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Feb 4, 2013

Grattan, the professor, quits The Age for new Conversation

Michelle Grattan is leaving Fairfax to join the ranks of academia and write for The Conversation. What does that mean for political coverage at The Age?


Fairfax is losing one of its biggest journalistic icons, Michelle Grattan, as the company prepares to put its metropolitan websites behind a paywall and with a federal election looming.

Grattan, who has been a press gallery stalwart for over 40 years, is leaving her post as political editor of The Age newspaper to become a professorial fellow at the University of Canberra. The 68-year-old will also become chief political correspondent and associate editor for The Conversation website.

The shift could see Grattan’s gravitas-soaked byline appear in News Limited or other competing publications. The Conversation — funded by major universities and the CSIRO — operates under a creative commons licence, meaning all media outlets are free to republish its articles.

University of Canberra vice-chancellor Stephen Parker told Crikey Grattan will teach and research in politics and political communication as well as providing him with strategic advice on government relations. She will not, however, be treading Parliament House corridors as a lobbyist.

“As soon as we heard there was a possibility of this we jumped at it,” Parker said. “It’s very exciting.”

The Conversation’s editor-in-chief Andrew Jaspan, a former editor of The Age, today said Grattan “epitomises the very best in political journalism”. “She’s going to be brilliant for us in the run-up to the election,” he said.

Grattan, political editor of The Age since 2004, has worked for the Melbourne broadsheet for 34 of her 42 years in journalism after a previous career lecturing in politics at Monash University. She also reported for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review and became Australia’s first female newspaper editor in 1993 when she took the reins at The Canberra Times.

Former Age editor Michael Gawenda told Crikey: “She’s an icon of The Age and it would have been a different paper without Michelle all these decades.”

Known to her colleagues as “Cobber”, Grattan is famous for her prodigious work ethic, commitment to balance and late-night phone calls to check facts with politicians.

“Getting things right has been a defining feature of her journalism,” Gawenda said. “She doesn’t go off half c-cked. Even in her commentary she is always fair and accurate. Sometimes I thought Michelle could be bolder in her commentary, but the upside is she can always be trusted. In my memory, Michelle never got a big story wrong.”

Gawenda says Grattan’s departure from The Age is a “sign of the times we live in”. He believes the era where one star reporter could define a publication’s political coverage is over because the relationship between readers and mastheads is breaking down.

Grattan’s departure is likely to accelerate the trend towards more Canberra copy-sharing in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Unless Fairfax brings in an outsider as political editor, Age readers can expect more analysis from SMH staffers Lenore Taylor and Peter Hartcher. Age press gallery veterans Tony Wright and Katharine Murphy may also take up a more prominent role in the paper.

In a reversal of roles, Grattan held a press conference outside Parliament House at 12pm today to take questions on the appointment.

The Age’s editor-in-chief Andrew Holden said: “Michelle Grattan is a profoundly talented political journalist. She’s a leader of the Canberra parliamentary press gallery and her astute commentary will be missed by The Age and its readers. We wish Michelle all the very best in her new pursuit at the University of Canberra — academia is richer for having her part of it.”


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36 thoughts on “Grattan, the professor, quits The Age for new Conversation

  1. Apollo

    I must be getting very old, I can’t read The Conversation, but I’m still able to read the whole of a Crikey article if it’s not too long. My cousin saw Peter Ormonde on The Conversation a couple of weeks ago, I haven’t seen him here for a while.

  2. john2066

    It means an improvement to the Age’s coverage. Michelle Grattan was a typical press-gallery ego-head, it was all about her, and the latest vapid gossip. Witness her pathetic performance in the Hawke-Keating challenge, where it was all about her personal vendetta again Hawke. She began to see herself as a ‘player’ and slanted her coverage accordingly.

    Even just now she’s been pontificating about who is suitable to go on the frontbench, naturally there’s no basis for her comments about people’s abilities, its all press gallery fluff about how well they speak at press conferences etc. Pathetic.

  3. ggm

    I have been increasingly disappointed in Michelle Grattan’s writing in the SMH, and her words to air on the ABC. She used to be pretty much like Toohey, fiesty but fair. Recently, I think she’s glued onto the idea that Julia has faults, and its time to parade them. I’m a realist: Gillard has faults. But they are pretty meaningless in the context of the political debate, and they are pretty much a minor mote stacked up against a beam of Tony Abbot issues. Strangely enough, they go to the same place: Michelle Grattan has been doing a lot of ‘Gillard is unfit to lead because..’ and ‘the problem with the Gillard government is Gillard..’ type writing. If the same invective was turned on Abbot, The scale of the problem is orders of magnitude worse.

    I like Grattan’s writing style. I used to like what she was saying. I can handle not agreeing with a commentator, but I think this has got a bit beyond just disagreement. I hope she gets back to a better place on the Conversation, and I hope she enjoys Academic life.

  4. Mike Flanagan

    She may have been a good and reliable reporter but she has failed as a political journalist over the last few years.
    If she continues in the same vein as she has displayed lately, I fear for the future of The Conversation.
    I wish her well in her chosen twilight career.

