As the media belly-aches about the fines and convictions imposed on Herald Sun political correspondents Gerard McManus and Michael Harvey for refusing to disclose a source, another interesting game has begun relating to Gerald Stone’s new book, Who Killed Channel Nine?

Stone is a journalist of high repute who has clearly relied on the anonymous accounts of many other journalists and Channel Nine executives to produce his explosive demolition of PBL CEO John Alexander.

The AFR pursued this theme on Saturday with an anonymous gossip item in “The Prince” column which took a shot at all the unattributed quotes and appeared to out Sam Chisholm, Peter Meakin and Jana Wendt as three key Stone sources in the following terms:

You spot black holes by the absence of light. According to this theory, Stone’s likely sources will be those who are quoted little or not at all. That modest Sam Chisholm, for example, while ever-present in the book, doesn’t seem to have spoken to Stone, although some of the stories Stone retells are remarkably similar to stories Chisholm used to harangue people with during phone calls late in the day. Former Nine identities like Peter Meakin and Jana Wendt are rightly portrayed as national treasures, but seem tongue-tied.

Truth be known, there were many other sources who have now left Nine and spoke to Stone, but not many who remain inside. One of Stone’s biggest coups was to score much of the email and communication between Eddie McGuire, Jeffrey Browne and the two creators of The Block, David Barbour and Julian Cress. None of this was anonymous.

It is interesting that Fairfax is starting to adopt the old Crikey model of running lots of anonymous gossip items. “The Prince” column is a full page in The AFR each Saturday, which insiders claim is edited by Neil Chenoweth, although his by-line is nowhere to be seen. Even the email contact has been outsourced to gmail.

The Sunday Age took a similar step last month when the back page “Spy” column was ditched after 16 years, replaced by “The Heckler”, which carries no by-line. The touch of veteran feature writer Andrew Rule appears evident in some of the copy, but this has not been publicly disclosed.

Gossip columnists accumulate enemies over time and my list is as impressive as anyone’s. However, it’s only worth publishing anonymous pieces if the content is markedly better. If quality hands like Rule and Chenoweth decline to be publicly disclosed, then it probably is worth the punt to get their content in the paper, even if it does surrender some of the moral high ground.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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