Mark Latham’s new gig as a columnist at The Age is over before it even began, with news filtering out to Age journos on Thursday that the column would not be going ahead.
The idea was first aired in Monday’s Media Diary column in The Australian, to the startled dismay of many Fairfax journalists, who have been up in arms about it ever since.
Crikey understands that all week, Age editor-in-chief Andrew Holden has been approached by journalists within the newsroom, including some very senior figures, who argued against the column.
Latham, for those living under a rock, used to be a well-read and longstanding columnist with Age stablemate The Australian Financial Review, until BuzzFeed revealed in August that a Twitter account linked to his personal email address had been abusing then-Australian of the Year Rosie Batty. It followed persistent and growing concerns about the subject matter and style of Latham’s writings; the former Labor leader had turned his attention away from Labor and its faceless men to focus his attacks on “left feminism”, which he described as “akin to a psychoneurotic disorder”. He was, in fact, sued for defamation by Lisa Pryor, a columnist with Good Weekend, which runs in The Age, after he used his AFR column to criticise her in highly personal terms.
Latham’s reputation may have been damaged, but his career hasn’t been. He picked up a gig last year as a regular panelist on Channel Nine’s The Verdict (which was renewed for this year), and last week, was given his own show on Triple M.
His new Age column would have signalled a significant career comeback, but it was a step too far for The Age newsroom. Crikey understand the idea of employing Latham as a columnist originated in the commentary desk, but was approved by Holden. When it was reported in the Oz, parts of the newsroom requested and got a meeting with Holden to discuss the column. It’s understood in the meeting, Holden initially defended Latham’s writing and the questions it raises, but he later bowed to the opinion of his journalists. Nothing formal was ever announced to the newsroom, with the campaign against the column largely going on behind the scenes. Crikey is uncertain whether or not a formal contract between Latham and The Age had ever been signed.
But some facts about the column have filtered out. It’s understood the column, the first edition of which would have run this coming Monday, would have run only in The Age, and would not even have appeared on the website of The Sydney Morning Herald. Age journalists have speculated that’s because SMH editor Darren Goodsir wanted little to do with it. On social media, many Fairfax journalists, particularly those at the SMH or in Canberra, were dismissive of the column. Behind the scenes, so were many Age journalists, some of whom questioned Latham’s relevance to Melbourne readers.
“It’s proof The Age‘s website is going downmarket for hits,” one told Crikey, questioning why the newspaper would hire someone whose columns had caused Fairfax so much controversy.
According to the AFR, Latham’s decision to leave the Fin was entirely his own. AFR editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury sang his praises on the way out, describing Latham as a “provocative and highly readable columnist”.