Media circles in WA are abuzz with speculation about the successor to Paul Armstrong as editor of The West Australian.

Former Sunday Times editor Brett McCarthy and, as mooted in Crikey, The Australian’s WA editor Tony Barrass seem to be the leading contenders.

WAN CEO Chris Wharton will be speaking at the Perth Press Club on Friday and no doubt will be quizzed about the editorial direction of The West, following the vexed Armstrong years.

The West is an iconic brand in Western Australia. WA Newspapers has been and continues to be an outstanding business. While both the media and broader community will be taking a great interest in the appointment of the editor, the business sector and WAN shareholders will be looking to Wharton for reassurance concerning the basic foundation of the company and a vision concerning future directions and growth.

That Wharton’s address at the press club is a sell-out is indicative of the widespread interest in who the new editor might be and where The West, in particular, and WAN, in general, are headed.

Wharton’s recent appointment as CEO follows Kerry Stokes’s successful move on the board of WAN, of which Stokes is now the chairman. Soon after Wharton was appointed CEO, Bob Cronin was appointed editor-in-chief.

Cronin, who had previously worked for Stokes, is widely respected as an astute newspaper editor. Already his steady hand is apparent in the content and appearance of the paper: the shrillness is gone along with a less partisan approach, and its page design is more open, drawing on a good use of pictures.

A bit of baggage that Cronin carries, however, is that he stood as an endorsed candidate for the Liberal Party.

But the new regime will be delighted that the decline in circulation has at least been arrested for the moment, although the challenge for Cronin and the new editor will be to avoid an over-reaction to the Armstrong excesses by making the paper too bland.

There’s no doubt newspapers are doing it tough, and one manifestation of that is the shedding of jobs. It would be a shame to see The West go down that path, as the time is right for an injection of journalistic talent and a more innovative, fresh approach that will inject energy into the publication.

And then, of course, there’s the internet. The problem for The West to resolve, as with all newspapers, is how to integrate in a cost-effective manner its hard-copy version with its on-line delivery.

While that work will be ongoing, it nonetheless requires urgent attention.

Lawrence Apps is president of the Perth Press Club

Peter Fray

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