The strike editions of Fairfax papers over the weekend were a little window on to the world of journalistic practice as senior Fairfax managers see it. They only had a couple of days, so there was no time to be wasted in the race to peddle a little bit of influence.

Sunday Age readers woke to a bold page one treatment of the routine weekly compilation of Melbourne house sales results.

Could it be that The Age managing director Don Churchill, presumably on hand with sleeves up in the newsroom on Saturday night, was putting in a little spade work to support the poor performance of The Age real estate classifieds under his watch? There was nothing startling in the figures, they get run every week, but was Churchill making a stirring public case to excuse his own poor performance

There was more on the inside pages. Tasmanian Liberal senator and rabid anti-abortionist, Senator Guy Barnett must have been very pleased with the run he got on page three of the Melbourne Sunday Age. Barnett, who is pushing his parliamentary colleagues to vote on November 17 to ban Medicare funding of late term abortions, is chaperoning an American “abortion survivor” around Canberra this week to help his lobbying efforts.

The page three story reads like a Barnett media release:

An American “abortion survivor” will lobby federal politicians in Canberra tomorrow, ahead of a Senate debate next month on late term abortions. Gianna Jessen, 31, will relate her extraordinary story at Parliament House. She is being sponsored by the Australian Christian Lobby. Tasmanian Senator Guy Barnett has moved in the Senate to ban Medicare funding of late-term and second trimester abortions — between 14 and 26 weeks — which he says has cost $1.7 million in Medicare payments since 1994.

Let’s look at the byline: none other than former Barnett senior adviser, Barry Prismall. Prismall normally works at the Launceston Examiner, but was drafted to Melbourne over the weekend as a strike breaking executive. He worked for Barnett for six years as his Chief of Staff and Media Adviser until June this year when he returned to The Examiner newspaper as a Deputy Editor.

The Canberra Times was getting in on the act too. Sunday Canberra Times editor Andree Stephens took a rather different tone to Monday’s papers on the departure of Governor General Michael Jeffrey. The page one yarn, ‘Jeffrey returns fire’, spilled to a double page spread inside. Nowhere did Stephens let on that up until a few months ago, she was the long-serving speech writer for His Excellency, Governor-General Michael Jeffrey. Instead Stephens devotes pages to Jeffrey’s attack on the media, defending his years of tea, scones and country fairs… no mention of the “integration” brouhaha that dominates today’s press.

Nice to see Fairfax bigwigs putting principle into action.

Peter Fray

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