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Dec 17, 2008

Goodbye Sue Howard, hello ABC restructure?

The rumour is running hot around the ABC that the departure of Director of Radio, Sue Howard, is the precursor to a fundamental restructuring, writes Margaret Simons.


The rumour is running hot around the ABC that the departure of Director of Radio, Sue Howard, is the precursor to a fundamental restructuring in an attempt to overcome the rigidity of the organisation and make it more nimble.

Insiders are talking about a restructure based around types of content and target audiences, rather than the present arrangement which has divisions based on the way in which that content is delivered — radio and television.

The word is that Howard has gone because of a perceived lack of strategic thinking and leadership ability at a time when the organisation’s executive needs to be able to proselytise and lead change.

I can confirm that it was originally planned to announce Howard’s departure tomorrow — perhaps in the hope that it would drop quietly into the pre-Christmas lull. However, lawyers are involved in negotiating the terms of her leaving and I understand this may be delaying a formal announcement.

Howard’s office is referring requests for comment to the ABC’s corporate PR people, who did not respond to requests for comment before deadline today.

Any updates received later today will be run on my blog, The Content Makers.

I have not been able to speak to Managing Director Mark Scott this morning, and have no confirmation of the rumours about the restructure, but those around him are expecting that the next six months will include a fundamental strategic rethink.

If the restructure is on, it would be the second of his term, and more fundamental than the first, which was largely about making the various divisions take responsibility for their new media presence.

The feeling in the organisation is that Scott may in part be preparing for not getting all of what he has asked for in the ABCs latest funding submission — that the messages from Government, including his blindsiding by the Pay TV A-Span announcement last week are that the ABC has to prepare to make changes and take initiatives such as the public affairs channel speedily and without predicating them on getting more money.

To do this a more nimble structure is required. Radio’s rigidity was seen as one barrier to this, but there are others, including in News and Current Affairs, which together with Radio would be the main division involved in a reconception of the ABC as a “town square” in which audiences interact more directly with content makers.

From one way of looking at things, Howard has been a very successful director, delivering record ratings for local radio, and presiding over the podcast-driven regeneration of Radio National.

Yet reported on my blog, Scott is believed to have had reservations about Howard from early in his tenure.

He is said to have been annoyed by this interview given by Howard over an arrangement in which an ABC breakfast presenter was also allowed to spend a week presenting a program for Channel Nine. Howard dumped on her own managers in the interview, saying: “It shouldn’t have happened. God knows what was in the mind of the manager who thought it was a good idea, but it’s not something that we would normally do, and it’s certainly something I wouldn’t want to repeat.”

People close to Howard, on the other hand, say that she is in turn less than enamoured with Scott’s own attempts to proselytise change. She has spoken dismissively to close staff about some of his initiatives.

The handling of the PR around the Radio National cuts was another spur to discontent, but the problems predated that and went deeper.

There is a perception within the ABC that what is needed in radio, and indeed in all the content divisions, is strategic thinking around not only delivery mechanisms, but the way in which content is conceived, commissioned and compiled, including audience interactivity.

To achieve this leadership ability is key, and Howard’s unpopularity with her staff in the end counted against her.

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One thought on “Goodbye Sue Howard, hello ABC restructure?

  1. Ambrose

    “divisions based on the way in which that content is delivered — radio and television”

    Seriously? In 2008, you think there are only two output divisions, and only two ways ABC content is delivered?

    Here’s a hint: The INT*RN*T

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