Crikey speculated yesterday that new Fairfax chairman Ron Walker was poised to sack English import Andrew Jaspan and install his mate Neil Mitchell into the top job at The Age, and there are certainly signs that a palace coup might be in the offing.

Mitchell’s presence co-hosting the Walkley Finalists announcement in Melbourne last week with The Age’s Clair Miller was an interesting choice. Sure, Mitchell is on the Walkley Advisory Board, but publicly lauding the great work of all the entries, in a year when Fairfax and The Age did well, was a good PR step.

But it is most unlikely that Walker would be game to make such a controversial move before his first John Fairfax AGM as chairman on November 18. After all, he is up for re-election and is facing a contest – albeit only from me, Australia’s most unsuccessful candidate. That said, the last thing Walker needs is to create an issue that would get Fairfax journalists up in arms and potentially lobbying institutional investors to give him the flick.

It certainly will be very interesting to get Walker on the record at the AGM about Jaspan’s performance and the prospect of the 3AW Morning host being installed by a supposedly non-executive chairman. Whilst Ron is used to clicking his fingers at getting whatever he wants, he doesn’t clearly have board control at Fairfax given the recent ascension of the apparently hostile Mark Burrows to the deputy chair.

Mitchell would be a lot better as editor of The Age than many people give him credit for, but he faces a major PR problem given his perceived closeness to the likes of Walker and former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett. There’s also the inherent snobbishness that so-called quality Fairfax broadsheet journalists have towards populist shock jocks, and Mitchell has been out of the newspaper game for almost 18 years.

Incidentally, did anyone else think it a little odd of The AFR to use Kennett as their page one picture yesterday, with a glowing Rohan Callick piece talking about his reform record? Considering those two expansive features in The Age two months back, it appears traditionally hostile relations between Jeff and Fairfax journalists have thawed. Could this be the hand of Big Ron at work?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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