In a gesture that speaks a thousand words, Fairfax’s Melbourne chief Don Churchill is planning to end The Age Company’s support of the Melbourne Press Club’s Graham Perkin Award for the Australian journalist of the year.

The award was founded in 1976 by then David Syme managing director Ranald MacDonald to mark the 1975 death of the paper’s legendary ‘golden age’ editor.

The Age contributes $20,000 a year to the Melbourne Press Club to fund the award, an amount that senior sources within the company’s dwindling executive say will be cut, with no support for the 2009 award.

Graham Perkin’s journalist children, The Australian’s senior arts writer Corrie Perkin and Herald Sun columnist Steve Perkin are due to meet with Churchill next month to discuss the award’s future.

The Perkin Award decision fits a pattern, matching Fairfax’s decision yesterday to withdraw its $15,000 sponsorship of the Walkley Awards for journalists and photographers, which is run by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance. The company’s chiefs, David Kirk and Brian McCarthy, are proposing to have in-house awards instead.

Corrie Perkin was prepared to accept that the paper might legitimately decide to end the award if it thought its time had passed, but did not think it should be axed as a cost-cutting measure. Cost, say Age sources was Churchill’s primary concern.

”If The Age pulls out for the right reasons we accept that. If it is pulling out for reasons of cost or through some disconnect with the past and paper’s history, then I think that’s a terrible state of affairs and a sad day for journalism.”

The Award, she said, had encouraged a ”sense of pride in our craft”.

The Perkin Award decision follows a series of penny pinchings by Age management, including the closing of the in-house Age Shop and cutting staff canteen hours to a 9-5 operation, despite the needs of the paper’s large night shift.

Crikey sought comment from The Age, but had not received a reply by deadline.

Peter Fray

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