News mole on departures and fading loyalty. A fascinating insight into the cultural change sweeping through News Limited from a senior manager inside the company. He writes to us anonymously because “we’re just too nervous” …

“In the continuing saga of executive management cuts at News Ltd (Macourt, Baxter, Howard, Klose, Bulmer, Sligo, Eilert … and you haven’t yet reported on Evan Hannah or Michael Prain) there’s another indicator of the big changes in management approach and culture. The long-stated and cherished policy of honouring loyalty is out the door. It was a hallmark of former CEO John Hartigan’s reign, which he stated time and again that loyalty was to be acknowledged and rewarded

“But three of the recent culls in editorial executive ranks prove things have changed, and loyalty is no longer a gold-standard currency. This worries many of us. The new ‘strategies’ are not clear enough about what we need to do to survive. Look at the forced departures of Howard, Hannah and Michael Prain. Steve Howard had more than 30 years’ service, including stints as editor of the Adelaide Advertiser, The Daily Telegraph and then some years as boss of the Gold Coast Bulletin. He was Group Editorial Director Campbell Reid’s deputy when Reid tapped him on the shoulder about the same time as Hannah four weeks ago.

“Evan Hannah is the former head of the Fiji Times who was arrested and deported by the Fiji military for standing up for freedom of the press, refusing demands to direct editorial staff to toe the line. He won Hartigan’s News Ltd Chairman’s Award for his stand, and was asked to run the NT News soon after. He then went to Sydney to help Reid run the national editorial group, and led the project to replace all News Ltd editorial systems. He had over 25 years service when Reid told him his job had gone.

“Prain has decades of service, editing several papers, including setting readership and circulation records during a long period as editor of Brisbane’s Sunday Mail. His last job, until Reid pulled his chair out from under him two weeks ago, was national editor of News’ community newspaper groups in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane.

“All three have bled for the company. We know the three were targeted to meet headcount reductions — none had committed cardinals sins, or made errors, and all are well-regarded by peers for being able to get things done. We say Hannah’s chopping was really surprising as the project he was heading was seen as critical to editorial future, and has been signed off in New York.

“These ‘redundancies’ have made many of us middle and senior managers very, very nervous. Doing your job well, and having years of solid service behind you, count for nothing in the new News. And what about the Boston Consulting boys now embedded in Macourt’s old office.”

News Ltd spinner Stephen Browning has confirmed to us that Hannah and Prain have left the business. No word on who will replace them.

Hundreds of jobs to go from Optus? In our continuing sack watch, we’ve been told to keep a close eye on Optus, which could soon announce big job cuts. “Internally it’s been confirmed by management that there will be redundancies,” says our insider. “Rumour has it that by April 2 there will be over 700 roles removed, with staff called into meetings from this week.”

Vodafone reassures staff on sale rumours. Still in the telecommunications sector,Vodafone CEO Nigel Dews was insisting to staff last week the business is not for sale after The Australian wrote the joint-venture partners were looking for a buyer. Dews’ email made it to Crikey‘s inbox:

Hi All,

A story suggesting VHA is for sale appeared on The Australian web site over night and was repeated in the newspaper (and other media) this morning.

We were aware that the journalists were researching this earlier in the week and both shareholders provided strong statements of support confirming their commitment to our business:

Quote from Vodafone Group:

“Vodafone remains fully committed to our operations in Australia and our sole focus is on the turnaround of the business.”

Quote from Hutchison Whampoa:

Canning Fok, Chairman of HTA and Managing Director of Hutchison Whampoa, said: “VHA’s accelerated investment in the network and new service initiatives are our highest priority. Together with our partners at Vodafone, we have provided and will continue to provide extensive financial support for VHA in order to accelerate the work needed to ensure all of our customers in Australia enjoy state-of-the-art mobile network services. We are confident that the continued network investment will see VHA deliver stronger results in 2012.”

They couldn’t be clearer really. In my experience, their passion and commitment to our turnaround has never been stronger — like all of us.

They believe in our 2012 plan and are backing us to deliver it. We have made a good start to the year with our restructure and now we can put 100% of our energy into delivering more for our customers and shareholders.  Thank you all for staying focused and getting on with it.

I am delighted that we have Vittorio Colao (Vodafone Group CEO), Canning Fok (Managing Director Hutchison Whampoa) and Nick Read (Regional CEO and VHA Chairman) in town next week for our Board meeting and regular reviews. In addition, they have a number of sessions with staff, customers and the government lined up and are very much looking forward to taking your questions first hand. You all will have received an invite to the Q&A session with them next week — it’s a great opportunity for you to talk with them.


Radio silence, guard shortage at F1 race. The Australian F1 grand prix, run and won by Jenson Button in Melbourne yesterday, apparently struggled to find enough security guards to man the gates. “They’ve had to call in a veritable rogues’ gallery of no-name subcontractors to make up the numbers, who in turn are madly recruiting international students — and paying them as much as $20 an hour below the race-day award,” according to our tipster. “On top of that, there aren’t enough two-way radios to go around, so guards are having to borrow them off each other. It was chaos down at Albert Park.”

Anti-gay voice talked Mardi Gras on air. Remember the ABC presenter now under investigation for voicing Bob Katter’s anti-gay campaign ad? It’s worth noting, reports one Aunty insider, that on March 3 Suzanne McGill devoted a portion of her Saturday breakfast show on ABC South West WA to previewing the colour of the Sydney Mardi Gras.

LNP once dished it on family ties. The Liberal-National Party hasn’t much liked Anna Bligh’s attacks on Campbell Newman’s family finances during the Queensland election campaign. But a Crikey reader reminded us of this headline from the 2009 election — which saw then-LNP leader Lawrence Springborg going Bligh’s personal connections …

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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