The Age have looked outside the square for a successor to outgoing
editor-in-chief Michael Gawenda and this is how Crikey subscribers have
been informed on what has been an embarrassing saga for Australia’s
quality newspaper house.



Jaspan joins as Jackson quits



July 23 sealed section

It’s
all happening at Fairfax. The Melbourne faction on the board apparenty
fought against the appointment of Englishman Andrew Jaspan as the new
editor in chief of The Age.

After numerous false
starts and delays – presumably due to board squabbling or last minute
haggling over terms – the Jaspan announcement was made late yesterday
and Age cartoonist Ron Tanberg took the mickey out of his own paper today with a cartoon that reads: “The Australian – Age: New Editor – Exclusive” and presumably an Age
journo responding “We could do a follow-up!”. There are clearly some
unhappy campers on Spencer Street today and we suspect this only made
the paper because all the management heavies were out at Michael
Gawenda’s exclusive farewell cocktail party at Docklands.


The Age’s news story

made no mention of the botched timing of the announcement which
Tandberg focused on and the picture they ran in the print edition was a
low quality internet job.

Rumours of a board split have been inflamed by this morning’s
resignation of Margaret Jackson, one of the newest Fairfax directors
who has fought for change at The Age. Freddy Kruger, Crikey’s print
expert, has examined the Jackson side of the story in detail on the
site here:

http://www.crikey.com.au/business/2004/07/23-0003.html

The
excuse being offered is that Jackson has joined the Southcorp board as
deputy chairman, but why didn’t she lose her ANZ or Billabong
chairmanship to free up additional time? Jacko has a history of
claiming work commitment excuses to quit troubled boards. She dumped
Pacific Dunlop and BHP, where she chaired the audit committees and was
seriously in the gun, after taking the chair at Qantas.

Meanwhile, one of Jaspan’s local rival papers and a former employer, The Scotsman, today told its readers that “a frosty welcome awaits Jaspan in the sun”.

“As
a newspaper editor, Andrew Jaspan developed a reputation more for the
style rather than the substance of his newspapers,” James Doherty
writes.

Quoting Crikey’s coverage this week of Jaspan’s
appointment, Doherty wrote: “One anonymous hack told the Australian
internet site crikey.com.au: ‘Surely you can’t be serious that Fairfax
management is looking to hire Andrew Jaspan?’ “

Doherty quoted
prominent UK journalist Roy Greenslade as saying Jaspan wouldn’t have
even taken The Age job had his current employer at the Sunday Herald,
Newcrest, not pressured him to cut costs and increase returns.

“If
they [Newsquest] had been great employers, he wouldn’t be going,” he
said. Well, welcome to Fairfax, Mr Jaspan, where cost cutting is in
vogue.

Greenslade said Daily Telegraph editor Martin Newland had turned down The Age job. Check the story out

here.

Crikey has just spoken to an ABC reporter for a piece running on the Jaspan appointment on Saturday AM if anyone can be bothered getting up at 8am tomorrow.

And check out our package of Jaspan coverage which at the bottom
included a fascinating piece by the man himself explaining the
circumstances of his unhappy one year stint at editor of The Observer:

http://www.crikey.com.au/media/2004/07/23-0005.html

Age House Committee letter of protest over Jaspan

First sealed section July 22

The appointment of Englishman Andrew Jaspan as editor-in-chief of The Age
is expected later today with current deputy editor Simon Mann to run
the show for three months until he arrives. There are some at the paper
running a last-minute campaign to head off the appointment as can be
seen from this Carmel Egan story in The Australian’s Media section.

Crikey was also sent a copy of the House Committee letter complaining about Jaspan and we reproduce it in full here:

Mark Scott
Editor-in-chief,
Metropolitan News papers
21 July 2004

Dear Mark,

Our understanding is that the appointment of a new
editor-in-chief for The Age is imminent. We wish to express our
disappointment that your offer on April 15 to consult with the House
Committee before an appointment was made was not honored. We believed
our input could have been valuable in expressing the views of Age staff
about what is a crucial decision and we understood that you had the
same view. Given that this process has taken three months, we would
like an explanation as to why no meeting was scheduled.

