Glenn Burge, the controversial editor of The Australian Financial Review, yesterday
unveiled his biggest restructure of the newspaper yet, which has already
elicited plenty of correspondence to Crikey and raised more concerns
of creeping Packer influence inside Fairfax’s most blue-chip
publication.

The changes were triggered by the decision of managing editor John
Hurst and deputy editor (business) Damon Kitney to seek new roles. Hurst, a
20 year veteran of The AFR, told Crikey this morning he wanted
to spend more time with his kids and signalled the need for a change to
Burge during his performance review last August.

Hurst was working the same 8.30am-8.30pm hours when I was on the AFR in
1999, but despite “a nice offer” to return to writing, he has chosen to
pursue other interests that will allow him to see more of his
13-year-old twin boys and 10-year-old daughter.

Kitney will return to Melbourne to assist in the running of the bureau,
do some writing and run special projects such as the annual salary and
profit surveys.

Burge has selected two very good hands to step up. Paul Bailey, the
current deputy editor (national and international) will effectively
run the paper because Burge rarely attends either morning or afternoon
news conference as he pursues a lot of commercial issues for The AFR.
Insiders say that he aspires to take over Michael Gill’s job as head of
Fairfax Business Publications and therefore wanted a deputy like Bailey,
who has experience as editor at The Bulletin and deputy editor of The SMH under John Alexander in the mid-1990s.

However, Bailey is not particularly strong on markets and companies, so
Burge has done well to recruit former SMH business editor Jeni Porter
to oversee that part of the paper’s coverage. This completes The SMH takeover of The AFR but leaves the broadsheet’s resources further undermined after last year’s redundancies drained a lot of talent.

Burge and Bailey are known to be close to PBL CEO John Alexander
and his key ally inside the Packer camp, Chris Anderson, himself a
former SMH editor. However, the huge promotion of Anderson’s
son, Simon, into the role of news editor has got tongues wagging. That
said, there is much relief amongst staff that someone will be replacing
incumbent news editor Geoff Winestock who is not exactly the best
people manager.

Burge hasn’t nailed down all the changes as his memo said that Simon
Anderson was “scheduled to take over as News Editor on Geoff’s move to
the writing role”.

Similarly, New York correspondent Sean Ayler “is scheduled to take over
from Robert Guy as Companies Editor.” Guy is tipped to go to New York
but this hasn’t yet been finalised either.

The raft of other changes include acting online editor Jim Parker
becoming markets editor, financial services editor Sally Patten
becoming deputy news editor, current features editor Alan Stokes
picking up additional responsibilities as deputy news editor and
current Market Wrap editor Phil Baker becoming financial services
editor.

As staff attempted to soak up all these changes, Burge concluded his memo on an upbeat note:

The AFR enters 2006 performing strongly. The newspaper will post higher
circulation for the December audit. The new Smart Investor magazine has achieved
excellent circulation numbers. I would like to thank everyone for their
commitment to ensuring The AFR is performing so well, based on high quality
editorial and a willingness to constantly examine ways to further improve the
daily operation of the newspaper.

All up, it doesn’t look like a bad package of changes, although such
broad restructuring will inevitably cause some tension and the
unpopularity of Burge has certainly triggered some of today’s
correspondence. Hurst is a loss, but Porter and Bailey will strengthen
the paper in their new roles.