Former Age editor Michael Gawenda has been sacked as a columnist and occasional feature writer by new Age editor-in-chief Paul Ramadge.

“This is a payback,” Gawenda said.

The sacking came in a terse email to Gawenda this week, in which Ramadge asserted a new editor’s perogative to “make changes”. Gawenda, however, suspects that he lost his monthly opinion page spot thanks to the robust views on Fairfax’s corporate conduct and performance he aired in this year’s A. N. Smith Lecture in journalism at Melbourne University in early October.

Gawenda is a former Age editor, long-standing senior writer and triple Walkley Award winner. He joined the paper in 1970, was editor between 1997 and 2004 and was the Fairfax correspondent in Washington until 2007. He is now director of the University of Melbourne’s Centre for the Advanced Study of Journalism.

His A.N. Smith critique of Fairfax management was tough. He dealt with the recent Fairfax staff cuts:

The editorial cuts announced by Fairfax, publisher of the Herald, in response to a fall in advertising revenue, were chilling. The economic slowdown is the immediate cause, but this was coming for at least a decade. It is a failure of imagination and commitment, a result of a lack of experience and knowledge and love of newspapers. I am not opposed to cuts in editorial staff as a matter of principle. Not every job has to be preserved and protected. I am not saying the Herald and The Age cannot be great newspapers with fewer journalists. They can. And they have to change.

But for real change, courage is needed, as are vision and risk-taking and, above all, a commitment to newspapers and journalism that, frankly, I do not see at the moment.

And with the challenge posed by the company’s awkward embrace of the internet:

At a time of transition and great challenges for newspapers, Fairfax was run by people who had no experience of the business, no knowledge of its history and role in the communities in which their newspapers operated and, what’s more, no great love of them…

…The editors of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald have no control over their papers’ websites. All the talk of newsroom integration is rendered meaningless as a result. Already the online newspaper sites of the main Fairfax metropolitan mastheads are at odds with what those mastheads long stood for. They are much more popular, much more celebrity and entertainment focused. This is a recipe for disaster. The mastheads are being trashed.

Within a week, Fairfax chairman Ron Walker had responded angrily to the lecture in a letter to Gawenda. He accused his former editor of “disloyalty”.

“My loyalty is to the paper and to journalism,” Gawenda said. He was surprised that the Age editor would act in a way so readily interpreted as capitulation to the wishes of the Fairfax chairman.

“I though they’d wait for a while and then act. This timing is pretty telling.”