Icebergs of discontent and ill-feeling float around The Age newsroom and yesterday afternoon editor Andrew Jaspan had to deal with some of the visible manifestations.

Jaspan was holding his regular meeting with staff when he was asked about this story and the accompanying novella of a clarification that was published shortly afterwards.

The story is a good one, written off a VCAT appeal and airing some uncomfortable facts about the attendance records of the Grand Prix. The Chair of the Grand Prix Corporation is, of course, Ron Walker – who is also Chair of the Fairfax Media Board and Jaspan’s main internal supporter.

The word around The Age newsroom is that after reporter Ben Doherty’s story was published, he was called in to editor Jaspan’s office to meet Grand Prix executives and answer their queries. This is extraordinary. Traditionally, editors shield their reporters from this kind of pressure, unless there is a clear case of error or misconduct. Even then, it is the editor’s role to deal with the interested parties.

Then the “clarification” – almost as long as the original story — was published, and is still carried above the story on The Age website.

The “clarification” is breathtakingly full of bullsh-t. Catch this for starters:

In reference to the report below, the Grand Prix Corporation has pointed out that while it does count free tickets to the race in its attendance figures, these tickets are not counted as part of revenue.

Well, duh. That’s why they’d be free then?

At yesterday’s meeting Jaspan was asked about the unprecedented length of this clarification. Was there any problem with the story?

He acknowledged that the clarification was unusually long, and said that he was personally disappointed by that. He had thought it would only be a line or two. As for the story, Jaspan said there was nothing wrong with it but there were some facts that should have been included that weren’t.

Hmmm. Read for yourself and judge.

The staff meeting also covered the running sore point of Fairfax monitoring staff e-mails – apparently in an attempt to catch who is leaking to The Australian and, perhaps, to Crikey. Staff are concerned that this monitoring may compromise confidential sources.

Multimedia editor Martin Daly made a small speech, resonant in the context, about the importance of confidentiality of sources to editorial independence. He was greeted with a hearty round of applause from the assembled staff.

Jaspan said he would be getting back to staff on the issue of e-mail monitoring, and in the meantime warned them not to download p-rn. He agreed that confidentiality and editorial independence were very important.

It is a well known fact that journalists are never happy, but the discontent and serious concerns about editorial independence at The Age these days are of a different order from the norm.

As should be obvious, The Age is a very leaky ship indeed. How long can it continue to sail among these icebergs?

(In case any suspicion attaches to them, it should be said that Doherty firmly refused to talk to Crikey this morning, and Daly did not return calls.)

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW