More Curly issues for The Age. Paul Austin’s appointment as The Age‘s opinion and analysis editor has sparked major conflict of interest concerns as his wife, ex-Stateline host Josephine Cafagna, cranks up Victorian premier Ted Baillieu’s media strategy as its chief spin doctor. As Crikey revealed in December, Austin was forced to exit his role as the broadsheet’s political editor after Cafagna was hired as Baillieu’s communications tsar, sparking outrage among Victorian political watchers. Hours later, Austin stepped aside and was promised a “senior position” within Fairfax by Age editor Paul Ramadge.

One Age insider told Crikey this morning that the pivotal opinion page role, to be shared with Sushi Das, was “an even bigger conflict” than his previous gig. “The Age opinion and letters page is the heart and soul of the paper and he is now the gatekeeper on the most important days of the week,” they said. Crikey understands Austin will focus on Friday to Monday, with Das zeroing in on the less popular Tuesday to Thursday editions. Former opinion page editor Roslyn Guy has been moved to a non-specific “associate editor” role, ostensibly to accommodate Austin.

The fresh controversy comes weeks after popular columnist Kenneth Davidson was told by Ramadge that his weekly screeds would only appear on the last Monday of each month. But the agreement isn’t iron clad and Davidson’s column is only said to be “in the mix” alongside other “fresh faces”. The decision to shaft the respected Dissent editor was made before Austin was appointed.

Davidson, who began his career on The Age in 1974, previously followed a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with Ramadge over his weekly column after taking a redundancy package in 2009. When the retirement was announced, Ramadge is believed to have copped heat from senior executives concerned about long-term readers jumping ship. Since his final weekly column appeared a month ago, the space has been filled by contributions from ex-Howard government immigration Italophile Amanda Vanstone. — Andrew Crook

Bye Bye Beck, we’re going to miss you so. Here’s a direct warning for all the right wing wannabees on TV in the US and in Australia, such as Andrew Bolt: it’s not a long term career. You have to have talent above and beyond invective and vituperation. Why? Because overnight News Corp’s Fox News and its nasty and very odd conservative commentator, Glenn Beck, parted company after a sharp drop in ratings.

After starting on Fox in January 2009 and building a big national audience, the star has imploded. He and his fellow Fox right wing commentators have lost millions of viewers this year as the the number of international news stories (Middle East, Japan, NZ quake) have dominated domestic US news, meaning the Fox News angle of being a mouthpiece of the right has been neutralised.

According to Nielsen figures, Fox News’ audience fell 21%, the hated ‘liberal’ CNN rose 28% and MSNBC saw an 9% rise. From January this last year to March this year, Beck lost nearly a third of his audience. And, here’s the big concern for the likes of Andrew Bolt and his mentor, Gina Rinehart. As Beck lost viewers, he was deserted by advertisers, with Coca-Cola, American Express, AT&T and Nestlé vanishing.

“In the UK, where Beck’s show is carried by the Fox News international channel, advertisers are so scarce that the network fills the ad breaks with silent Sky News updates,” The Guardian reported today. The irony is that a year ago with the Obama health care policy and the pre-election campaigning going on with the Tea Party making waves in the US, Fox, Beck and his peers were rolling in clover.

It is interesting Fox didn’t keep Beck for the 2012 presidential election campaign which is getting underway with Obama re-nominating and the Republicans split. That tells us that Murdoch and his crew reckon the likes of Glenn Beck would be a liability in a campaign. Radio, of course, is different, as Alan Jones shows in Sydney and Rush Limbaugh does in the US. — Glenn Dyer

Barking mad. Be sure to tune into Nine News in Sydney for a big scoop tonight, with host Peter Overton voicing this promo about how dogs are spoiled, even having pet pilates and pet psychics:

Front page of the day. Why Vancouver, you barely look a day over 100…

Google goes to Hollywood

“YouTube, Google Inc. (GOOG)’s online video website, is negotiating with Hollywood and music producers for material to offer on a lineup of new channels, according to three people involved in the talks.” — Bloomberg

Examiner CEO offers to pinch HuffPo bloggers

“I will say this, all those bloggers at Huffington Post who posted for free, we’ll be happy to invite them to Examiner.com, where we pay them.” — Media Bistro

O’Reilly gives Jon Stewart a compliment. Sort of.

“Never let it be said that Bill O’Reilly doesn’t know how to give a compliment: On his show this evening, the Fox News host played a clip from Jon Stewart’s “Comedy Channel” show regarding Obama’s slightly underwhelming re-election campaign video, calling it quite funny.” — Mediaite

Radio rights issues

“Broadcaster Southern Cross Media Group Ltd has launched a $471 million renounceable rights offer to help pay for its takeover of radio company Austereo Group Ltd.” — Business Spectator

Foursquare the latest to jump on https bandwagon

“Over the past year or so, we’ve seen a major push by a few of the large Internet companies to move towards SSL encryption — that is, HTTPS instead of the standard old HTTP. Undoubtedly spurred on by tools like Firesheep, this is slowly but surely making the web more secure.” — TechCrunch

Peter Fray

A lot can happen in 3 months.

3 months is a long time in 2020. Join us to make sense of it all.

Get you first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12. Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

12 weeks for $12