Star Herald Sun political reporter, Gerard McManus, has left News Limited amid mutterings of discontent in the Canberra Press Gallery about the attitude of tabloid editors to serious political reporting.
McManus this morning would say only that he had left the company on “amicable terms to pursue other interests”.
But elsewhere in the gallery it is well known that he was asked to leave the News Limited Canberra bureau and return to Melbourne — a move he did not want to make.
McManus is serious talent, and a journalist’s journalist. Only two years ago, he was in the headlines as the reporter convicted of contempt for refusing to reveal his sources for a cracking good story about the Howard Government’s attempts to clamp down on veteran’s entitlements. The company backed him then, as the poster boy for its commitment to journalistic values, and its Right to Know campaign.
He represents the values and tradition that, in its better moments, News Limited claims to hold dear.
Why, then, pressure him to move to Melbourne? The answer is, say those in the know, that the News Limited political coverage is being “streamlined”, for which in the case of the Herald Sun, at least, one can read downgraded.
Anyone who reads the Herald Sun would have noticed that these days meat and potatoes political coverage has declined, in favour of celebrities and personality driven material in which the only pollies who get a mention are those who get into trouble with their sex lives, their dress styles or their expense accounts.
The frustration that results can be heard not only in the gallery itself, but among politicians of all colours.
It’s yet another example of the agonies of newspapers as they try to figure out a way to attract the internet savvy generation, while hanging on to their older readers.
I think forcing reporters like McManus out misses the point, and the potential strength of text-based journalism (I won’t say print). With so much information available on the internet, the claim of news organisations to attention has to be content that can’t be got elsewhere. That’s what good political journalists provide. Celebrity pap is available anywhere.
McManus’ departure has hit at morale at News Limited. If it is true that the current direction of the Herald Sun has proved unsustainable for him, then the portents for others are not good.