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Nov 9, 2011

Farewell Big Harto: News Ltd CEO John Hartigan resigns

Rupert Murdoch has delivered a savage verdict on the health of his Australian operation, with veteran News Ltd CEO John Hartigan stepping aside and Rupert taking the company's chairmanship for himself.

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Rupert Murdoch has delivered a savage verdict on the health of his Australian operation, with veteran News Ltd CEO John Hartigan stepping aside and Rupert taking the company’s chairmanship for himself.

Foxtel head Kim Williams will be appointed in Hartigan’s place, with The Australian and News Digital’s current CEO Richard Freudenstein taking Williams’ former role. John Allan, fingered in June as the broadsheet’s chief operating officer, will ascend to chief executive.

Hartigan, 64, was appointed CEO in 2000 and chairman of the company in 2005. While the official statement released by News suggested he had left of his own accord, insiders have already begun to suggest he may have been pushed.

“John’s decision will end a distinguished 41 year career with News in which he has given us exemplary service and incredible leadership,” Murdoch, 80, said in the press release.

“John was an outstanding reporter, an editor with few peers and has been an inspiring executive, initially as Group Editorial Director and, later, as Chief Executive for 11 years and Chairman and Chief Executive for the past six.

“Few people have contributed as much as John to the quality of journalism in Australia. He has earned enormous respect among both colleagues and competitors.”

Murdoch was in Sydney last week to preside over the company’s annual black-tie “News Awards” at the Hordern Pavilion. On Monday he was in Melbourne to celebrate the opening of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. As former Herald Sun editor Bruce Guthrie documented in his book Man Bites Murdoch, the ageing global chief sometimes makes a habit of dismissing staff during his annual official sojourn to Australia.

Holt Street insiders told Crikey this afternoon that the newsroom was in “total shock” at the decision.

“I’m completely shocked, no-one saw it coming basically. Nobody seems to know why he was stepping down or was pushed. I really can’t work out why. I know the rumour has been around for months. I did hear some rumours floating about that it might happen but I still don’t really know why.”

One possible motivation for hiring Williams was the burly enforcer’s passion for subscription services honed at the helm of Foxtel. News Limited has announced it will soon ringfence its major websites as part of a paid content push.

The staffer said there are drinks for their boss — popularly known as “Harto” — tonight at 6:30pm, presumably at Surry Hills’ Evening Star.

Crikey first reported Hartigan’s looming departure in September after an exclusive “Project Darwin” leak detailing News Limited’s strategy to become News Australia. But it seems Hartigan will not be given the opportunity to see the reform through.

According to a leaked pitch-brief, Hartigan was expected to embark on “strategy and change” capital city road show in November, before making the branding shift official.

Despite the turmoil engulfing other parts of News’ global operation, Hartigan has consistently denied a link between travesties like the News of the World phone hacking scandal and the local arm controlled by him.

However, last year, he did oversee both the Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal and the Guthrie unfair dismissal case in which his witness box evidence was branded unreliable by a judge. There have also been precipitous circulation declines at News’ flagship tabloids the Herald Sun and the Daily Telegraph with the picture expected to darken further when September quarter figures are released this week.

The company’s relationship with the federal government has also soured under Hartigan’s watch. The Greens-prompted media inquiry, at which Hartigan is still set to give evidence next week, was set up partly in response to NoTW. Federal government ministers including Stephen Conroy and Wayne Swan have maintained the rage at populist editorial lines aimed at destabilising the government.

Hartigan, who was appointed as CEO 11 years ago and served for 40 years at News, was sanguine in the release announcing the departure, saying he was “immensely proud of News. I am privileged to have worked for such a great company. I want to thank the many colleagues that have helped, encouraged, inspired and challenged me to be the best I can be.”

“As a reporter I worked with some great editors. As an editor I worked with incredibly talented people and as a senior executive I could not have asked for a better management team.

“I am indebted to the millions of readers who buy our newspapers every day and to our advertisers for their great support.

“In Rupert, I have been fortunate to work for a proprietor who cares passionately about journalism and the vital role that a free press plays in a democracy,” he said.

