As someone who appears almost genetically predisposed towards ripping
into those in senior positions at John Fairfax, Piers Akerman was at
his pugnacious best today as he fired off a letter to The Australian’s Media section. It is not online but read as follows:

Your coverage (Mark Day and Errol Simper) of the appointment of The Sydney Morning Herald’s new editor, Alan Oakley, was generous in the extreme and ignored some stark realities.

Notably that he, like other unsuccessful Sunday Age editors
Steve Harris, Bruce Guthrie, Michael Gordon, Jill Baker, Steve Foley,
Michael Gawenda and Malcolm Schmidtke, failed to make any significant
dent in the circulation of the opposition Sunday Herald Sun, edited for the past 13 years by Alan Howe, the most successful editor in Australia by any measure.

The present margin between the two newspapers – 420,000 – is not only
the largest between competing newspapers in Australian publishing
history, it is also double the circulation of The SMH.
Howe has increased sales by 30%; the next most successful editor can
boast a mere 6% increase and this as newspaper sales suffer
internationally.

Despite the revolving door at the Spencer Street Soviet, no Fairfax
editor has managed to challenge this circulation supremacy or come
within cooee of The Sunday Herald Sun’s success. Surely such a feat is
worthy of mention in the context of the circulation-challenged SMH’s
new editor’s Sydney prospects.

Did Howe write that himself? The story was actually about Alan Oakley,
Piers! What Akerman fails to mention is that he was the worst editor-in-chief in the history of the HWT. Sunday Age sales were closest to The Sunday Herald Sun when Akerman ran the show and Howe was part of the team that fixed up his mess when he left in 1992.

Besides, the Sunday newspaper market in Melbourne was only
tackled properly in 1989 when the Fairfax-News Ltd joint venture Sunday Press
closed and three new papers were launched. The market is still
relatively immature, so of course the Sunday tabloid would grow
steadily over the years. Howe still has a long way to go before he’ll get a free Porsche because the
daily Herald Sun outsells The Daily Telegraph by almost 150,000 copies a day, yet The Sunday Herald Sun is still more than 100,000 behind The Sunday Telegraph. Lift your game, Alan!

It is also amusing that Akerman has chosen to gratuitously insult two current News Ltd colleagues, The Australian Magazine editor Bruce Guthrie and Herald Sun business editor Malcolm Schmidtke. If they were so bad, why did News Ltd rehire them?

Perhaps he is still carrying a grudge for the front page demolition job he copped by then Sunday Age feature writer Caroline Wilson in 1991. It must be galling that Steve Harris, the Sunday Age
editor who commissioned the piece, was installed to replace Akerman as
HWT editor-in-chief in 1992. Harris managed to reverse the plunging
Herald Sun circulation which afflicted the paper during Akerman’s rein of
terror.

Akerman should also have disclosed that Oakley was sent down from Sydney as editor of the Herald Sun
in 1991 to try to fix up the mess created by Akerman after he fell out
with the paper’s founding editor, Bruce Baskett. Akerman famously
declared that “Sydney said they were sending an editor, but instead
they’ve given me a layout sub.”

The record shows that Oakley did a good job rebuilding the Herald Sun
and it is telling that Akerman has rarely visited the paper’s office
since leaving 13 years ago, such is the disdain with which he is still
regarded by those who worked under him.

* Stephen Mayne worked under Piers Akerman and Alan Oakley at the Herald Sun

Peter Fray

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