Keith McDonald

1926-2012    |    Queensland    |    Media Executive

Keith McDonald was one of Queensland’s most important newspaper industry leaders of the 20th century. A protégé of Sir Keith Murdoch, he helped build Queensland Press, a critical part of the Herald & Weekly Times empire that grew to control 70 per cent of the nation’s metropolitan newspaper circulations by the mid-1980s. As chief executive and director of Queensland Newspapers, he was an important player in the fight for control of the HWT in 1987. The group was acquired by Rupert Murdoch, beating off challenges from Fairfax and Robert Holmes a Court. McDonald spent the next decade as a director of News Corp.

He loved all the elements of good production, from cover design and mastheads, illustration and registration of images on newsprint to typesetting and the paper stock used for printing.

Jennifer McDonald on her father Keith


Keith Henry McDonald


One story his family tells about Keith McDonald encapsulates just what a wise and tolerant man this titan of Queensland media was.

Daughter Janet related at his memorial in Brisbane in February 2013 the tale of the night she and sister Jennifer were awoken by a pair of rowdy drunks who had slumped into the banana lounges by the family pool after a loud party not far from their Brisbane family home. They were sure their dad must have heard it but there was no call to the police and no confrontation. The drunks outside soon fell asleep by the pool and the McDonald sisters went back to sleep.

Next morning Keith brewed the coffee as usual and the girls woke to the familiar smell. When they came down Keith was serving his unexpected visitors coffee and toast by the pool. He offered them the downstairs loo and a drive home. No bluster and no fuss. No questions asking did they know just whose property they were sitting in.

Perhaps Keith had seen so many journalists under the weather during his time as a finance writer and finance editor at The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and later as managing director of Queensland Newspapers that it seemed that morning like just another situation to be calmed. For Keith was nothing if not calm and dignified.

Keith Henry McDonald, son of a dairy farmer from Biggenden 340km north-west of Brisbane, went to the University of Queensland on an Archibald Scholarship in 1944. He won the University Medal graduating in commerce with first class honours. He became an analyst for a professor at UQ and was recruited from there into finance journalism by long term Courier-Mail editor Sir Theodore Bray. Keith eventually became finance editor after a brief stint away from media as a stock broker. He ended up as chief executive of what was the Herald and Weekly Times's most lucrative division and finally a member of the News Corporation global board from 1987 to 1998.

A protege of Sir Keith Murdoch when Rupert's father was leading the Herald and Weekly Times, Keith McDonald would end up playing a crucial role in one of the most important corporate battles of Rupert's life. McDonald had worked with the elder Murdoch on the formation of Queensland Press, a sprawling group that owned regional papers from the Gold Coast to Cairns and a stable of suburbans. Sir Keith Murdoch died in 1952 but his protege was eventually appointed chair of Queensland Press after joining the board of Queensland Newspapers in Brisbane in 1968 as general manager.

It was as Queensland Press chair in 1987 that Keith McDonald found himself at the centre of a bidding war for the Herald and Weekly Times, then the largest newspaper, television and radio owner in the country, between the then News Limited and West Australian corporate raider Robert Holmes a Court and John Fairfax and Sons Ltd.

Keith was on the board of HWT and Queensland Press was a large shareholder in the parent company. Murdoch negotiated a separate deal to acquire QP through the Murdoch family trust, Cruden Investments, and secured control of the wider HWT group, which then provided sufficient cash flow to finance his expansion into US film and television investments. Murdoch has always said the HWT deal was the most important of his life and the one that laid the foundations for his later global expansion.

After McDonald’s death in 2012, Murdoch said: “I was deeply moved by the passing of Keith McDonald OBE at the end of last week. He was a great figure who made an indelible imprint on Queensland journalism and on our company."

There was rich irony and symmetry to McDonald's elevation at News after the HWT takeover. Not only had young Keith travelled provincial Queensland in the late 1940s with his mentor, Sir Keith Murdoch, looking for possible acquisitions of regional newspapers, he had led the fight as CEO of Queensland Newspapers in the early 1980s trying to prevent Rupert Murdoch from gaining a foothold in Brisbane after the younger Murdoch launched The Daily Sun and Sunday Sun in competition against the Courier-Mail and Sunday-Mail.

Keith Henry McDonald was born on 24 February 1926. His father, Ainsley Neville McDonald, was, to quote the Courier-Mail obituary by former Queensland Newspapers editor-chief and general manager Jack Lunn, "a struggling World War I veteran and cow cocky who died of war-related wounds when his son was 9."

Keith said of his childhood: "Local returned soldiers saw we had no visible means of support and even though it was the end of the Depression banded together to help. My sister and I got an education because of them, while my mother had to slog along chasing cows."

Keith's daughter Janet said at his memorial service: "Humility is the word that has to appear at the top of any list describing Keith Henry McDonald. Though he had a lot to crow about - a successful media man, lots of achievements and many important connections - boasting or self-aggrandisement was never his style. Whether he was talking to Rupert or the cleaners at the office he was respectful, gracious, confidential."

Keith's daughter Jennifer posted on her Forpitysake blog (named after one of Keith's favourite sayings): "He loved words and the elegant stringing together of same by artful writers, from poetry to intellectual discourse, Shakespeare to Dr Seuss, the Bible to the weekly Economist ... he didn't stop at words - he loved all the elements of good production, from cover design and mastheads, illustration and registration of images on newsprint to typesetting and the paper stock used for printing. (He often parked) his car at the farthest end of the old Bowen Hills building so he could make his way to his office via the loading docks and the printing presses." He was renowned for stopping to chat along the way.

McDonald was a member of the board of governors of the University of Queensland Foundation, and a member of the university's Kings College council for more than 40 years. He was appointed an OBE in 1989 and awarded an honorary Doctorate of Philosophy from UQ in 1998 for service to business, the university and the community.

In 2012 News's new Brisbane headquarters housing more than 1000 media professionals was named Keith McDonald House. Rupert Murdoch launched the Australian division’s annual award for business writing, the Keith McDonald Award, in 2013.

Chris Mitchell is a former editor-in-chief of Queensland Newspapers and The Australian.




Further reading


'Keith Henry McDonald, OBE' Courier-Mail, Jack Lunn, December 2012


‘Keith McDonald, a key player in the formation of News Limited, has died’, The Australian online, 1 December 2012


Why for Pity Sake blog, Jennifer McDonald