Mr Hartigan started at Sydney’s Daily Mirror in 1970 as a reporter and, later, The Daily Telegraph. He went on to work for Murdoch standards The Sun in London and the New York Post.

He is regarded as having done a solid job managing the Australian arm of the empire, however a downturn in advertising recently prompted a radical strategy rethink. In September, a leaked memo obtained by Crikey revealed a plan to cut costs by 15-20 per cent over the next three years. Costs across each division were to be reduced by 5% with a freeze on new hiring.

Hartigan, whose partner is Daily Telegraph columnist Rebecca Wilson, will leave News at the end of the month.

Read the full release:

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – 9 November, 2011 – News Corporation Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Mr Rupert Murdoch today announced that Mr John Hartigan will step down as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of News Limited.

“John’s decision will end a distinguished 41 year career with News in which he has given us exemplary service and incredible leadership,” Mr Murdoch said.

“John was an outstanding reporter, an editor with few peers and has been an inspiring executive, initially as Group Editorial Director and, later, as Chief Executive for 11 years and Chairman and Chief Executive for the past six.

“Few people have contributed as much as John to the quality of journalism in Australia. He has earned enormous respect among both colleagues and competitors.”

Mr Murdoch also praised Mr Hartigan’s leadership of a long running campaign to defend the public’s right to know how it is governed and how our courts dispense justice.

Few people have done as much as John to campaign on the public’s behalf to uphold freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Australia.

“I thank John for having contributed so much to our company and applaud his great integrity, immense journalistic talent and inspirational leadership,” said Mr Murdoch.

Mr Hartigan joined the company in Sydney in 1970 as a reporter on The Daily Mirror, and, later, The Daily Telegraph. He went on to work for The Sun in London and the New York Post.

After returning to Australia, Mr Hartigan became Editor of Queensland’s Sunday Sun, and later the founding Editor of the Brisbane metropolitan daily, The Daily Sun, and a director of Queensland Sun Newspapers.

In 1986 Mr Hartigan was appointed Editor of The Daily Telegraph, and three years later was promoted to Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph.

In 1997 Mr Hartigan was appointed Group Editorial Director, the company’s most senior editorial position responsible for of all of the company’s newspapers.

He was appointed Chief Executive Officer of News Limited in 2000 and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in 2005.

Mr Hartigan said “I am immensely proud of News. I am privileged to have worked for such a great company. I want to thank the many colleagues that have helped, encouraged, inspired and challenged me to be the best I can be.

“As a reporter I worked with some great editors. As an editor I worked with incredibly talented people and as a senior executive I could not have asked for a better management team.

“I am indebted to the millions of readers who buy our newspapers every day and to our advertisers for their great support.

In Rupert, I have been fortunate to work for a proprietor who cares passionately about journalism and the vital role that a free press plays in a democracy,” said Mr Hartigan.

In recent years Mr Hartigan has delivered numerous speeches on the future of journalism at industry conferences and at the National Press Club.

In 2007 he delivered the ABC’s Andrew Olle Lecture to great acclaim and in 2006 he delivered the Australian National University’s Reconciliation Lecture, calling for new approaches to solving indigenous disadvantage and the need for better education and employment opportunities for indigenous Australians.

In 2007 Mr Hartigan led the formation of a media coalition “Australia’s Right to Know” which has successfully campaigned for changes in legislation to improve the openness and transparency of government and the courts.

In 2008 Mr Hartigan joined a small group of distinguished journalists to be awarded the Walkley Award for Journalistic Leadership.

Mr Hartigan has been a longstanding director of News Limited and its subsidiary companies, Queensland Press, Advertiser Newspapers and The Herald and Weekly Times Limited. He is also chairman of Australian News Channel which owns and operates Sky News and was, previously, a director of FOXTEL.

Among his external board and community responsibilities he is a director of The Bradman Foundation, the American Australian Association and the NSW Wine Industry Council. He was recently appointed as a director of the NSW Export and Investment Advisory Board.

Mr Hartigan will leave the company on 30 November, 2011.

Andrew Crook —

Andrew Crook

Former Crikey Senior Journalist

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