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Feb 11, 2013

The Guardian launches raid on Fairfax: top hacks depart

The Guardian's hiring of Lenore Taylor and Katharine Murphy is a wake up call for anyone who’s been sceptical about how serious the publication is taking its Australian experiment.

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When The Guardian announced it would launch an Australian digital edition last month, some media watchers saw grim portents for Fairfax. The reasoning was straightforward: with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age hoisting paywalls on their websites, the venerable British brand has a real shot at stealing a good chunk of those sites’ educated, affluent and progressive readers.

That could well happen. But the most pressing concern for now isn’t losing readers but writers.

A week after The Age‘s political editor Michelle Grattan announced she was joining The Conversation, press gallery veterans Lenore Taylor and Katharine Murphy have confirmed reports in The Australian that they are joining The Guardian. Taylor, currently chief political correspondent for the SMH, will be the site’s Australian political editor; Murphy, national affairs correspondent for The Age, will be her deputy.

It’s a wake-up call for anyone who’s been sceptical about how serious The Guardian is taking its antipodean experiment. As one recently departed Fairfax veteran said this morning: “They are a f-cking serious couple of people to recruit.”

Katharine Viner, who is leading The Guardian’s Down Under venture, was unavailable for comment this morning. One source who has met with Viner since her arrival says the plan is to hire around eight local journalists. One of them may well be David Marr — Crikey understands talks are ongoing with the former SMH star (who was also unavailable for comment this morning).

“She seems like a dream editor,” said the source. “She is deadly serious, she’s got a chequebook and she wants to hire good people.”

Both Taylor and Murphy are, for different reasons, big losses for Fairfax. As well as a respected commentator, Taylor is one of the gallery’s best news-breakers. It was she who revealed Kevin Rudd planned to shelve the emissions trading scheme and that Scott Morrison allegedly urged shadow cabinet to take advantage of community hostility towards Muslims.

As well as her thoughtful columns, Murphy has built a loyal following by curating Fairfax’s parliamentary Pulse blog. Updated during sitting weeks, it features real-time tweets, photos and reader comments and is a strong fit with The Guardian‘s emphasis on interactive, “open” journalism.

Although The Guardian was quick to rush out a press release this morning confirming the appointments, it appears news of Taylor and Murphy’s defections has caught everyone on the hop. Crikey understands Taylor has yet to negotiate the date for her departure from the SMH or when she will start at The Guardian.

The latest moves come as Fairfax intensifies copy-sharing across its metro mastheads, with former Adelaide Advertiser correspondent Mark Kenny taking a leading role as newshound at the SMH, Age and Canberra Times. This trend has peeved some Canberra bureau staffers, including Grattan, who wanted the freedom to write news as well as commentary and analysis. And although Taylor has denied her move is driven by frustration with Fairfax, some staffers feel federal political coverage doesn’t get the prominence it deserves in the papers.

In her first piece for The Conversation today, Grattan writes:

“I believe that it is as important to have multiple voices reporting news as it is to have many voices in commentary. On occasion what is ‘fact’ and the weight that should be given to particular pieces of information in a story can be as disputed as opinions based on the facts. And the more competition there is in the searching out of facts, the more the community will know.”

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drovers cat
Member

Lenore? Guardian? Love it … where do I sign up?

Grumpy Old Sod
Member

Do you have any idea when the Guardian will be online here? Any relief from the pathetic rantings of Paul Sheehan would be welcome.

Kevin Herbert
Member

The Guardian’s credibility as an indepedent, ehtical news source has taken a hammering like the great majority of the ‘old’ media (including Fairfax) as it acts as a stenographer for the UK Government’s and the US State Department’s grossly distorted versions of events in the Middle East.

Go the Media Lens site, and check their thorough analysis of the Guardian’s banal complicity in the US neocons version of geopolitical events.

I reckon the Guardian’s got about as much credibility as the Times of London.

