we will provide you with more information – and we will inform all of you what these changes mean for you and how teams will operate,” News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller said in a memo to staff. “A number of roles will change, and some people will regrettably leave our business.”

Miller’s memo did not name senior executives who had lost their jobs and made no mention of Muxworthy.

She joined the company 20 years ago and since shifting to News.com.au in 2012 has helped build it into Australia’s most-read news website and one of the few profitable parts of the publishing empire. She was made editor-in-chief two months before reporter Sam Maiden broke the Brittany Higgins story that won that year’s Gold Walkley award.

Muxworthy is overseas and could not be reached for comment.

The new corporate structure formally splits News Corp’s city-based tabloids and sports publications from premium products such as The Australian as well as the free-to-readers news.com.au site.

News.com.au will continue to chase clicks in a division known as “free news and lifestyle”, published by Pippa Leary. Carroll will become editor-in-chief of the entire division, which also includes News Corp’s wire service NCA and its lifestyle publications, such as Stellar magazine.

A News Corp spokesperson said that under this new structure, Muxworthy’s job was redundant.

The tabloid newspapers will be housed in a new “state and community mastheads” division, published by Mark Reinke, while The Australian will remain with Vogue Australia, GQ Australia and Wish magazine in a “prestige mastheads” division, which reports to Nicholas Gray, currently in charge of digital subscriptions and relationships with Google and Meta, the owner of Facebook.

Under the change, The Australian’s editor-in-chief, Michelle Gunn, will retain control of the national daily and assume editorial responsibility for Vogue and other prestige publications.

Lilian Saleh, the national editor of the national news network, will keep her job but report directly to English.

A senior executive familiar with the changes but not authorised to speak publicly about them said the restructure recognised that different parts of the publishing empire, which operate on different financial models, needed greater autonomy to serve their existing readers and develop future strategies.

It will also give masthead editors, and particularly English, greater direct control over the work of journalists and producers assigned to the National News Network.

The restructure, shaped by PwC consultants, removes the last remnants of the state-based fiefdoms that once ran the Murdoch empire under all-powerful former masthead editors. In effect, Australia’s largest employer of journalists has adopted a national model, which it hopes will enable it to complete the transition from a print to a fully digital media company.

A decade ago, former chief executive Kim Williams – now chairman of the ABC – tried to dismantle the state-based fiefdoms but met resistance from state executives and editors before he resigned from the company.

Managers and executives had known for months of the impending restructure, with some taking redundancies as early as February. Others learnt their fate this week.

The full impact of the changes on newsrooms will become clear once the new bosses make staffing decisions about how best to meet their budgets.

“I suspect a bunch of people over the next couple of weeks will learn that they haven’t got a job,” a senior company figure said.

The cuts follow a global budget meeting at the company’s Holt Street headquarters in Sydney last week, attended by News UK boss Rebekah Brooks, global chief executive Robert Thomson and chairman Lachlan Murdoch, who took over from Rupert Murdoch last year. They have now left the country.

On Tuesday, News staff pushed through a 12-month extension of their current enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA), offering a 3.5 per cent pay rise to focus on the impending job cuts.

“The company came and offered a 12-month rollover deal of full EBA negotiations, and members have resolved to accept the deal,” Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) director Michelle Rae said.

MEAA members have endorsed the deal, which will soon be put to a formal vote of endorsement by all News Corp staff.

The restructure comes as the company moves to form relationships with artificial intelligence companies. Last week, the company secured a significant deal with ChatGPT’s parent company, OpenAI.

The global deal for an undisclosed sum will result in OpenAI using content from more than a dozen of News Corp’s publications for its generative AI products.

Miller will address the National Press Club next month on the topic of “Australia and Global tech: time for a reset”.

He is expected to continue the company’s strident campaign against perceived dangers of social media and holding global tech platforms including Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram, to account.

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