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?

Matthew Knott

Former Crikey media reporter

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.

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