Margaret Simons writes:


Canberra
Times
editor Michael Stevens has resigned, apparently
without being pushed. General Manager Lloyd Whish-Wilsontold Crikey there was no connection with his departure and recent falls in circulation.

“This comes from Michael, not from us, and we
would be very glad to have him back,” Whish-Wilson said. Nevertheless the move
is a resignation, not a leave of absence.

Whish-Wilson said he expected the editor’s
position to be filled by someone already working for Rural Press. And falling
circulation was nothing to do with the editor but was due to problems with new
publishing equipment and distribution, he said – to believe that circulation figures
are only a result of the editor’s work is “journalistic egotism”.

“I think Michael has brought the
newspaper a long way, and I disagree with the criticisms that have been made,”
he said. Those criticisms include a view that the paper is run by people who don’t understand Canberra and that the journalists lack experience.

Rural Press has run the Times as an unashamedly provincial
paper, rather than trying to be an Australian Washington Post. National politics gets hardly any more coverage
than in other large country town newspapers. Stevens, like most Rural Press
editors, has had considerable freedom to run the paper according to his own
sense of the local community. The view is that people want to know about their
suburbs, not the “house on the hill”.

Not all the staff approve. There is a
well entrenched “old guard” at the Times
that has been a challenge for successive managements. Stevens’s enemies see the
falling circulation figures as vindication.

Rural Press has built a strong business –
admittedly largely in monopoly markets – on tight budgets and a good understanding
of local communities. Nevertheless, there is an argument that a
middle class town with government and politics as its major industries is a bit
of a special case. A bit more parish pump political and public service news and
gossip might strengthen the Times‘s appeal.

Stevens did not return calls asking for
comment before deadline.

Peter Fray

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