So who is this Paul Ramadge, appointed editor-in-chief of the Age last Friday after acting in the position since Fairfax management gave Andrew Jaspan his marching orders and announced 550 other job cuts across the group?

Within 24 hours of the first announcement, Ramadge’s online profile at the Age as Senior Deputy Editor was updated to reflect his new position as acting EIC. See here.

Fair enough. But still no detail in his profile to indicate his experience or achievements prior to joining the Age in 1996. No indication of where he started in journalism, what stories he might have covered that we would remember, what busy rounds he was assigned to, what Australian or international postings he had. It’s almost as if he didn’t exist before “joining the Age as night editor in 1996″, as his profile says. A touch of mystery here, for any newspaper and its readers, let alone a broadsheet like the Age .

And particularly so as Age management has given Ramadge the responsibility of dealing with the job cuts and their impact. Ramadge’s profile is set to become better known, whether he likes it or not.

So, with the help of people who worked with Ramadge before he arrived at the Age in 1996, let’s fill in some of the earlier detail which remains a mystery…

He joined the Age after a brief term as editor-in-chief of the Newcastle Herald, in the major industrial centre north of Sydney. Everyone who was at the Fairfax-owned regional broadsheet at the time were astonished when he announced out of the blue one night that he was taking up the position of night editor at the Age (replacing Crikey editor Jonathan Green as it happens) under then editor Bruce Guthrie. Ramadge had no Melbourne connections that anyone knew of and it seemed like a backwards step for a man who had always seen himself as executive material above the grind of actually working on a subs’ desk, even at a paper as prestigious as the Age.

He’d earlier tried his luck as editor of the small Dubbo Liberal in western NSW, but returned to his hometown of Newcastle almost as soon as he’d left. Apart from that little outing, Ramadge had only ever worked at he century-old Newcastle Herald. No time in Sydney or Canberra, let alone overseas. No demanding reporting rounds; no grinding on-the-road assignments. He’d moved to the subs’ desk as soon as he could, and through a combination of luck, perseverance, some talent and the resignation or retirement of others, had risen to the post of Day Editor (deputy editor). Rambo also took on the role of Literary Editor, filling his office with the latest volumes and taking delight in dealing with book reviewers. Staff who worked with him at the time said this role appealed to his view of his own intellectual standing, particularly among lesser lights at the Herald.

Ramadge had been mentored by Herald editor-in-chief John Lewis, an old-style newsman who’d gained the respect of his staff and readers as chief-of-staff and business editor, winning a Walkley for his efforts. But Ramadge was learning his networking skills fast, and Lewis took early retirement, to the surprise of most, including, it seemed, Lewis himself.

In his early 30s, but without any serious experience as a reporter on a busy metro round, Ramadge was suddenly editor-in-chief of the Newcastle Herald. This role included acting as general manager of Newcastle Newspapers — the entire Fairfax subsidiary in that city — on an occasional basis. Staff working with him remember Ramadge as a man who saw himself as a sensitive new age guy; a male feminist in a blue-collar manufacturing city not known for its enthusiasm for such subtleties. Editorial staff clearly remember Ramadge bringing politically correct, left-of-centre views and values to news assignments and story-to-page allocation. Perhaps he was destined to end up on the Age after all.

However, Ramadge’s appointment as editor-in-chief at the Newcastle Herald co-incided with the appointment of a new general manager at Newcastle Newspapers: Brian Evans, a quietly tough, sometimes hard ex-compositor who’d risen through the ranks. He knew his newspapers, and had firm views about content and design. Circulation figures showed the Herald’s grey, tired broadsheet design was no longer popular in the Newcastle and Central Coast area, particularly as the Sydney Daily Telegraph pushed more and more into the region, picking up readers in large quantities with its tabloid design and bright reporting.

Brian Evans wanted to convert the Newcastle Herald to tabloid; Ramadge didn’t. It just didn’t suit his view of newspapers, nor his regard for his own intellectual pretensions. That is, broadsheet is good, tabloid is bad. Never mind that News Limited would later convert its broadsheet papers in both Adelaide and Brisbane, with considerable success.

For Ramadge, push came to shove. He made his surprise announcement of a move south to the Age, and a return to a subs’ desk. Within two years, in 1998, the Newcastle Herald had gone tabloid under a new editor, with a resulting increase in sales. General manager Evans went on to run the Fairfax operations in New Zealand, before returning to a senior operational role in Sydney under former Fairfax CEO Fred Hilmer. He was seen as a real possibility to succeed Hilmer; and Ramadge, by now climbing the greasy pole at the Age, must have had some sleepless nights at the thought of having to deal with Evans again. But when the Fairfax board instead chose former All Black David Kirk to succeed Hilmer, Evans left Fairfax to take up a CEO role in the commercial printing industry.

The rest is history — or as much history as you will read in Paul Ramadge’s abbreviated, incomplete online profile at the Age.

Peter Fray

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