Andrea
Member

The SMH website needs competition. It is awful. Usually leading with sensational populist stories, often culled from overseas sources; much inferior to the paper itself. If the Guardian’s Australian website is like its UK and US sites, it will be far superior.

Malcolm Street
Member

David Marr! He’d be a natural for the Graun’s Comment Is Free.

Hazel
Member
There is now so much one simply cannot read in the SMH. Sheehan’s vicious rants, Henderson’s poorly disguised right wing diatribes, deceitful headlines and large swathes of information, always in support of the gov’t, which just dont make it into print. I mean seriously – Vanstone? Abbott? Pyne? Costello? And who cares about the eastern suburbs cocaine fuelled social scene? Why are those individulas they consider the ‘Most Influential’ so often the self important and odious? The herald, our previously respectable and respected paper, has become narcissistic, right wing, biased and shallow. So we await the Guardian. If it wasnt… Read more »
Ginas new vajazzle
Member

Sure the Guardian is serious about setting up shop here. But the journos are serious about getting off the Fairfax ship. If Guardian can just get themselves some decent business/economics and football scribes why would anyone want to login to the Age or SMH

David Stephens
Member

Check out the comments on Michelle’s piece in The Conversation. Politely savaged by a good proportion of contributors. It may be that the age of magisterial but lightweight pieces by national journalistic treasures is past.

KimbLee
Member

Stopped reading the SMAGE regularly a fews ago now. Its seems more sensational populism and less fact reporting, commentary and analysis. Bring forth Le Guardian (fingers crossed) but i will still get my Crikey, New Matilda fixes (First Dog on the Moon, Ben Pobjie are always worth it and all the other usual suspects).

Mike Flanagan
Member
Without Gittins and Carlton the paper is less than useless, its a bloody disgraceful rag. Just goes to show the folly of trying to clone the Murdoch faecal press species. I dipute that the printed copy is any better than the digitl copy. The business copy is little more than a reprint of corporate street’s Press Releases. The news copy is little more than sop to their perceived gentrified readers of the big end of town who are becoming more consolidated and rarified as each day passes. Overall their commentary is little more than lavatory graffitti with multi syllable words… Read more »
rhonaj
Member

Yippeeeee

Thomas McLoughlin
Member
Is there a correlation between people who comment on crikey strings and grumpy negative exageration? Even if I do like Hazel’s gripe above about the Fairfax lurch to the right aided and abetted by dinosaurs with far too much space for too little brain/good faith. But to suggest the paper is rotten is just wrong. And ignorant. Put simply there is a wide and deep store of writing and journalism talent out there, not least in journalism schools overflowing with enthusiasm and scarce opportunities. In other words there will alwaysbe more writing talent and stories to fill a newspaper than… Read more »
Microseris
Member

The Age is now almost on a par with News Ltd. Filling up opinion columns with ex liberal hacks (incl Vanstone & Costello) and IPA propaganda. Often, the only page worth reading is the letters to the editor for some independent insight.

Kevin Herbert
Member
The below explanation of the demise of true investigative reporting across the old Western media is summed up in an article on the free Media Lens site titled ‘The Flagship of Liberal Journalism is on the rocks’. “As Jonathan Cook, a former Guardian journalist, wrote last year: ‘The Guardian, like other mainstream media, is heavily invested – both financially and ideologically – in supporting the current global order. It was once able to exclude and now, in the internet age, must vilify those elements of the left whose ideas risk questioning a system of corporate power and control of which… Read more »
Mike Flanagan
Member
Yes Microseris the Age is not even a shadow of its past. It has lost its’ campaigning skills and ability to present the facts. It did have a fine history under the Symes family but when it cowered to the Fairfax management style of Mark Scott it lost its’ journalistic soul. While it has always been a conservative paper it did have a bank of professionalism in its’ editorial staff that understood what their readers wanted and needed to know to make their own decisions. Today journalist think the knowledge of the facts are their property and that gives them… Read more »
Hermo
Member
If Fairfax is still wondering (and let’s face it, management don’t seem to have a clue who their readers are – or used to be) where their readership went all they have to do is go back and look at articles/commentary written by Alan Ramsey. You could disagree with Ramsey, but no matter which side of the political divide you came from you could rely on him having done meticulous research and then applied critical analysis to whatever issue he was dissecting. There is now an absolute dearth of that type of journalism in Fairfax and those with talent must… Read more »
Kevin Herbert
Member

ulysses butterfly:

You’re not serious about Hartcher surely?

