The Crikey list of former editors is getting bigger by the day and one of them, Harry Gordon, has written this excellent piece reflecting on what it’s like being a member of the club.
Deedes used to edit London’s Daily Telegraph until Conrad Black took over the paper and sacked him in the 1980s. In 1935 he covered the Abyssinian war, and is reputed to have been the model for the correspondent Boot, central figure in Evelyn Waugh’s satirical novel Scoop. He concedes that, like Boot, he took half a ton of luggage to that war, including of course safari suits, riding breeches, medicine chests and mosquito nets.
He has been honoured with a life peerage, as Lord Deedes, although the byline still says W. F. Deedes. He continues to write a column and leader articles for the paper, and travels to places like Timor, India and Africa on assignments, usually quite tough ones. He’s written an autobiography which, unlike those of many in the newspaper business, wasn’t self-indulgent. Oh, and last year he was named Britain’s Journalist of the Century. Each year he visits Australia to spend time with his daughter Jill and friends like Denis Warner.
Closer home are some other former editors I admire immensely: Frank Devine and Paul Kelly, for starters. Separately they both had charge a fine newspaper, The Australian, and in Devine’s case there were some earlier, highly successful stints in charge of daily papers in Chicago and New York.
Deedes, Devine and Kelly are living proof not only that life after editorship exists, but that it can be full, creative and rewarding. Not only have they found it; by my observation they’re having a lot of fun embracing it.
Interestingly, all three had the editing rug pulled from under them. Not a bundle was dropped between them. None of them was tempted to go fishing, take up bowls or just to vegetate. What they did was go to work on their laptops, and start pushing different boundaries.
These musings have been prompted by a recent rollcall of former newspaper editors on the Crikey website, and a subsequent request from Stephen Mayne to write something, anything, about such people. He’s a sweet talker, very persuasive. I’m happy to settle for some thoughts about a few I admire.
I’ve known Devine during his previous newsroom lives. He’s always been a creature of his environment, just as passionate about local politics and sport in Chicago and New York as he is now in Sydney. For decades in other places he was a closet columnist, and suddenly Rupert let him out to play. He trades opinions and writes wittily about the language. What matters most to me is not the substance of his arguments, but the stimulation that goes with them. I get the impression that for him every new column is a small adventure. He really should write a book, a memoir rather than a collection.
Kelly’s range of subjects is formidable. He’s given the title of international affairs editor, but that doesn’t go close. Once in a while he weighs in with a tome, a progress report on what a decade has done to a nation. But he also showed during the Olympics that he’s a sports buff who writes well about that subject.
Another who can make sport sing is Les Carlyon, once editor of The Age and later part of an editor-in-chief double act at the HWT with me. He’s been called Australia’s Damon Runyon, but that tag is far too limiting to do him justice. Certainly his turf stories are usually character-driven gems. But read him on Anzac Cove, or Bradman, or Ted Whitten, or any part of the essence of this country. He writes with a gritty elegance, and I’m told his upcoming book, Gallipoli, is a gem. Controversial, too.
If I have a weakness for writing editors, it’s probably because I grew up under a couple of them. In ancient days, when I was a copy boy at Consolidated Press, Brian Penton was editing the Daily Telegraph and Cyril Pearl was editing the Sunday Telegraph. They didn’t like each other much but they were gutsy editors and brilliant writers. It was a time and a place to be enthralled, inspired .
Penton, who wrote the novels Landtakers and Giant Strides, died in 1951 in his newspaper editing prime (as did Graham Perkin, another of my favorites, in 1975). Pearl went on to become a writing ex-editor, with great books like Wild Men of Sydney and Morrison of Peking..
The day after my own 18-year editing career suddenly ended, Max Suich (okay, another favorite ex-editor) took me to lunch at Mietta’s. Appropriately enough, Mietta had been one of my cadets, and a pretty good one. Max brought generous writing offers from two young editors, Jeff Penberthy and Robert Haupt, who had both also been cadets on the Melbourne Sun I used to edit. I elected to go with Jeff on Time Australia..
Not long afterwards AAP (of which I’d once been chairman) asked me to write a column from the Seoul 1988 Olympics. Those couple of offers launched me into new territory, as a writing ex-editor. I also found a new career, as an Olympic historian, and a receptive newspaper, The Australian. All the way I’ve continued to write books.
So what’s it like, this post-editor way of life? I reckon it does a bit more than keep a bloke out of trouble. The enjoyment is pretty constant, and the company’s good. Ask Bill, or Frank, or Paul, or Les.
The expanded list of former editors
Crikey often bleats about the great talent that leaves journalism for the evils of PR but it is worth having a look at what happens to people after they have reached the pinnacle of their editorial careers and had a stint as an editor somewhere.
The following list shows that only three mainstream editors have subsequently sold out to the dark side of PR and one of those, Alan Oakley, is currently cleansing himself by taking on another editing gig at the Newcastle Herald.
One of the most popular options for former editors is to become a columnist and luminaries doing this at the moment include Alan Kohler, Frank Devine, Piers Akerman and Trevor Sykes.
Many keep climbing the tree in media companies and move into senior management. Of the current crop of top media executives, Greg Hywood, John Hartigan and John Alexander are notable in this regard.
Some get pensioned off to management jobs in the regions and the most notable examples of this are Roy Miller who now runs the Gold Coast Bulletin and Colin Duck who is chairman of Geelong Newspapers.