Staff at The Age are dismayed that the process of appointing a new
editor has been so protracted. You may not be fully aware of it, but
the time taken has been demoralising for staff and perplexing for
readers and opinion leaders in Melbourne. The newspaper has been seen
to drift for three months at a time when it cannot afford to do so. We
would certainly hope the new editor-in-chief would be able to start
immediately given that critical news events such as the Olympics and
the federal election are almost upon us.

It is widely believed that the decision has been made to appoint
Andrew Jaspan of the Sunday Herald in Scotland. While making no comment
on the merits of that appointment, we refer to our letter of April 29
when, all things being equal, the overwhelming view of staff was that
there is a serious perception in Melbourne that The Age is increasingly
run from Sydney and that a person with strong Melbourne credentials was
desirable. We would be happy to discuss these issues with you at any
time.

AGE HOUSE COMMITTEE

Following our recent coverage on Jaspan, a journalist has submitted
another perspective on Andrew Jaspan from an interview he gave to Paul
Hutcheon, editor of Holyrood magazine. Check it out along with our earlier material here: http://www.crikey.com.au/media/2004/07/21-0006.html

Jaspan confirmed but The Age misses the story

Second sealed section July 22

Andrew Jaspan has been appointed The Age’s new Editor-in-Chief but it would have been nice for the paper to be first with the news of their own hiring. Amazingly, The Scotsman – a rival of Jaspan’s Sunday Herald – scooped them with this story on its website this morning: www.business.scotsman.com/media.cfm?id=836662004
It begins: “Andrew Jaspan, the editor of the Sunday Herald, has told staff that he is leaving the paper to take up a new post as editor-in-chief of the Melbourne Age in Australia.”

Then playing catch up, The Age could only manage this pathetic effort at 12.14pm Thursday:

“Englishman Andrew Jaspan is set to be appointed editor-in-chief of The Age.

“Mr Jaspan, 51, yesterday announced the move during a staff meeting at the Sunday Herald in Scotland, the paper he is currently editing, according to rival paper The Scotsman.

“A formal announcement to staff is expected at The Age this afternoon.”

Sourcing reports about its own appointment from another newspaper –
what’s going on? Surely if Jaspan had already announced the move to his
staff The Age could have just confirmed his appointment.
Management has clearly done a terrible job of handling the announcement
– what were they waiting for?

The Guardian also has the story including details of the letter from disgruntled senior journalists here.

Meanwhile, a cheeky journalist wonders:

If Andrew Jaspan does get the gig at The Age, will he have to explain why his paper – one of the minority who carried Paul McGeough’s Allawi executioner story (http://www.sundayherald.com/43458) – referred only to the SMH and not The Age in its coverage. A bow to a future employer not executed so well?

======================

Andrew Jaspan explains why he failed at The Observer

On my arrival, I set out my ideas to the Observer’s staff and warned
that time was not on our side. It was going to take discipline and
teamwork to improve the paper. I asked that the staff’s numerous
outside interests and freelance work be curtailed while we concentrated
on the paper. It was only too clear that a few of them were simply
banking the salary from the Observer and then getting extra work from
TV, radio and other publications. Several others were paid hugely, did
very little and made every attempt to ensure things stayed that way. It
was one of the cushiest numbers on Fleet Street.

There was a lot to be done, but there were many able journalists and
a majority of them welcomed the change, even as others set out to block
attempts to alter their comfortable conditions. I knew that the first
year would be hard, but I thought I could ride out the paper’s
turbulent internal politics, with the backing of Hugo Young and Peter
Preston.

What I had not fully realised was that the factionalism and division
within the ranks of the staff was fully replicated within management. A
full-blown battle for supremacy was raging between the outgoing old
guard in the Guardian group and the new team.

The long and fruitful peace in the group, based upon the working
relationship between Preston as Guardian editor, his managing director
Jim Markwick and group chairman Harry Roche, had started to crack. As
Roche prepared for retirement, Markwick moved up to become chief
executive of the entire Guardian Media Group (which has interests in
television and magazines as well as newspapers), and Caroline Marland
was promoted from advertising director, where she had been a great
success, to managing director.

Marland wanted a clear break with the past and I welcomed her
clarity of purpose and commitment to a proper, three-year strategic
plan. But she had difficulty wresting control from the old triumvirate
and before long she too was involved in a turf war with other senior
managers.

