Canberra Times editor Rod Quinn has caved in to pressure from advertisers and the public and re-instated the position of arts editor a month after axing it. But serious concerns remain about the future for arts and literary coverage at big city siblings The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Quinn axed the arts editor role, which was occupied by Diana Streak, in July and Streak decided to leave the company as a result.
Arts industry insiders have told Crikey several major advertisers met with Quinn following the decision and threatened to withdraw their advertising. These included the Canberra Theatre, understood to spend about $260,000 a year at the paper, and the Street Theatre, which spends about $100,000.
Quinn has advertised the position internally and Streak has not re-applied.
“The feeling is that he has stuffed up,” a newsroom insider told Crikey today. “He has underestimated the Canberra market. It is a sophisticated market which wants stories on arts and literature.”
Another insider said Quinn, who was not available for comment this morning, “has just misjudged the town entirely”.
The newsroom source said it was not clear what the role would entail and whether it would carry the gravitas of the role under Streak. There has been no sign, however, of Quinn relenting on his controversial decision to axe the role of literary editor to move towards more centrally produced copy in the paper’s popular literary section.
Quinn’s decision has buoyed the spirits of arts staffers at The SMH, who believe their bosses will be keen to avoid the advertiser backlash suffered by Quinn. Senior editors have told staff the paper plans to continue with its daily arts page, according to Herald insiders.
Exactly what will fill the arts pages, however, remains a source of consternation. Crikey understands several arts staffers at The SMH and The Age have applied for redundancy. The arts community is also concerned that arts was not one of they key “topic areas” outlined by Fairfax yesterday. Former The (Sydney) Magazine deputy editor Monique Farmer will be national entertainment editor: a huge role encompassing TV, film, books, theater, dance and other arts.
“That’s a huge worry,” Melbourne-based poet, writer and former Australian theatre critic Alison Croggon told Crikey this morning. “There is already not enough arts coverage.”
Croggon says she’s concerned there will be a reduction in diversity — with more content being shared between Sydney and Melbourne — and a greater reliance on arts freelancers.
“Arts is like sport: it’s a specialist area. You need to know what to cover and how to cover it and that requires specialist knowledge. If they don’t have an arts editor it’s not a good sign. It sets off alarm bells.”
Applications for redundancy at Fairfax close tomorrow.