ABC veteran Jim Middleton is leaving the ABC, having accepted a redundancy after 44 years at the public broadcaster.
As tributes flowed in for the ABC host, who before his current role as the face of the ABC’s Asia Pacific Service had spent 20 years as the ABC’s chief political correspondent, Middleton told Crikey the ABC had tried to keep him on, but his family circumstances meant he couldn’t practically take up the proposal. Middleton leaves as one of several dozen staffers axed as part of the loss of the Australia Network contract, which include veterans such as respected Asia-Pacific reporter Sean Dorney and the ABC’s Asia editor Catherine McGrath, who it was revealed yesterday was also leaving the ABC after 25 years with the broadcaster.
Yesterday was Middleton’s last day. Asked about whether he’s disappointed by his own departure and its circumstances, he says that’s perhaps not quite the right word. “It feels like… well, a sort of bereavement,” he says. “I would have preferred that the Australia Network were continuing. But governments make decisions, and well, there we go.”
Over his four and a half decades with the ABC, Middleton has helped form many of its key strengths. He began his career with an ABC cadetship in 1970, and was soon at Double J, then on the AM band in Sydney. He was part of the team that helped usher the station onto the FM band. “If you think back to the 1980s, there were eight stations in Sydney on the AM band. So opening up the FM band and putting Triple J on it was a very significant development for both Australian music, and for young people outside of metropolitan Sydney.”
After a stint as the ABC correspondent in New York and Washington, Middleton was moved to Canberra, at a time when many of the press gallery’s iconic faces were just starting out. He turned up to the press gallery “just before Michelle Grattan. Paul Kelly I think was still in the public service at the time, and Laurie Oakes had been there just a year.” Middleton would become a highly respected press gallery staple himself, before he left in 2008 to join the ABC’s Australia Network team.
Asked what he’s most proud of from his time at Aunty, Middleton nominates building up the ABC’s Canberra bureau with colleague Russell Barton. “I think that’s one of the most significant contributions he and I made.” He also nominates the satisfaction he’s had helping several rising ABC stars develop their careers. “One of the important things, as your career goes on, is ability to either lead by example or to provide positive mentoring. I’m pretty pleased to see the way a lot of the people I’ve worked with have seen their careers develop.”
The 65-year-old has no plans to retire. Asked whether another role in Canberra beckons, he says he’s “open to almost anything”. But he did stress how much he enjoyed his time in Canberra in the 1980s and 1990s.”I remain deeply interested in politics — it’s been at the heart of everything I’ve done going back to the early 1970s.”
He says he’ll miss his colleagues, and the camaraderie. Middleton wasn’t quite sure how he would mark the end of his time at the ABC, though he did inform us that others had already started making plans for him. No doubt the party will be triumphant, if a little sad.