Check his islamaphobia beat up in last week’s SMH foreign coverage. that such US State Department tosh is reproduced by a so-called ‘independent’ journalist further hastens the SMH demise.

Finally, name a truly independent journo anywhere in the world who would host the odious extreme far right Zionist Alan Dershowitz at a Jewish event in Sydney resplendent in a yamulkah.

Steve
Member

Whatever The Guardian’s failings, it’ll be a massive step up from the tabloidesque abomination that Fairfax has become. Can’t wait.

Paddy Forsayeth
Member

Brilll!!!

John Turner
Member

Isn’t the Guardian in even more financial trouble than Fairfax? If so, what implications does this have for the proposed Australian (ad)venture?

Gail
Member
Isn’t the Guardian in even more financial trouble than Fairfax? The Guardian is funded by the Scott Trust. It is not beholden to the vagaries of corporate management fashions or the stockmarket in the way most other media groups are. There’s a reasonable Wikipedia article on the Scott Trust and the funding for the Guardian and the Observer (Guardian Media Group) and some other articles relating to the history and changes since the 1800s. There are often comments in the Murdoch owned media that the group is on the verge of failing. It’s been around for quite a long time.… Read more »
Patriot
Member

The left/socialist love media are doomed. They can’t compete with the ABC. Nor should they try to when you think about it. They wanted a state willing to take over and run everything and give us free stuff, now they have it. Enjoy!

Graeme
Member

8 local journalists? For a big federal nation? I hope the Guardian is a bit more serious than this. Especially as they’ll spend half their time writing opinion, not analysis or news…

Mike Flanagan
Member
Graeme; I too initially had misgivings on their commitment to the Australian endeavour. When you consider the changes in employment patterns over tha last decade towards the casualisation of the workforce I would imagine stringers and casual staff will be the authors of much of their copy. Add in the resources at their international disposal and that gives an imagine of commitment and editorial weight. The 8, that have been employed so far seem to me be the core of their editorial staff and many of its personnel will be casuals. I am probably unique, but my belief that a… Read more »
Ian
Member

Graeme,

8 local journalists?….depends on how you look at it.

If we take one honest, competent Australian journalist as our starting point. (I understand that to find one, let alone 8, will be extremely hard, though not impossible.)

If we then multiply them by a factor of 8…ie one honest competent Australian journalist is worth 6 Murdock hacks and 2 Fairfax wannabees the end result…64 journalists is not all that bad.

It’s all about context.

Philip Bond
Member

I too join the welcoming parade!

vernskags
Member
I’d urge anybody expecting independent journalism from The Guardian to have a flick through ‘The Guardians of Power: The Myth of The Liberal Media’, Edwards & Cromwell, Pluto Press, 2006. Or,as K Herbet suggests, trawl through the Media Lens archive for up to date analysis. I also agree with Graeme. Those 8 established journo’s are going to struggle to break AU news. But that aint what the mission post’s about, innit? There might be a tad more analysis of the parliamentary drip feed than what we’ve become accustomed to in the past decade or so, and that will provide some… Read more »
Filth Dimension
Member

I know I’m joining the conversation a little late but can someone explain to me why when I visit the guardian.com.au website on my mobile the footer has fairfax regional media copyright and the fairfax logo???

Some good points above. Melbourne’s eastern suburbs are awash with elitist, LNP supporting, 30 something’s, blowing their cash on bad cocaine trying to party like they are teenagers.

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