For obvious reasons, the Nine Network’s Sydney 6pm news took an interest in the departing Sydney Daily Telegraph editor, Campbell Reid and his replacement with 35-year-old tyro, David Penberthy.

Reid is going to be General Manager of Queensland Newspapers in Brisbane.

Nine News depicted the move as ‘punishment’ for declining circulation at the Tele since Reid became editor back in May 2001, sort of partly right, but in its eagerness to score a point, Nine News missed the point of why the decision was made.

That Nine News in Sydney thought it newsworthy to have a go at Reid (known to his mates at Media Watch on the ABC as ‘Barra’) shows just how sensitive Nine and PBL has been by the strong attacks on the group from The Australian in the past week or so – something pointed out in Crikey Daily last Thursday.

But it has not been a good time for Campbell at TheTele since taking up the job almost four years ago. The paper’s circulation has fallen 5% from just over 410,000 to 390,000 copies a day in the June-December period of last year. In contrast The Peter Blunden-edited Herald Sun has at least maintained circulation in the same time, while The Courier-Mail, the main product of Queensland Newspapers, has lost around 3% of its sales since 2000.

The main competitor, Fairfax’s Sydney Morning Herald, has seen a 5.3% fall, so in some respects the loss cannot be solely due to Reid’s editorship. The Fairfax newspapers are as much on the nose with readers as the News Ltd papers are.

But Nine should have read the AAP version of the News Ltd announcement and the comments from John Hartigan, the CEO and a former Tele heavy. Hartigan said Reid’s move to Queensland Newspapers “recognises him as a media executive whose experience will be invaluable as Queensland continues to invest in journalism and in quality”.

That sounds like a back-handed way of saying Campbell was a bit too hi-brow for the likes of TheTele. After all, he came to the paper from the Editor’s gig at The Australian. Does that mean no tabloid edition of TheCourier-Mail? After the multi-million dollar losses in London for the Times, perhaps, not!

And what does the defensive David Fagan at TheCourier-Mail think of having Campbell Reid, that paragon of ‘quality’ journalism parachuted in to second guess him as General Manager of the company? Relations between Fagan and The Australian are already touchy over poaching of staff and competition for stories.

But why was Reid finally flicked to Brisbane (his departure was widely tipped this time last year but the move by News Corp to the US and the acquisition of Queensland Newspapers may have stopped it then)? Hartigan’s comment about David Penberthy is telling: “Since joining The Daily Telegraph, he has shown he is in touch with what matters to our readers”.

Boom-boom! Penberthy knows what the readers like to read and want in the paper and Reid didn’t? That seems to be the implication. Hartigan and those on the News Ltd executive backbench will all deny it, but that comment from the CEO is the best reason why the change had to happen.

But for Campbell Reid, is this a case of ‘failing’ upwards to more money and greater power? It has happened before in News Ltd and certainly will happen again.

By the way, the change of editorship at TheDaily Telegraph wasn’t thought important enough to appear in The Australian’s Media Section on its internet site over the weekend. Strange, that!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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