    I have been wondering as to the whereabouts Peter had retreated. I did notice his last posts indicated a frustration with the mother moderator policy at Crikey. I hope he is fit and well and continues his writing, it was informative and had distinctive style that must stimulate readers.

  5. Mark

    How many of these people talking about what a great journalist Grattan is have heard her in the last 3 years on Radio National or read any of her columns? I don’t understand the ovation she is receiving. Her journalism never seems to amount to anything but gossip.

  6. Apollo

    Hi Mike, yes I miss reading his comments too. My cousins read The Conversation every now and then and see him there. Yeah, Crikey’s moderation can be very frustrating.

  7. Gavin Moodie

    While I haven’t always agreed with Grattan, I have greatly valued her contributions to the Age and to Radio National’s breakfast as being well informed, accurate and stating the orthodox position.

  8. Will

    Easily one of the most overrated journalists in Australia though certainly better than your average hack.

    The mainstream media is perhaps right to celebrate her storied career, which no doubt includes some sterling work. But the sad truth is she has long since fallen from a lofty perch of universal credibility and her recent work of the last several years has been a train wreck of misplaced judgement and myopia.

    At her best, she represents the better angels of the old style career centrist and political insider – professional, fair minded, with a nose for strong stories. But that model is increasingly irrelevant and at her worst she represents the broader systemic failure of the press corps – the self-involved narcissism, obsession with narrative over policy or reality, fixated on “what plays” ala Jay Rosen’s worship of savviness and bamboozlement.

    The Age is a joke now but it won’t be made worse by the absence of someone at her nadir.

  9. Sam

    As a journalist and commentator, Grattan is well past her prime and I can’t recall reading a single worthwhile piece from her since at least 2009. Perhaps she will recover a bit of form at her new job, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

  10. shepherdmarilyn

    Michelle lost the plot years ago, now she has this little gossip with Fran Kelly every day where she pretends she is Helen Thomas merely because she has been around a long time.

    She wrote one piece after the other demanding that Gillard resign over the outrageous perverted Peter Slipper – not a single apology once Stephen Rares showed it was all a lie and hoax helped along by the egregiously dreadful Steven Lewis. Anyone with an IQ above 1 knew the story was bogus simply because Lewis did it.

    Now Lewis self righteously tells Margo Kingston that because the department has broken their own laws over $900 spent by Slipper years ago that he was right to pursue Slipper.

    It was not Slipper making up the Grech affair, Lewis has not apologised for that either.

    Or for his continued abuse of Craig Thomson. Who the hell do these people think they are?

    The Conversation has the most highly restrictive censorship I have ever come across, not worth reading anymore.

  11. drmick

    Balanced? She is as balanced as one legged drunk on a unicycle, and just as insightful in her biased uninformative gossip. No credibility & less relevance. Perfect fit @ the Conversation or eminently qualified for editor of the QZ really.

  12. Tyler T

    good riddance, woeful articles in recent time, no genuine analysis of policy just reflexive he said she said political nonsense.

    If only a peter martin type was able to get the role instead

  13. Rod

    I agree, the quality of her work has been very poor over the last few years. I believe she has little credibility left and her standards are in line with the majority of journalism in the country.

  14. geomac62

    Posted Monday, 4 February 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I agree, the quality of her work has been very poor over the last few years. I believe she has little credibility left and her standards are in line with the majority of journalism in the country.
    My sentiments as well . Sometime about mid period of Howards time she morphed into one of the pack . Since 2010 she has merely been repeating what others have already written in lib spin sheets . Like Howard left it too late to exit .

  15. Mark from Melbourne

    I dont really read her stuff in the Age but I find that her stints on RN turn into a mutual agreement session with Fran – little substance and lots of meaningless conjecture.

    And I agree that they have been running a “Gillard is always wrong” campaign. Latest is this morning where Ms Gr was adamant that announcing the re-shuffle after the election date was clearly the wrong decision and that’s that. So opinion, not fact, and flawed opinion as well – there are many scenarios that were possible and they all had different pro’s and cons. And I suspect Ms Julia would have invoked just as much negative coverage no matter what she did.

    I continue to be amazed at just how much meaningless speculation and claptrap our journos get up to.

  16. Hamis Hill

    An undergraduaute thesis in the School of Journalism at CANU titled: “Palace Eunuchs of The Press; Politicians In Hiding” is now totally out of the question?
    Eventhough they now have the perfect Professor to oversee same?
    Beyond the cynicism, Grattan will find that academia is jealous of the public perception of high intellectual standards pertaining in their hallowed precincts.
    So expect some improvement from Grattan in her future efforts, I’m sure the academics certainly do!

  17. CML

    Barrie Cassidy belled the cat in a reent article on The Drum website. He wrote that all the press gallery journalists liked Tony Abbott and thought he was a “good bloke”.
    Just where that leaves any question of balance by any of them, including Grattan, is a joke. No wonder we get an endless stream of reporting from them saying, Abbott = good, Gillard = bad. Grattan will just be replaced with another clone. The sad thing is most uninformed people believe all their cr+p!

