The AFR Magazine today has  produced its annual Power edition, which, over the past decade, has evolved into an advertising and sales blockbluster, right up there with the federal budget wrap. It’s again a good read, such that today the world’s most-expensive financial daily is worth the $3 cover price.

While the paper has completely botched its internet strategy through AFR.com and also blown plenty through its failed push into education and exhibitions, the decisions dating back to the Greg Hywood era of the mid-to-late-1990s — launching a Saturday edition, Boss Magazine and the monthly glossy magazine — are continuing to pay healthy dividends.

The AFR’s Rear Window gossip column today dutifully produced an item on the heavy-weight lunch in Sydney yesterday to launch the 10th edition of the Power issue, but failed to nail it with this paragraph:

“Taking it all in from the floor was the under-pressure Fairfax Media chairman Ron Walker, who was sharing a table opposite his chief executive, Brian McCarthy, and (Mark) Johnson, and alongside (Don) Argus and (Anthony) Albanese.”

Surely the item should have pointed out that The AFR’s prickly publisher Michael Gill and Machiavellian editor Glenn Burge were also on the head table?

One of them should have lent across the table and whispered to chairman Ron: “Thanks for all those great scoops and quotes over the past week but for your own sake, put a sock in it.”

Walker’s endless press interviews have been a classic case of “enough rope” with his anointed successor, Roger Corbett, suffering increasing collateral damage such that his ascension to the chair at the AGM on November 10 is not assured.

The other key point to make is that McCarthy is a long-time loyalist to the Fairfax family from his decade running Rural Press. Some Fairfax observers have been surprised that Gill has survived the McCarthy axe, which terminated CFO Sankar Narayan with a $1.197 million payout in February and New Zealand boss Joan Withers in March.

However, it is said that Gill and McCarthy know each other from their education days in Newcastle and AFR profits have certainly held up a lot better than the bleeding broadsheets in Melbourne and Sydney, thanks in part to the success of The AFR Magazine and its block buster Power issue.

The other point missed by Rear Window is that Macquarie Bank co-founder Mark Johnson, one of the Power issue judges, was also on the head table yesterday.

He just happens to be the adviser to the Fairfax family, who visited all the institutions last November ahead of David Kirk’s termination with a $4.1 million payout.

One can only wonder whether the item buried at the bottom of The AFR’s Street Talk column this morning came from one of the parties on the head table yesterday.

Under the headline “Silence is signed, sealed but not delivered at Fairfax”, the item revealed that all directors signed a pledge at the February board meeting not to talk to any shareholders without the consent of the board.

No wonder John B Fairfax went public against Walker. He’d signed away his right to privately solicit institutions for boardroom succession.

Disclosure: the author is an outside candidate for the Fairfax Media board at the AGM on November 10 in Sydney and had lunch with Ron Walker last Thursday.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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