Ringing in my ears was the advice of Stuart Garner, my previous
chief executive at Thomson newspapers, who had written to me that: “The
role of the Scott Trust is a potential problem for you whatever
assurances you may have had. It is always easier operating in an
environment where the reporting lines are clear. They are extremely
vague where you are going. There are lots of vested interests and
hidden agendas.”

And so, within a few months of my arrival, the destabilisation
started, but from an unexpected direction — senior staff at the
Guardian. I had argued to the Trust, with Peter Preston’s
encouragement, that there must be more editorial co-operation between
the two papers in order to save money. But the Guardian’s new editor
Alan Rusbridger made it quite clear to me that he would resist this.
Before long, Guardian journalists were going around London saying that
they were damned if they would accept tighter budgets in order to help
the Observer. Despite his position as editor-in-chief, Preston could
not secure Rusbridger’s support for cost-sharing. By Christmas, eight
months into my editorship, Preston and Rusbridger, his former protege,
were barely on speaking terms.

Other Guardian group executives urged a reconciliation and the two
men agreed to dine together at a London restaurant, overlooking the
fact that the date was 14 February. The Valentine’s Day roses failed to
work their magic.

By now, the scale of the plotting had reached fever pitch, but I
would not have known (nor would Preston and other senior managers) had
it not been for reports in the press. The Sunday Times revealed that
Rusbridger had hosted a dinner with his executives on 4 March in an
upstairs room at the London restaurant L’Etoile (used by
chattering-class republicans to plot the overthrow of the monarcy),
where a plan to subsume the Observer into the Guardian was approved.
The idea was for Rusbridger to be the effective head of both papers.

The next morning, the Scott Trust was presented with the plan and
told this was the only basis on which Rusbridger would permit staff and
resources to be shared. Although the Trust rejected it, the seed of an
idea had been planted. Rusbridger left the room. I was called in by
Hugo Young and asked to present a progress report and outline my plans
for the year ahead. At no stage was I told there was any concern about
what I had achieved or planned.

At the same meeting (again unknown to me but leaked to the press
later), the Trust was informed that Mohammed Al-Fayed, who had long
held ambitions to settle his score with Tiny Rowland and the British
establishment, had offered to buy the Observer for [pound]15 million.
He upped this to [pound]24 million two weeks later.

This fuelled enormous speculation. The Guardian building on
Farringdon Road (to where all the Observer’s staff had been moved soon
after I became editor) was consumed by intrigue, and my ability to
manage the Observer came under increasing strain. The group’s own PR
department pleaded for an end to the internecine fighting between the
two papers and for the management to adopt a clear and unambiguous
line. But they were unable to provide one. Instead of focusing our guns
on the competition, we had turned them on ourselves.

Those staff on the newspaper who had dug in their feet against my
editorship or who were still sore that they themselves had not got the
job saw the opportunity. Some were well connected with senior
management and with Trust members and they duly lobbied against me.

Rumours were flying that I was preparing a round of dismissals. In
retrospect, perhaps I should have behaved as Alan Rusbridger and Will
Hutton since have and fired anyone actively associated with the
previous regime. But I felt that it was important to assess the
qualities and the skills of the staff I had inherited. When I did come
to a view of those who should go, the group’s management, which had
promised to fund the departures, prevaricated. And of course, the
longer the delay, the harder it became to manage an increasingly
mutinous staff.

By now, the leaders of the coup were ready to strike. Peter Preston
was away in Jerusalem on business for a week and some members of the
Scott Trust met and agreed to topple Preston as editor-in-chief of the
Guardian and Observer and put Rusbridger’s takeover plans for the
Observer into operation.

Rusbridger duly became executive editor of the Observer, despite
attempts by some trustees to block him. The Trust (dispensing with its
appointments procedure) also agreed to appoint Will Hutton as editor,
even though they had rejected him a year earlier.

Once that was done, it was left to Hugo Young to call me in the late
afternoon of 27 March. In his most imperious voice, he instructed me to
report to his house the following morning. When I asked why, he said I
would find out then. That evening my home phone rang non-stop, with the
press and colleagues telling me I was about to be sacked.

