Paul Armstrong — known among his staff as “red cordial boy” because of his manic energy — has definitely reinvigorated The West, but at a high cost to the paper’s reputation as a source of balanced news. I don’t mind its head-kicking style so much, it’s just that The West plays favourites with the heads it kicks.
For instance, Deputy Liberal Party leader Troy Buswell recently admitted discussing his evidence to the CCC with Noel Crichton-Browne, who had also been called to appear. It was prima facie an illegal conversation. The West reported the conversation had occurred but only in the inside pages. I would have thought it warranted front page and some punishing coverage, some demands for answers from leader Paul Omodei, questions about Buswell’s fitness for leadership office, etc. If a Labor MP (let alone a leadership team member) had been caught talking to Burke there would have been fireworks (and rightly so) and screeching demands for a political execution.
It’s this sort of disparity that drags The West down. It plays up (even beats up) Labor’s faults and plays down the Liberals’. And he can’t say it’s because Labor’s in power because the federal Coalition Government gets a free ride (AWB — what’s that? You’d hardly know reading The West. Hicks? Who’s he?). The only issue I recall the feds getting a tough time over was the failure to stem Indonesian fishermen.
The malaise at The West is played out in the newsroom. If you’re in the in-crowd (young white males of a conservative political bent who subscribe to Hot Rods and/or Ralph) you probably love the place but those in the outer — and that’s most — feel the freeze.
In recent years I could have fielded a cricket team with West journos who’ve asked me whether there are any jobs going at the Herald (though when they hear what the pay is they decide they might be better off to stay where they are and pray for change).
Armstrong has his fans who love his energy, but they are very, very few and far between. I genuinely have not met anyone who tells me they enjoy reading The West, which I think is a terrible shame as it is WA-owned and (for now) independent of major interests. It has a solid team of very good, tenacious journalists (some of them on Team Armstrong) but they’re let down by the Editor’s political meddling.
The West should be a cherished state institution that its readers would fight to keep out of the hands of Murdoch, et al. Instead, readers are ambivalent about its future and some even hope that someone like mogul Kerry Stokes may be a good thing.
Personally, I’d like to see someone like Bret Christian (the owner of the Subiaco Post independent newspapers) take the reins as Editor. He’s a distinguished WA journalist with impeccable contacts in the key western suburbs and amongst WA journalists. I don’t know if he’d be willing to do the job but he would do wonders for its rehabilitation.
PS: I’ve never met Paul Armstrong and have no personal beef with the guy. My criticisms are based on third-party observations of him and from my own reading of The West under his leadership.