A view from inside the Sydney Morning Herald where the dirft continues
with appalling treatment of Margo Kingston and the SMH readership.
Departures at the Sydney Morning Herald have left the place
understaffed in key areas especially the senior editing roles which are
now very bare.

Some who left like David Dale and Geraldine O’Brien have taken part
redundancy and have been kept on retainers. Margo Kingston has left,
but has a three-year contract to provide web diary.

The treatment of Kingston is probably the best example of the disconnect between the editors of the paper and their readers.

They have been waging war on their readers for years and the slide in
circulation through the week and on Saturday is proof of this.

The editors refuse to accept who their readers are. They ignore the
evidence of the letters basket that shows a sort of split between real
conservatives and Guardian type people who oddly have come together in
a common concern over what they see as the destruction of civil,
society by successive Governments and turned into an art form by Howard.

They are the people who took to the streets to demonstrate against
Iraq. They are they people who marched over the bridge for
reconciliation and they are the people who live in mainly liberal
electorates who pester their local members over asylum seeker policy.

They are the middle who watch the idiotic wars going on between extreme
left and right and are dismayed at the total lack of civil discourse
and the fact that their leaders can stand up and bald facedly lie to
them.

This then is the broad constituency the Herald editors try to pretend
isn’t there. So they are happy to have Miranda Devine call the
anti-Iraq demonstrators idiots and then wonder why the letters basket
melted down with letters from middle Australia complaining about being
insulted. So what has Kingston got to do with this?

Well her web diary has an extraordinarily high hit rate and her web
discussions are informative lively and civilised and give a real debate
that is missing from the rest of the paper. She has cultivated
new writers and many readers after taking part in web forums have gone
off to start their own blogs.

The Herald editors just wish Margo would go away. When her book Not
Happy John was published it was recommended by middle ranking editors
that it was good enough to warrant an excerpt. But this was vetoed by
editor Robert Whitehead. A profile commissioned for spectrum was
ditched, once again by Whitehead. So we have the funny experience of
Kingston being ignored by her own paper. Then the Sun-Herald dropped
her column without even telling her. The oddest thing was when Ross
Fitzgerald launched her book, his speech on the death of civil society
was a page one story in The Age and it spilt to a full text of his
speech on the oped page. In the Herald, not a word.

What makes it strange is that her book is now in its second reprint and
has sold about 25,000 copies. That is amazing in Australia where 5,000
is considered to be a bestseller.

Still no word from the Herald about its star author. Is it because she
is critical of the Herald (and quite rightly) about the pathetic
decisions made by Whitehead to not run stories about the Coup D’etat
last year when the US and then China took over the running of our
Parliament?

Contrast this with run Sheehan got with his book and his lunatic magic
water and wait to see what sort of run David Dale gets on one of his
books drivelling on about Italy or Italian food or revolving
restaurants. Peter Fitzsimons tomes are always plugged. Kingston should
have had a literary lunch, a profile and an excerpt. It is a book that
strikes a chord with people, but not at the Herald where it is official
policy not to offend John Howard. Just ask Mike Seccombe the funny
parliamentary diarist who has also been nobbled.

Kingston has been marginalised and by marginalising her you also
marginalise your readership base. Lord knows she’s not an easy person
to live with and many have been toe to toe with Margo, but in the end
you love her because she is passionate, brilliant and a real democrat
who loves debate and ideas and the power of the people. She makes you
uncomfortable because she is forever challenging you to fight for your
beliefs. Her book Off the Rails remains one of the best books on
journalism and what drives a journalist ever written. If it was just
ideological it would probably not be interesting. But constantly
pissing in the readers’ faces is not a way to ensure long term future.

So we just slide slowly into the sunset. The board of Fairfax with all
the Liberal Party bagmen and fellow travellers see no problem
apparently they haven’t even got a committee together to search for a
new CEO.

This is a sad time for a once proud icon of journalism not just in Australia but around the world.

Peter Fray

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