  18. Kevin

    Grattan has kept up a seemingly endless anti Julia Gillard rant, since the current PM took office. I’m surprised she isn’t going to work for News Limited.

  19. SBH

    I’m with you Mark. The Fran and Nan sessions drive me crazy. So much junk from such senior journalists

  20. Zac Evans

    Why is “half cocked” censored in this article? In this context, “cock” does not refer to a penis or anything else like that. In my view, censoring it here makes the editors of Crikey seem juvenile or something. The censoring only draws attention to the other meanings of the word.

    (If it was up to me, I wouldn’t censor it regardless of which meaning was intended; but I think this particular censorship is particularly misguided.)

    As for Michelle Grattan, I think I might be too young to have seen her best work. She seems well revered, but in the recent years I’ve been reading her articles she’s always come across as being more interested in imposing her opinions on others rather than informing people.

  21. Sean Doyle

    Like many, I don’t think Grattan will be missed much. I certainly can’t imediately remember any articles of hers in the last five years at least that would be worth paying The Age’s cover price. I’m pretty confident that any such sum could be easily calculated with just the one hand. Her hanging on until now probably means that she saved Fairfax a massive redundancy payment a few months ago.

  22. GF50

    Grattan will not be missed except by the sycophant/applogists Abbott = good. Has done political journalism in Australia a great disservice. People are entitled to keep their last meal.

  23. GF50

    Zac, agree entirely that half cocked refers to a pistol that cannot be fired unless fully cocked. Rubbish censoring, unless they somehow were referring to LOTO in speedo’s when indeed it may have been an entirely vulgar, but apt.

  24. Ian

    The Conversation will be well served by Grattan. It, as is Fairfax, is not worth reading. What concerns me, and I ask all you to ask yourselves this question;

    Is the academic paddock so empty that a superannuated, burnt out two bob hack is so desperately needed?

    Thank the heavens for the internet.

  25. Bill Hilliger

    Give it a month and it will be Michelle Grattan who? She’ll have to lift her game to rise above the mediocrity displayed in the last six years. She has always aspired for mediocrity one day might actually achieve it, la,la,la.

  26. Dan Gulberry

    Grattan going to The Conversation?!?!?

    I though given the promo pieces she’s published on behalf of Abbott over the last year or so were just job applications to work as his PR officer.

    She won’t be missed.

  27. AR

    Hagiography much? Gawenda can’t recall her ever getting “a big story” wrong?!!?? How about the ever imminent demise of the PM? A stopped clock’s acciracy comes to mind.

  28. pedro

    Three words to Michelle.

    Good f#&@ing riddance. neo-con, partisan hack. What an epitaph!

  29. pedro

    Grattan the Professor? ROFLMAO

    Professes, sorry, continually gushes her love for the neo-cons, without a heartbeat of a pause.

  30. Gavin Moodie

    @ Zac Evans

    Crikey disguises c_ck, s_ex and other potentially naughty words not to censor writers but to protect some Crikey subscribers from the prudery of their email filter. Apparently Crikey is blocked by some email filters, presumably managed by employers, if it includes naughty words.

  31. Harry Rogers

    Thank God another sacred cow falls by the wayside now lets all cross our fingers and hope Philip Adams is the next to disappear. All a bunch of self created babbling hacks.

  32. Mike Flanagan

    It is a relief to see the backside of Grattan and after listening to Adams, the silvertail socialist, for twenty or so years I must admit I only now turn to him on Mondays so I don’t have to listen to Jones, the arch deacon of arrogant pomposity, on RN.

  33. nerk

    Hopefully this means a few of Grattan’s much more talented colleagues at Fairfax can emerge from her shadow and lift the quality of political coverage a bit (Katharine Murphy I’m talking to you).

    Considering how the Canberra press gallery climb over each other to cut down the tall poppies in politics, and carry on vicious, public spats with each other at the rank-and-file journo level – I’ve always been fascinated by the dramatic contrast with their universally sycophantic reverence for dinosaurs like Grattan, Oakes etc – despite them having done nothing to deserve such adulation in their entire careers, let alone the last 10 years when they’ve dipped decidedy below the already low average.

    I hope a silver lining of the ‘new age’ of journalism is that these untouchable elders are the last of their ilk. Sadly it would still be a very thin lining to a very dark cloud.

  34. Ronson Dalby

    “The shift could see Grattan’s gravitas-soaked byline appear in News Limited”

    I think her articles since Gillard became PM will be more at home in a News Ltd paper.

  35. Harry Rogers


    My thoughts exactly.


    I have no personal angst against against Adams or Jones. When Adams celebrated his 20 years with RN the sycophantic hangers on were out in abundance. They would have needed to get a new mop to clean out the drool from the studio. When I questioned what Adams had actually done to deserve this adulation I received a barrage of abuse for not worshiping the holy cow.

    I don’t really blame Adams or Jones its only when they start believing the crap that’s they are long overdue for the pasture. I wish people would remember taht it the people on teh other side of the microphone who actually do something!

  36. Mike Flanagan

    Over the years Adams has added value to the public discourse and could be commended for many of his offbeat commentary, but when he used Christian Kerr a political oracle, he lost me.
    But thanks for your observations.

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