Channel Nine’s newsroom leaders may be on the way out, but just who is
in line to take over the reins of the top ratings newsroom?
Crikey’s TV guy Terry Television examines the likely candidates here:
News that Nine’s long time winning Newsroom leadership is on the way
out through either ill health, management bloody mindedness or
overweening ambition, won’t come as a surprise to many inside the

Paul Fenn, the Sydney news director is ill in hospital with gall
bladder problems, and there are reports that his number two, Graham
Thurston, may be not long for this world in his present role.

Chief of Staff John Choueifate is said to be the favourite, with his
lunching with PBL media boss, John Alexander, seen by viewers in the
newsroom as an anointment from on high.

But others claim that Mark Burrows, a talented reporter and presenter
is has also been a lunching partner of JA and that he maybe bound for
the Chief of Staff’s role. Veteran reporter, Damien Ryan, is also said
to be a candidate for the COS slot, along with Paul Bailey, whom
Alexander parachuted into the newsroom several years ago without
explanation, and who has hovered ever since. Paul is a former editor of
the SMH under Alexander, but is no Iago to Paul Fenn’s Othello.

In reality Jim Rudder, might be the nominal head of News and Current Affairs at Nine, but the power is Alexander.

Rudder doesn’t like people who have been in the one slot for a long
time: nor does Alexander. But Rudder has told people at Nine functions
such as Christmas Parties and boardroom drinks, that he thinks
journalists should get a reality check by being moved out of their
slots, moved around…or moved out.

But he does not like people who resist his charm and ideas: in fact he is positively defensive at times when challenged.

Fenn and Thurston have, from time to time, challenged his thinking and
reactions to Nine news stories, judgements and even shot selection in
stories. Rudder’s comments have verged on the ultra defensive. But
whether this pettiness has been enough to move again Fenn and Thurston,
remains to be seen.

Earlier this year Fenn was telling various people that he thought April
would be the danger month for him. Reportedly that was when his
one-year service agreement was up.

But with him now ill, has Nine been saved from a mistake of major
proportions in sacking him (like they did Business Sunday producer,
Glenn Dyer and Sunday’s Stephen Rice. Dyer was flicked, Rice is now at
60 Minutes).

So far this year Nine’s news ratings have held up reasonably well under
Jim Waley. Seven, however, with former Nine reader, Ian Ross, in the
chair is improving and delivering more people to watch Today Tonight
versus A Current Affair. ACA losing viewers in the switchover at 6.30pm
to the State-Based editions on Seven.

The pressures are greater at ACA and Ray Martin and the John Westacott
run producers than on the news. Mark Ferguson is Waley’s successor. In
fact there is a positive eeriness in the career path. Ferguson, who has
his Sydney house on the market for a rumoured $1.2 million and moving
up in the Sydney suburb pecking order, was this year slotted to do the
Sunday morning news on Business Sunday and Sunday, as well as the
Sydney night news, traditionally the highest rating Nine news program
and quite often one of the highest rating programs of the week
nationally when the performance in other states is considered.

Ferguson replaced David Gyngell’s fiancée, Leila McKinnon, who had a
chequered experience on the Today show over the Christmas-New Year

Ferguson is following a similar path Jim Waley was on for years when
doing the Sunday program in the morning (and Business Sunday) and then
the Sunday night news, before he was diverted to ephemera like Live at
Five and then to NightLine, now being done by Hugh Rimminton, another
reporter with ambitions for higher things.

But the depressing thing about all the Nine changes isn’t the sacking,
transferring or easing out of a collection of old farts, or
incompetents: it’s that Nine is replacing them with people of a
differing mind set and culture.

They might argue differently, but the Nine culture (ignited by Packer
and Sam Chisholm) was based on ruthlessness, performance and some
independence of thought (ala Peter Meakin, Stephen Rice and John
Westacott in recent history.) People who were ambitious, but also not
completely corporate and who often said ‘no’ when a ‘yes’ would have
been easier.

So far the latter seems to be more prized at the new, John Alexander
(David Gyngell) and mostly important of all, Kerry Packer-run-Nine.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey