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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.

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.”

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  • 1
    drovers cat
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Lenore? Guardian? Love it … where do I sign up?

  • 2
    robinw
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Do you have any idea when the Guardian will be online here? Any relief from the pathetic rantings of Paul Sheehan would be welcome.

  • 3
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    The Guardian’s credibility as an indepedent, ehtical news source has taken a hammering like the great majority of the ‘old’ media (including Fairfax) as it acts as a stenographer for the UK Government’s and the US State Department’s grossly distorted versions of events in the Middle East.

    Go the Media Lens site, and check their thorough analysis of the Guardian’s banal complicity in the US neocons version of geopolitical events.

    I reckon the Guardian’s got about as much credibility as the Times of London.

  • 4
    Andrea
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    The SMH website needs competition. It is awful. Usually leading with sensational populist stories, often culled from overseas sources; much inferior to the paper itself. If the Guardian’s Australian website is like its UK and US sites, it will be far superior.

  • 5
    Malcolm Street
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    David Marr! He’d be a natural for the Graun’s Comment Is Free.

  • 6
    Hazel
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    There is now so much one simply cannot read in the SMH. Sheehan’s vicious rants, Henderson’s poorly disguised right wing diatribes, deceitful headlines and large swathes of information, always in support of the gov’t, which just dont make it into print. I mean seriously - Vanstone? Abbott? Pyne? Costello? And who cares about the eastern suburbs cocaine fuelled social scene? Why are those individulas they consider the ‘Most Influential’ so often the self important and odious? The herald, our previously respectable and respected paper, has become narcissistic, right wing, biased and shallow. So we await the Guardian. If it wasnt for the educative sanity offered to us by Ross Gittins…

  • 7
    Ginas new vajazzle
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Sure the Guardian is serious about setting up shop here. But the journos are serious about getting off the Fairfax ship. If Guardian can just get themselves some decent business/economics and football scribes why would anyone want to login to the Age or SMH

  • 8
    David Stephens
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Check out the comments on Michelle’s piece in The Conversation. Politely savaged by a good proportion of contributors. It may be that the age of magisterial but lightweight pieces by national journalistic treasures is past.

  • 9
    KimbLee
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Stopped reading the SMAGE regularly a fews ago now. Its seems more sensational populism and less fact reporting, commentary and analysis. Bring forth Le Guardian (fingers crossed) but i will still get my Crikey, New Matilda fixes (First Dog on the Moon, Ben Pobjie are always worth it and all the other usual suspects).

  • 10
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Without Gittins and Carlton the paper is less than useless, its a bloody disgraceful rag.
    Just goes to show the folly of trying to clone the Murdoch faecal press species.
    I dipute that the printed copy is any better than the digitl copy.
    The business copy is little more than a reprint of corporate street’s Press Releases.
    The news copy is little more than sop to their perceived gentrified readers of the big end of town who are becoming more consolidated and rarified as each day passes.
    Overall their commentary is little more than lavatory graffitti with multi syllable words that try to give it gravitas that Henderson has mastered.
    I say let Gina have what is left of this grand old lady of the print media, and she can do she wishes with the carcass while fighting it out with the Murdoch carcasses.

  • 11
    rhonaj
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Yippeeeee

  • 12
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Is there a correlation between people who comment on crikey strings and grumpy negative exageration? Even if I do like Hazel’s gripe above about the Fairfax lurch to the right aided and abetted by dinosaurs with far too much space for too little brain/good faith. But to suggest the paper is rotten is just wrong. And ignorant.

    Put simply there is a wide and deep store of writing and journalism talent out there, not least in journalism schools overflowing with enthusiasm and scarce opportunities. In other words there will alwaysbe more writing talent and stories to fill a newspaper than space or wages to pay.

    So I seriously dispute the big brand names have a monopoly on good journalism. Indeed there’s an argument to say they may be gatekeepers and corks in the bottle. But in any case so many names are still there - Gittins, Hartcher, Carlton, Peter Martin, Mark Kenny (ex News Ltd hiss), Elizabeth Farelly Sean Nicholls, Wendy Harmer, and lots of jobbing reporters in the front half of the news section last Saturday.

    Maybe the days of imperial influence of (very) high paid journo superstars, and their sponsors (remember the Costello/Glen Milne nexus?) may be diminishing. What exactly is the problem here?

  • 13
    Microseris
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    The Age is now almost on a par with News Ltd. Filling up opinion columns with ex liberal hacks (incl Vanstone & Costello) and IPA propaganda. Often, the only page worth reading is the letters to the editor for some independent insight.

  • 14
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    The below explanation of the demise of true investigative reporting across the old Western media is summed up in an article on the free Media Lens site titled ‘The Flagship of Liberal Journalism is on the rocks’.

    As Jonathan Cook, a former Guardian journalist, wrote last year:

    ‘The Guardian, like other mainstream media, is heavily invested – both financially and ideologically – in supporting the current global order. It was once able to exclude and now, in the internet age, must vilify those elements of the left whose ideas risk questioning a system of corporate power and control of which the Guardian is a key institution.’

    So much for the British flagship of liberal journalism then”.