The current crop of editors will no doubt be contemplating where they will finish up. Herald Sun editor in chief Peter Blunden has been editing for almost 10 years now and Chris Mitchell at the Courier Mail has about 7 years under his belt.
There are a couple of mistakes in here and no doubt a few corrections to be had so please send them in. Also, people such as Ian Moore who have only edited Sundays are not included because the list would just get too big.
Crikey list: What happens to former editors
Piers Akerman: Adelaide Advertiser and Herald Sun editor to failed Fox executive then Daily Telegraph columnist.
John Alexander: SMH and Financial Review editor in chief to ACP CEO for Packer.
Col Allan: Editor of The Daily Telegraph and now editor-in-chief of the New York Post.
Chris Anderson: editor of the Sydney Morning Herald to chief executive of Cable & Wireless Optus with various other management gigs along the way.
Bruce Baskett: Melbourne Herald and then founding editor of Herald Sun before falling out with Akerman. Was CEO of the Bendigo Advertiser before finishing up in PR.
Eric Beecher: SMH and Melb Herald editor to Text Media CEO.
Creighton Burns: Respected Age editor to semi-retirement and various advisory boards.
Les Carlyon: Age editor to Bulletin columnist.
Vic Carroll: SMH editor to cranky old author
Greg Chamberlin: former Courier Mail editor now an unknown executive position at Qld Newspapers.
Milton Cockburn: SMH to SOCOG media director to Shopping Centre lobbyist.
Bob Cronin: Editor of the West Australian and now preselected Federal Liberal candidate in WA.
Michael Davey: Age to London doing something unknown.
Mark Day: Australian, Daily Telegraph and Truth to media columnist.
Frank Devine: Australian, Daily Telegraph and New York Post to Australian columnist.
Colin Duck: Melb Sun to chairman Geelong Newspapers
Alan Farrally: Australian to somewhere
John Fitzgerald: former Melbourne Herald editor, to chairman IPR, now runs Javelin Sports Management in Melbourne.
Harry Gordon: former editor-in-chief HWT and Queensland Newspapers, now Olympic historian, author, contributor to The Australian.
Robert Gottliebsen: BRW editor to chairman BRW Media and now pay-TV presenter and Australian columnist.
Michelle Grattan: was editor of the Canberra Times until Stokes sacked her so she’s now back being a political correspondent for the SMH.
Ross Greenwood: Personal Investment and then BRW editor before moving to English magazine Shares.
Bruce Guthrie: editor The Age then to New York for a stint on People Magazine and now editor of Who Weekly.
Steve Harris: Herald Sun editor to AGE CEO to unknown pastures.
John Hartigan: Daily Telegraph editor to News Ltd editorial director and then CEO.
David Hickie: Sun Herald and then SMH editor and now a millionaire tech business owner.
Pat Hinton: Melb Herald editor in the 1970s and then to Burson-Marstellar PR before setting up his own shop at Hinton & Assoc PR.
Les Hollings: Australian to columnist
Des Houghton: Went from editor of the Courier Mail to London as one of 25 associate editors on the Sunday Times, then back to The Courier-Mail as editor of part of the weekend mag.
Steve Howard: Editor of the Adelaide Advertiser and Daily Telegraph to unknown News Ltd management gig.
Greg Hywood: AFR editor to SMH CEO and now Age CEO.
Paul Kelly: Australian editor to Australian International Editor, columnist and modern historian.
Trevor Kennedy: Edited The Bulletin in the early 80s for Packer and went on to become Packer’s CEO at ACP before making his fortune in Ozemail.
Alan Kohler: AFR and Age editor to ABC reporter and AFR columnist
Jack Lunn: Went from editor-in-chief of the Courier Mail into the ether of middle management at News Ltd going nowhere but at least got to go to the Olympics.
John Lyons: SMH to Bulletin national correspondent to Sunday program.
Paddy McGuinness: AFR to SMH columnist to Quadrant editor and a Balmain councillor.
Ian Meikle: Edited the Adelaide Advertiser and The Australian for Rupert before becoming general manager of the Canberra Times and latterly CEO of PMP magazine business.
Roy Miller: Sunday Telegraph to GM Gold Coast Bulletin
Neil Mitchell: Melb Herald editor pre-Murdoch to 3AW breakfast host.
Ian Moore: Sunday Herald Sun to Daily Telegraph editorial writer
Paul Murray: Editor of The West Australian to breakfast presenter on 6PR.
Gerard Noonan: AFR editor to MEAA super fund.
Alan Oakley: Herald Sun editor to PR firm Buchan Communications and then back to editing The Newcastle Herald.
Alan Revell: Sun Herald editor to SMH publisher.
Peter Robinson: AFR editor to Sun Herald columnist
David Smith: From editing the Courier Mail he went to Adelaide and then ran the great News Ltd Super League fiasco before disappearing into the bowels of the company.
Mike Smith: Age editor to executive chairman of PR firm Weber-Shandwick.
Bruce Stannard: Australian Business editor to Howard speech writer to somewhere?
Trevor Sykes: Aus Business and Bulletin editor to AFR columnist.
Greg Taylor: edited The Age for a couple of years in the 1970s and then rose to become their tight-fisted CEO for many years.
David Uren: BRW editor to columnist on The Australian.
Peter Wylie: Highly strung editor of The Daily Mirror and now CEO of Advertiser Newspapers for Murdoch in Adelaide.