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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.

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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28 comments

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28 thoughts on “The Guardian launches raid on Fairfax: top hacks depart

  1. drovers cat

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

  2. robinw

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

  3. Kevin Herbert

    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.

  4. Andrea

    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.

  5. Malcolm Street

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

  6. Hazel

    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 for the educative sanity offered to us by Ross Gittins…

  7. Ginas new vajazzle

    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

  8. David Stephens

    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.

  9. KimbLee

    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).

  10. Mike Flanagan

    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 that try to give it gravitas that Henderson has mastered.
    I say let Gina have what is left of this grand old lady of the print media, and she can do she wishes with the carcass while fighting it out with the Murdoch carcasses.