Editor Paul Armstrong suddenly looks limp-wristed following yesterday’s announcement that WA Newspapers CEO, the board chairman and two other directors were resigning.

In his bid earlier this year to turf out WAN’s directors, Kerry Stokes made plain his disdain for both the editor and the performance of the group’s leading masthead, The West Australian . There’s no doubt this is a significant victory for Stokes and his supporters.

But Armstrong’s likely demise will be greeted with mixed reaction. Those rusted-on readers of The West have supported the feisty, stick-it-up-your jumper approach of the combative editor when confronted with criticism of his paper.

And there’s much to admire about the way in which Armstrong has pursued a strong, independent line of journalism and the public support of his journalists when they are under attack, especially from politicians and the courts.

However, the editorial excesses in which the editor had a direct and overpowering influence has caused considerable angst within the broader industry and informed community.

Perhaps the most obvious manifestations of this were the multiple adverse judgments against the newspaper by the The Australian Press Council. As with all criticism, Armstrong simply regarded this as unwanted and unjustified interference in his running of the newspaper.

But the APC adverse judgements were accompanied by much more serious criticism of the editorial standards of the newspaper.

In an article commissioned, but not published, by The Bulletin before its demise, more than two dozen sources across journalism, politics, and academia told me of their concerns over the decline of The West .

The most strident criticism came from Labor Attorney-General and Health Minister Jim McGinty, who, both in and outside parliament, accused the editor of corrupting the ethics of young journalists.

While McGinty was a frequent target of editorial attacks, politicians from other parties were also highly critical of Armstrong.

In a guest lecture to journalism students at Curtin University, McGinty warned students to be prepared to be corrupted should they get a job at the newspaper.

Former premier Alan Carpenter, who was a prominent journalist before entering politics, was also an outspoken critic of the editorial standards of The West .

One prominent newspaper editor said the major problem was that a reader could no longer be satisfied that what was published was true, given the editorial slant that accompanied many stories.

Other sources said the editor should be sacked for bringing the newspaper into disrepute. And this, combined with a continuing decline in circulation in a monopoly market, is likely to prompt Stokes to act sooner rather than later.

In many circles the newspaper has become a laughing stock. You come across people all the time in business, professional and social circles who say they no longer buy the newspaper because they can’t stand it.

It will take a gifted editor backed by a media-savvy board and CEO to restore The West ’s trashed reputation.

Peter Fray

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