If Andrew Jaspan, the editor of The Age, hadn’t already twigged that he’s on the nose, the message may have now hit home, thanks to recent speeches by both the Fairfax Chief Executive and a prominent director which have been interpreted as thinly veiled assessments of Jaspan’s performance.
The speeches by Fairfax Media’s CEO, David Kirk, and the major shareholder and director, John B Fairfax, can be read as criticism of Jaspan as he and the paper he edits were largely omitted from their perfunctory congratulatory comments.
While some of Jaspan’s colleagues were singled out for praise along with some of The Age’s sister papers in the Fairfax stable, poor old beleaguered Jaspan missed out on the plaudits of his superiors.
It’s seen within the ranks of The Age as another indication that Jaspan is unpopular and that his position is ultimately untenable.
Addressing the Australian British Chamber of Commerce last month David Kirk described the Sydney Morning Herald as “the oldest newspaper in Australia and one of the most respected in the world.” He singled out the Herald editor, Alan Oakley, as “one of the great newspaper editors anywhere” and declared that under Oakley’s editorial leadership “the Herald is in touch with Sydney, crusading on issues that are important to the city’s future. It is holding the state government accountable, and reporting fearlessly on everything from APEC to politicians sanitising their bios in Wikipedia.”
Admittedly Kirk was in Sydney at the time so there was an element of playing to the local crowd, but the comparison was nevertheless stark. The Sunday Age received praise for its rapid circulation increases but The Age itself only rated a passing mention as a “leading masthead.”
Last week, Fairfax director, John B Fairfax, gave a speech in Melbourne for the Marcus Oldham College. His oration could be described as three-parts rambling but also appeared to damn Jaspan by omission.
He kicked things off with a critique of The Age in the 1990s – a period in which he claimed the paper had drifted “in part because local management was not empowered.” Was he suggesting the paper was off-course again when he pointed out that a newspaper can “lose its connectedness with the city it serves” when drift sets in? Interestingly this little snippet was left out of The Age’s extract of the speech the following day.
He certainly made it clear where his preferences lay in the following sentence; “The Sydney Morning Herald is gaining strength and circulation under a great editor who knows how to connect the Herald with its readers. The same pertains to The Canberra Times.“
On the last count Fairfax was showing his old loyalties to The Canberra Times as it had been part of his own Rural Press group before the recent merger with Fairfax Media. But even so, the lack of support for The Age and its editor were apparent.