The ABC is expected to continue with a half-century-old tradition and appoint a director of news from within its own ranks in coming days.

Long-time ABC journalist and executive Craig McMurtrie is expected to be appointed to the role, which he’s been filling in an “acting” capacity since Kate Torney left for the Victorian State Library in mid-September. A tipster describes the impending appointment as an “open secret” at the ABC’s Ultimo HQ. An ABC spokesman declined to comment.

Within the ABC, a speech given by managing director Mark Scott last Thursday is being seen as a confirmation the appointment would be made internally.

“Kate [Torney] is a single-minded revolutionary and she assembled with her what I believe to be Australia’s finest news executive, with a determination to stake out the ABC’s position as the nation’s leading provider of news,” Scott said in Melbourne.

“Scott always chooses his words carefully, and bringing in an outsider now would make his current team second-best and not the finest,” Crikey‘s informant said, adding that for someone like Mark Scott, who is always talking about legacy, a lack of succession planning in this most important position would be highly uncharacteristic.

As head of news-gathering for the past three years, McMurtrie worked closely with Torney and could be described as her deputy in the news director position. A former Washington correspondent and North American bureau chief, and an experienced Canberra political reporter to boot, he’s described by those who’ve dealt with him as a “nice guy” and “lovely chap”.

The other serious potential internal candidate is Gaven Morris, who set up News 24, but it’s understood he’s pulled out of the race. ABC news logistical operations head Rebecca Matthews is another name possibly in the running — she was mentioned in The Guardian‘s Media Beast column last week — but is seen as currently too junior for the role.

Several other names have been floated in the press for the position in recent weeks. They include people like Seven News director Rob Raschke, SBS news boss Jim Carroll and veteran news exec Max Uechtritz, who left Seven last year and has held similar positions at the ABC in the past.

But it would be highly unusual for the ABC to appoint someone to the position who is not currently at the broadcaster. Since the 1960s and ’70s, news directors have come from the inside. Crikey is told no external candidates were interviewed by headhunter Darren Challis.

Some within the ABC are unhappy there won’t be new blood. Many of changes at the public broadcaster during Torney’s tenure remain highly controversial. The Hunger Games-style redundancy round conducted last year still grates, as do the many expensive — and in some people’s opinion, unnecessary — restructures, particularly to the international bureaux. The creation of News 24, while nominated by Torney as one of her key achievements, sucked up resources from many other parts of the ABC news-gathering operation. Many still question the priorities made during this period.

Questions of legacy, and whether the ABC will continue more or less down the same path, will remain front and centre as the government appoints two new directors to the ABC board, and, in mid-next year, that board appoints a new managing director.

Peter Fray

Inoculate yourself against the spin

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and protect yourself against news that goes viral.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today to get your first 12 weeks for $12 and get the journalism you need to navigate the spin.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey