The travails of a once great newspaper

If you owned The Age and had the choice as to whether you staffed it with former Murdoch employees or almost anyone else who would you choose?

 James Chessell, Nine’s managing director publishing, recently announced Tory Maguire would have editorial oversight of all these metro mastheads including The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Brisbane Times and WAToday.

“She has done a superb job since joining as national editor in April 2018, helping reshape our federal politics, world and business coverage. Her news judgement, drive and attention to detail have been exemplary,” he said.

“Tory has brought added energy to our newsroom leadership. I have no doubt she will be unrelenting in pursuing our goals of breaking news, setting the agenda and lifting quality across everything we do in order to produce journalism that sets us apart and is valued by our paying subscribers.”

Most people would be unaware that HuffPost Australia was still in existence and if they did, it was unlikely to be first – let alone any – point of call for most Age and SMH readers.

But their antennae would be twitching when they read more of the Chessell announcement which disclosed that she also had senior editorial roles at News Corp.

They might also be choking on their breakfast when Chessell also announced that former Daily Mail and Fox Sports editor, Luke McIlveen had replaced Tory Maguire as the executive editor of Nine’s metropolitan mastheads.

Crikey reported (22/1) that Chessel had sent a message to staff describing McIlveen as “one of the most senior and experienced editors in the Australian media, and is the industry stand out when it comes to digital audience and results.”

The ‘stand-out’ digital expert started work as a clerk in News Corp’s circulation department; joined The Australian as a political reporter covering – successively the NSW and Federal parliamentary galleries and took over as editor in chief in 2011 and joined the Daily Mail in 2013.

Crikey also recalled a McIlveen interview when he said about Seven’s coverage of former NSW transport Minister David Campbell’s secret visit to a gay men’s club that “the number of pious sloths who mistake laziness for journalistic ethics, without bothering to find out how their readers of viewers might see a story.” This may be something in his defence or not, but it is difficult to establish which.

Before getting this gig McIlveen ran his own PR consultancy McIlveen Moran Media which describes itself as crisis managers. A quick Google search brought up various LinkedIn links to the consultancy but sadly no website. In the old days journos went from journalism to PR – now it seems they go the other way.

Of course, times change, and all media (particularly legacy media like The Age) are facing problems. The Age still produces some great investigative journalism and can look back on war crimes and banking industry revelations with great pride. It also produces a fair amount of dross and beat ups.

But some thoughts come to mind following the appointment. First, the most senior executives in the Nine news media are all based in Sydney. News may be much more national in focus today but great newspapers need to understand their own city and community to succeed. Second, it’s impossible for any long-term Age reader to wonder quite how the new team measure up to former Age editors such as Creighton Burns, Les Carlyon, Graeme Perkin and Michael Gawenda. Compared to them the new team seem rather lightweight.

The author was a sub on a David Syme local newspaper in the old Spencer Street building around the time of the November 11 Dismissal and Graeme Perkin’s death. It is difficult to see the sudden death of any of the current lot causing tears and emotional devastation throughout the building.