I tried all evening to reach Caroline Marland, but she had taken her
phone off the hook. After a sleepless night, I managed to reach her in
the morning and she confirmed that I was about to be sacked. When Young
rang he said that since I already knew what was going to happen, there
was no longer any point in my going to see him. He simply instructed me
on the telephone to contact someone about my severance details and told
me not to go into the office again. There was no word of thanks, no
concern for my family’s future and no opportunity to say farewell to
staff. I was dealt with as though I had committed an act of gross
misconduct. When I asked why I was being dismissed, he said that I had
lost the confidence of my staff. Since my bags were already packed to
leave for a company conference in Barcelona, he suggested that instead
I might like to head for Rome, “and put it on the company credit card”.

My mistake was now apparent. I had thought that since the Scott
Trust had appointed me, they would show confidence when the going got
tough and back me. Instead, they gave confidence to those elements on
the staff who were bound to oppose me. I had failed to reckon with Alan
Rusbridger and a management incapable of implementing an agreed
strategy.

Having capitulated to Rusbridger, the Trust now sanctioned the use
of Fleet Street’s most familiar method: a wave of dismissals. This type
of high-handed management is held by Hutton to be one of the chief
reasons why capitalism is not working in Britain. In The State We’re
In, he explains: “There is a permanent tension between forming
committed relationships where both parties co-operate and don’t cheat
on each other — and the temptation to cut and run, attempting to find
a better deal elsewhere.”

I didn’t hear from Hugo Young again until a few weeks ago. He wrote
to tell me patronisingly that “the Observer and Jaspan turned out not
to be right for each other.” That was his considered verdict after a
year in which I had moved my family to London, assessed and
restructured the staff, reorganised the office and relaunched the paper.

And was it really not working? After the relaunch, more women and
younger readers were attracted, while we held on to our existing
readers. Perceptions of the Observer as masculine and outdated were
breaking down. Research carried out by the polling organisation ICM
showed that readers who had a year ago given the paper a rating of just
4 out of 10, now scored it 7 out of 10.

We broke exclusive stories, such as the Tory MP Alan Howarth’s
defection to the Labour Party. We launched a new political, cultural
and literary section, the Review, which helped to restore the paper’s
intellectual prestige and which was dismembered last Sunday. And we
founded Preview, an eight-day television and listings guide, which will
vanish this Sunday, even though its format has recently been adopted by
the London Evening Standard’s Hot Tickets magazine.

Sales rose initially, dipped when the autumn promotional support
ended and then began to rise again. In my last full month, February,
circulation stood at 460,000, little changed from when I had arrived
(like the Guardian’s, incidentally). But we had stopped the haemorrhage
and we had successfully put through a price rise and ended a cut-price
voucher campaign (worth up to 60,000 sales per issue) used to attract
Guardian readers to the Observer.

In March, at my last Observer/ Guardian board meeting, the
circulation director expressed satisfaction at our progress and the
advertising director was optimistic. Plans were well in hand for a
second phase of modernisation and change. Hugo Young told the Scotsman
after my dismissal: “The paper is not going in the right direction, the
product is not working and the circulation is sliding.”

Young has also spoken of a “crisis” at the paper, but the only
crisis was the one brought on by the Guardian’s own plotting and
destabilisation. Alan Rusbridger’s coup turned out be a brilliant ploy
for switching attention away from the Guardian’s performance. Although
the Guardian had successfully ridden out the daily newspaper price war,
it had failed to add to its circulation and was under managerial
pressure to curb its costs and improve its working practices.

So that’s how my dream of helping restore the fortunes of the
Observer ended. What has since happened is perhaps more serious. The
Guardian and Scott Trust have to all intents and purposes killed off
the separate and distinct character of the Observer. The Observer is
now simply an adjunct of the Guardian (G3 the wits call it, in the
pecking order after the Guardian’s tabloid second section, which
Rusbridger created). Alan Rusbridger sits at editorial conferences of
both papers and is involved in all key appointments and decisions.

One of the trustees who appointed me, Anthony Sampson, who had a
long and distinguished career with the Observer, wrote to me soon after
I joined the paper that: “As the trustee most concerned with the
Observer, I feel strongly that it must preserve and strengthen an
identity and culture that is separate from the Guardian’s. I have
insisted that the autonomy of the editor must be fully protected by the
Trust, which was minuted at the last meeting.”

What we know now is
that such fine words count for nothing. What does this tell us about
the Scott Trust and its reputation as the moral man of Fleet Street?

Peter Fray

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