    The most striking aspect of Media Lens commentary is its reliance on primary sources, and its close questioning of mainstream media….and as you’ll see, the old guard hacks don’t like it at all.

  • 15
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Yes Microseris the Age is not even a shadow of its past. It has lost its’ campaigning skills and ability to present the facts. It did have a fine history under the Symes family but when it cowered to the Fairfax management style of Mark Scott it lost its’ journalistic soul.
    While it has always been a conservative paper it did have a bank of professionalism in its’ editorial staff that understood what their readers wanted and needed to know to make their own decisions.
    Today journalist think the knowledge of the facts are their property and that gives them the right to tell us all of their biased assertions.
    The dictum that ‘knowledge is power’ marries well for a healthy democracy with a properly informed public.
    But todays MSM miss understandng their role, is as a medium and conjuit to publish from information sources to the public.

  • 16
    Hermo
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • 17
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    ulysses butterfly:

    You’re not serious about Hartcher surely?

    Check his islamaphobia beat up in last week’s SMH foreign coverage. that such US State Department tosh is reproduced by a so-called ‘independent’ journalist further hastens the SMH demise.

    Finally, name a truly independent journo anywhere in the world who would host the odious extreme far right Zionist Alan Dershowitz at a Jewish event in Sydney resplendent in a yamulkah.

  • 18
    Monash.edu
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Whatever The Guardian’s failings, it’ll be a massive step up from the tabloidesque abomination that Fairfax has become. Can’t wait.

  • 19
    Paddy Forsayeth
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Brilll!!!

  • 20
    John Turner
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t the Guardian in even more financial trouble than Fairfax? If so, what implications does this have for the proposed Australian (ad)venture?

  • 21
    Gail
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t the Guardian in even more financial trouble than Fairfax?

    The Guardian is funded by the Scott Trust. It is not beholden to the vagaries of corporate management fashions or the stockmarket in the way most other media groups are. There’s a reasonable Wikipedia article on the Scott Trust and the funding for the Guardian and the Observer (Guardian Media Group) and some other articles relating to the history and changes since the 1800s.

    There are often comments in the Murdoch owned media that the group is on the verge of failing. It’s been around for quite a long time. Longer than the Murdoch media has.

  • 22
    Patriot
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    The left/socialist love media are doomed. They can’t compete with the ABC. Nor should they try to when you think about it. They wanted a state willing to take over and run everything and give us free stuff, now they have it. Enjoy!

  • 23
    Graeme
    Posted Monday, 11 February 2013 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    8 local journalists? For a big federal nation? I hope the Guardian is a bit more serious than this. Especially as they’ll spend half their time writing opinion, not analysis or news…

  • 24
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Tuesday, 12 February 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Graeme;
    I too initially had misgivings on their commitment to the Australian endeavour.
    When you consider the changes in employment patterns over tha last decade towards the casualisation of the workforce I would imagine stringers and casual staff will be the authors of much of their copy. Add in the resources at their international disposal and that gives an imagine of commitment and editorial weight.
    The 8, that have been employed so far seem to me be the core of their editorial staff and many of its personnel will be casuals.
    I am probably unique, but my belief that a print edition of the paper, while proving the current business and editorial models adhered to by both Fairfax and Murdoch are wrong, and could be a success.
    Even a print edition in quarto, as they have in the past adopted, may put the cat among the bloody pidgins.
    It is the dross we refuse to buy in print not the newspaper.
    Large sections of the population do love the unfolding of newspapers and the revelations they may contain.
    The net has its’ place and has actually expanded their audiences, but newsprint has lasting place to in a modern society.

  • 25
    Ian
    Posted Tuesday, 12 February 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Graeme,

    8 local journalists?….depends on how you look at it.

    If we take one honest, competent Australian journalist as our starting point. (I understand that to find one, let alone 8, will be extremely hard, though not impossible.)

    If we then multiply them by a factor of 8…ie one honest competent Australian journalist is worth 6 Murdock hacks and 2 Fairfax wannabees the end result…64 journalists is not all that bad.

    It’s all about context.

  • 26
    Philip Bond
    Posted Friday, 15 February 2013 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    I too join the welcoming parade!

  • 27
    vernskags
    Posted Tuesday, 19 February 2013 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    I’d urge anybody expecting independent journalism from The Guardian to have a flick through ‘The Guardians of Power: The Myth of The Liberal Media’, Edwards & Cromwell, Pluto Press, 2006.

    Or,as K Herbet suggests, trawl through the Media Lens archive for up to date analysis.

    I also agree with Graeme. Those 8 established journo’s are going to struggle to break AU news. But that aint what the mission post’s about, innit? There might be a tad more analysis of the parliamentary drip feed than what we’ve become accustomed to in the past decade or so, and that will provide some draw, but I expect it will be chaperoned by the same corporate-interest fanfare as Fairfax or News Ltd rags.

  • 28
    Filth Dimension
    Posted Thursday, 7 March 2013 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    I know I’m joining the conversation a little late but can someone explain to me why when I visit the guardian.com.au website on my mobile the footer has fairfax regional media copyright and the fairfax logo???

    Some good points above. Melbourne’s eastern suburbs are awash with elitist, LNP supporting, 30 something’s, blowing their cash on bad cocaine trying to party like they are teenagers.

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