Crikey‘s story a while back on The Australian Financial Review‘s internal culture of bans and back scratching has stoked the ire of disgruntled insiders, who have deluged us with their dealings with senior management at the paper.

Former staff say that when the nation’s highest-paid business commentator, John Durie, left the Fin to write The Australian‘s Martin Collins column, he was given an appropriate send-off, in the manner befitting a 20-year veteran. However, when fellow Oz-bound journos Lyndall Crisp and Andrew Main jumped ship, many in the newsroom didn’t know they had gone.

And Crikey can reveal that last week another departing AFR scribe, James Chessell, was hastily escorted out of the Fairfax building in Sydney’s Pyrmont after resigning to work as a reporter for Rupert.

The departures add to a long list of newsroom escapees with Oz media diarist Amanda Meade this morning listing Jacqueline Maley, Tracy Ong, Tracy Lee, Karen Maley, Ashley Midalia, Simon Evans, Ingrid Pyne, Shannon Nicholls and Tom Dusevic as other recent causalities.

When Main announced his departure from the Fin there was a wonderful story circulating about his terse exit conversation with AFR editor-in-chief Glenn Burge. Burge allegedly said “I’m not happy,” to which Main allegedly responded “So which one are you?”

One former Fin employee, responding to Crikey‘s original story, said: “All those people who have been excluded have all worked at The Fin and that there’s a strong history not just of excluding people, but specifically turning on them once they’ve left.”

Aggrieved ex-employees are also angry at management’s decision last year to promote managing editor Brett Clegg’s partner Annabel Hepworth to the position of associate editor (news):

“… there was a big internal GASP at the paper, not just because it somewhat confirmed the growing suspicion that Glenn was favouring Brett and Annabel, but also because there were others perceived as much more deserving of the promotion. For example, Fiona Buffini, who is the news editor.”

Burge is the godfather to Hepworth and Clegg’s daughter, and Hepworth and Clegg began as trainees on the paper.

But it was the discussion of AFR’s policy of banning commercial rivals on Melbourne radio recently that really pricked Crikey‘s ears. In an extraordinary assessment of the paper’s management team, MM&E Capital’s Tom Elliott revealed that he had been given the cold shoulder after a decision to write a weekly column in notional “competitor” Eureka Report:

Tom Elliott: I got banned from the Fin Review.

Host: Why?

Elliott: Because I write something for another publication and someone at The Fin decided that the other publication was a competitor. I didn’t want to buckle under The Fin‘s Communistic, Pravda-style editorial control.

Eureka Report could be construed an indirect competitor. But Elliott is also a leading commentator on takeovers and regularly appears in The Australian, the Herald Sun and his own weekend radio show on AFR Fairfax stablemate 3AW. Since he stopped writing his Fin column, Elliott said the phone calls from the paper’s reporters had dried up.

But what about Meade’s other big claim, in an earlier column, that the paper regularly regales readers with some serious revelations over “stories in exchange for a scoop on a big merger and acquisition”.

How does this work?

Insiders say investment bankers are happy to give the AFR scoops on deals that will be announced on the morning of publication, before the trading day begins. This allows the paper to write up analysis and reportage in time for the event, but it freezes other outlets out.

A prime example could be found in last Thursday’s Street Talk column on the possible privatisation of Transurban:

“There is now talk that Ontario is mulling a $6 billion privatisation of the toll-road group, which owns Sydney’s Hills M2 motorway as a well as a joint stake in the M7,” the paper wrote.

And what happened later on that morning? Amazing.

Critics say many of the Fin‘s scoops would never make it into print without the say-so of the investment banks who stand to reap big bucks from advisory fees.

One source told Crikey:

“It’s kind of like insider trading but it usually only happens when companies are in trading halts and the deals are announced that day. Having said that Street Talk get scoops ahead of announcements but that’s a very ad hoc and usually anonymous thing. The AFR seems to do it on an industrial and semi-official scale.”