Embattled startup News.net to ‘suspend operations’, staff still owed thousands

Controversial journalism start-up News.net will suspend operations today from the end of trading amid a major wage dispute with its employees and suppliers who owe thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and bills.

The company’s sole director, Brendt Munro, told staff Wednesday night he had no choice but to temporarily stop working, three days after this masthead revealed the entity was facing federal lawsuits over its inability to hire personnel and services from to pay third parties. He did not specify a definitive date on which the arrears would be paid.

“I have had to make a decision today to suspend our operations from the end of operations on Friday, October 21, 2022. It is with an extremely heavy heart that I am doing this,” Munro said in the email obtained by this masthead.

The startup will “suspend” operations from today.Credit:Screenshot

“The company that pays the salaries is a subsidiary of an Overseas (sic) parent company. At this level, money was raised to fund the pre-launch phase of the website. For a variety of reasons, the pre-launch phase took longer than expected.”

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Perhaps the most ambitious local journalism venture in decades, News.net had plans to hire 170 people within 23 weeks and launch more than 1,500 local, national and international websites that could be linked to a single domain name. It was intended to launch in April, but continued to be delayed due to technological issues. Multiple employees who have spoken anonymity to this masthead for fear of retaliation are in some cases owed up to two months’ wages.

Munro’s decision to temporarily suspend operations was made less than 24 hours before he was due to attend a Fair Work Commission hearing filed by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance for non-payment of wages and pension. Multiple sources familiar with conversations between Munro and the MEAA, which requested anonymity in order to speak out, said he asked three times to postpone the hearing before sending the email to staff. He did not attend the meeting.

Munro is listed as the sole director of News.net, a company founded in early April and led by former AAP editor-in-chief Tony Gillies. Employees were told that Gillies was the chief executive and that he was listed as such on the website, but he told this masthead on Sunday that he had been hired as a consultant. He said he has no insight into the finances. An email to staff by Gillies on Monday said the lease at the Bond St Sydney office, where the journalists and sales teams were based, had been terminated.

Michael Norris, a one-time owner of Brisbane radio station 4BH, was known as the “Chairman” but was not listed as a director on ASIC filings.

Jacky

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