Things move fast and late at Fairfax when it comes to executive appointments. Crikey can confirm that Canberra Times editor Mark Baker – who was yesterday announced as the new Editor (Special Projects) for The Age –– was originally expected to become the editor of The Sunday Age in a swap with Sunday editor Peter Fray, but that a late change was made — at Age editor Andrew Jaspan’s instigation.

There was quite a flurry at The Age yesterday when Jaspan was told that his boss, Brian McCarthy, had announced the appointments of Gay Alcorn and Mark Baker as editor of Sunday Age and Editor (Special Projects) respectively.

This highlights the continuing tensions between the Fairfax and Rural Press parts of Fairfax Media. Melbourne asserted itself by insisting on having a say in the moving of the chess pieces. The late decision on the Sunday Age job was a Jaspan clawback. Peter Fray and Mark Baker knew of the plan that they were to swap jobs before Jaspan did.

Apparently Jaspan didn’t know the announcement of the new positions was imminent until after McCarthy’s e-mail hit the inboxes. He rushed out with his own announcement, (see Andrew Dodd’s story yesterday) which has been the subject of much textual analysis in the newsroom.

Particularly noted is Jaspan’s mention of Senior Deputy Editor Paul Ramadge, which seems a bit gratuitous unless he is trying to forestall any suggestion that Baker’s poncy new title is in fact code for Editor (In Waiting).

Baker is favoured by the Rural Press parts of the company, but has not had any promises made to him. Both Ramadge and Simon Mann  are still considered to be in the running as possible Jaspan successors. Ramadge has come into his own under Jaspan’s (ahem) leadership, and Mann is the one who probably should have been appointed instead of Jaspan in the first place. All three men have ability to burn, and the respect of the editorial floor.

What is now in place is an inherently unstable situation. Baker can hardly be expected to be happy with the euphemistic “special projects” for long. Mann and Ramadge are all ready for more.

Meanwhile more tensions and Age anthropology were on display at the send off last night for former Age Communications Director Nigel Henham. It is an open secret that Henham left after a difficult relationship with CEO Don Churchill (who wasn’t invited), which makes the stellar roll out for the farewell bash something worth remarking on. Both Ramadge and Jaspan said nice things about Henham, and the stars of editorial were also present.

Some have suggested to Crikey that we should now be running a “Jaspan countdown clock”, ticking off the moments to his inevitable departure. Others point out that this might in fact help cement him in his position. Nobody wants to appear to be influenced by Crikey, after all.

So we just want to confirm what everyone knows — that we are puny, infantile, insignificant and often wrong.

We would also like to say that Andrew Jaspan is a fine editor of innumerable achievements. We want to heavily emphasise that he has the respect of his entire staff and the loyalty of his superiors. Everyone speaks well of him, particularly to Crikey. He is a man of penetrating judgement, wide reading and great gravitas. He is indeed the Harold Evans of his time.

So there.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey