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Feb 11, 2013

The Guardian launches raid on Fairfax: top hacks depart

The Guardian's hiring of Lenore Taylor and Katharine Murphy is a wake up call for anyone who’s been sceptical about how serious the publication is taking its Australian experiment.

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When The Guardian announced it would launch an Australian digital edition last month, some media watchers saw grim portents for Fairfax. The reasoning was straightforward: with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age hoisting paywalls on their websites, the venerable British brand has a real shot at stealing a good chunk of those sites’ educated, affluent and progressive readers.

That could well happen. But the most pressing concern for now isn’t losing readers but writers.

A week after The Age‘s political editor Michelle Grattan announced she was joining The Conversation, press gallery veterans Lenore Taylor and Katharine Murphy have confirmed reports in The Australian that they are joining The Guardian. Taylor, currently chief political correspondent for the SMH, will be the site’s Australian political editor; Murphy, national affairs correspondent for The Age, will be her deputy.

It’s a wake-up call for anyone who’s been sceptical about how serious The Guardian is taking its antipodean experiment. As one recently departed Fairfax veteran said this morning: “They are a f-cking serious couple of people to recruit.”

Katharine Viner, who is leading The Guardian’s Down Under venture, was unavailable for comment this morning. One source who has met with Viner since her arrival says the plan is to hire around eight local journalists. One of them may well be David Marr — Crikey understands talks are ongoing with the former SMH star (who was also unavailable for comment this morning).

“She seems like a dream editor,” said the source. “She is deadly serious, she’s got a chequebook and she wants to hire good people.”

Both Taylor and Murphy are, for different reasons, big losses for Fairfax. As well as a respected commentator, Taylor is one of the gallery’s best news-breakers. It was she who revealed Kevin Rudd planned to shelve the emissions trading scheme and that Scott Morrison allegedly urged shadow cabinet to take advantage of community hostility towards Muslims.

As well as her thoughtful columns, Murphy has built a loyal following by curating Fairfax’s parliamentary Pulse blog. Updated during sitting weeks, it features real-time tweets, photos and reader comments and is a strong fit with The Guardian‘s emphasis on interactive, “open” journalism.

Although The Guardian was quick to rush out a press release this morning confirming the appointments, it appears news of Taylor and Murphy’s defections has caught everyone on the hop. Crikey understands Taylor has yet to negotiate the date for her departure from the SMH or when she will start at The Guardian.

The latest moves come as Fairfax intensifies copy-sharing across its metro mastheads, with former Adelaide Advertiser correspondent Mark Kenny taking a leading role as newshound at the SMH, Age and Canberra Times. This trend has peeved some Canberra bureau staffers, including Grattan, who wanted the freedom to write news as well as commentary and analysis. And although Taylor has denied her move is driven by frustration with Fairfax, some staffers feel federal political coverage doesn’t get the prominence it deserves in the papers.

In her first piece for The Conversation today, Grattan writes:

“I believe that it is as important to have multiple voices reporting news as it is to have many voices in commentary. On occasion what is ‘fact’ and the weight that should be given to particular pieces of information in a story can be as disputed as opinions based on the facts. And the more competition there is in the searching out of facts, the more the community will know.”

Matthew Knot —

Matthew Knot

Crikey media editor

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28 comments

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28 thoughts on “The Guardian launches raid on Fairfax: top hacks depart

  1. Hermo

    If Fairfax is still wondering (and let’s face it, management don’t seem to have a clue who their readers are – or used to be) where their readership went all they have to do is go back and look at articles/commentary written by Alan Ramsey. You could disagree with Ramsey, but no matter which side of the political divide you came from you could rely on him having done meticulous research and then applied critical analysis to whatever issue he was dissecting. There is now an absolute dearth of that type of journalism in Fairfax and those with talent must surely be looking towards other opportunities as the once proud mastheads die their slow death.

    Meanwhile the readers that respected that type of journalism have become refugees, trying to find scraps of reasoned debate from a range of independent media sources (Crikey, New Matilda, the Conversation, IA etc) and small repositories on the ABC. Depth and detail on policy, critical analysis of political events that doesn’t devolve into mundane he said/she said or false equivalency, and dogged journalists who pursue politicians who have actually admitted that they have no intention of telling us anything before the election are what so many of us are seeking. Who knows if the GuardianAU will offer that, but if they do they will probably find themselves gaining a fairly large audience.

    Back at Fairfax I’m just waiting for Laura Tingle to jump ship. I actually have no idea how she remains working at the Fin Review under Stutchbury’s stewardship. It was already a conservative paper, now it’s becoming a joke. For some peculiar reason the Age, SMH and Fin Review seemed to have looked at the Australian’s journalistic model and thought “oh, that looks like a good idea”. So foolish.

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