Could there be a slower moving, more insular paper in Australia than The West Australian. And how long does it take to find and editor?
Media Watch’s expose of a dramatic sacking at The West Australian was more interesting for what it ignored rather than what it included.

The program’s focus on the unfortunate departure of a sub-editor who tacked the phrase “Mooner, please return” on the end of a soft story missed the main point, of which this protest was just a symptom.

The point is management paralysis, not just the void in editorial created when Paul “Mooner” Murray vacated the editor’s seat after 10 years to become a shock jock, but right at the top where the managing director and his board have failed to make a decision of any significance for years.

The Australian newspaper’s media section gossip column got it right when it suggested the first thing managing director Denis Thompson should do, post the Media Watch program, to fix things up was to appoint an editor.

The problem is he can’t. Reports from within the West suggest he returned to Perth from a raft of interviews in Sydney frustrated that none of the dozen or more candidates were up to scratch.

Is that surprising? While Fairfax and others have spent millions of dollars over the past five years developing an Internet presence, The West has sat back smugly feeling invulnerable. The geriatric board have failed to see it coming, but then again, look at the share prices of their companies. Business experts tell me you don’t see a company called Clough Ltd going ballistic on the market. And Trevor Eastwood’s Avatar? Shareholders must be wondering why these stiff old codgers are paid at all. Perhaps they are wondering themselves.

Does Thompson need $600,000 plus a year to run a company where the biggest thing he has done is shift headquarters from downtown to the burbs? Why didn’t he buy that 25% stake in Fairfax when it was worth one quarter what it is today? What about the Canberra Times, Channel Seven and, the lost Community News deal, stolen by News Corp Ltd as Kerry Stokes was about to sign his half share over to joint venture partner WA Newspapers Ltd!

Boy, you can just see the way the editor’s job ad should have been written: “Journo near retirement to join provincial paper with head in the sand”. If you offer peanuts you get monkeys, and we are not talking about money.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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