My Moment With Murdoch and the Demand for Digital…

Wood Central attracts a new user to its website every 2 minutes!

Sun 24 Sep 23


I was checking a dry proof of Queensland Country Life’s front page in the composing room on a Thursday morning in November 1968 when the great man walked by.

Rupert Murdoch was in front of an entourage of assorted editors and managers on his first inspection tour of the Brisbane Sun, a newspaper he had just acquired for his News Corp stable of publications.

Queensland Country Life – the ‘Bible of the Bush’ – was a huge broadsheet printed every Thursday on the Sun’s 15-tonne rotary press in Fortitude Valley.

It’s all about timing. At that moment, a call came through from my revered editor, Wallace Skelsey, who barked some instructions down the line from our office in Queen Street.

I told him Rupert Murdoch was on the premises meeting the Sun’s staff.

“Hold him,” commanded Skelsey. “I need to talk to him.”

Now, how do you ‘hold’ a newspaper icon like Murdoch?

“Excuse me,” I said, tapping the shoulder of one of his minders on the fringe of the group. “My editor Wallace Skelsey would like a chat with Mr Murdoch before he leaves the building, if that’s possible.”

The response: “Who are you? And it’s not possible. No time for that.”

I said I was associate editor of Country Life, now a News Corp client, and that Wallace was known to his boss.

Then it happened … Rupert Murdoch heard the name, turned, and told the offended he would be happy to meet with Wallace, a man he respected with a 50-year tenure as Australia’s top rural scribe.

Thirty minutes later Wallace was in an office at the Sun chatting with Murdoch for half an hour.

Keith Rupert Murdoch, 92, announced last Friday he would step down as chairman of both Fox Corporation and News Corp after a 70-year career that began in 1954. His son Lachlan becomes the sole chair of News Corp and continues as executive chair and chief executive of Fox.

Rupert Murdoch will be appointed chairman emeritus of each company at the AGM in mid-November. 

But it was Murdoch’s Wapping dispute in London in 1986, a lengthy failed strike by print workers, that eventually changed forever our methods of reporting and producing newspapers.

Print unions tried to block distribution of The Sunday Times and other newspapers in Murdoch’s News International group after production was shifted to the new plant in east London.

At the new facility, modern computer facilities allowed journalists to input copy directly, rather than involve print union workers who used older ‘hot metal’ Linotype printing methods. All the workers were dismissed.

The failure of the strike led both to a general decline in trade union influence in the UK, and to a widespread adoption of modern newspaper publishing practices.

Since Wapping, the industry has moved quickly through a series of major changes from hot metal to photosetting, based on hot metal typesetting technology, paste-up, a wax application method for creating camera-ready pages, the downloading of turn-the-page PDF publications … and then to today’s total digital systems.

Murdoch’s big shift to digital is reflected in News Corp’s 25 digital-only mastheads and nine major regional print and digital titles, including a digital version of the group’s titular title, The Australian.

While at Country Life, I worked through all these changes in newspaper construction to reach the twilight of my career in January alongside energetic co-publisher Jason Ross, producing Wood Central Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms.

As of July, Wood Central now has a viewership of 50,000 individual users, and it’s growing 30% month on month!

For September, we project that we will have 30,000 users clicking on 60,000 articles – making Wood Central the second largest platform for timber, paper and fibre-based media worldwide.

Not bad for a start-up website that has only been active since February!

Our vision was to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber and fibre.

And today, we can report that our articles have been enjoyed on all bar 6 countries on earth!

Statista, a global statistics portal for marketing data, says revenue in the world’s digital newspaper and magazine space will reach $US38.6 billion this year. The number of users is expected to amount to 1.9 billion by 2027 and will likely hit 23.7 billion in 7 years.


  • Jim Bowden

    Jim Bowden, senior editor and co-publisher of Wood Central. Jim brings 50-plus years’ experience in agriculture and timber journalism. Since he founded Australian Timberman in 1977, he has been devoted to the forest industry – with a passion.


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