On Friday, Crikey published Fairfax spinner Bruce Wolpe’s strong denial of rumours that the Fairfax/Rural Press Canberra press galleries are to be combined after the federal election. Within minutes of that publication, Crikey received in response reports of recent statements by Fairfax CEO David Kirk that could be seen as giving a different message.

Last month a few reporters doorstopped Kirk after his address to the Australian Press Council. At least one of the reporters had a tape running, and caught Kirk giving what can only be seen as mixed messages on the future of the Canberra press galleries.

On the one hand, Kirk said arrangements in Canberra would not change. “There are no plans to do anything new in Canberra, full stop.” Kirk said the separate galleries existed “for very good reasons”.

“Political stories like a lot of other stories have an angle or have an approach which needs to be written with the audience in mind … You need to write from angles and develop stories in a way that will connect with the people who are going to be reading them.”

But at the same time, Kirk talked about “simple back-office-type things” out of Canberra that could and should be shared between papers in the interests of efficiency and simplicity. Asked what he meant by “back-office things”, Kirk said he was thinking of “standard reporting processes”:

There’s a lot of stuff that comes out of Canberra that doesn’t require a lot of detailed digging or a lot of re-writing.

There’s not going to be anything changing … I am giving you the principle of what we have got to do as an organisation, is take advantage of the uniqueness of stories connecting with different audiences but at the same time be really efficient as an organisation where there is no advantage in having unique story development.

So what does this mean? Despite the claim that nothing will change and his support for separate galleries, Kirk certainly seemed to be suggesting an increased sharing of copy between the papers.

I understand that while Kirk’s comments have not made it into the public realm until now, they have been widely shared on the journalists’ gossip network — which just might be why there is a new flush of rumours around this perennial issue.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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