As The Age bids farewell to a tumultuous week, the man in charge now the dust has settled is Alex Lavelle. Lavelle, who’s quite popular in the newsroom, is now acting editor-in-chief following Mark Forbes’ very brief reign. In an email to staff sent yesterday, he tried to steady the ship, as well as spruik the masthead’s credentials on gender equality, which are now somewhat tarnished. Lavelle urged his newsroom to shut out the “white noise” (is that what sexual harassment complaints are called these days?) and “celebrate who we are and what we do”:

“You have great colleagues, a great job and you are doing great work. Work that makes a difference every day. Sure there are frustrations. There are in every workplace. There are uncertainties here, as there are in life.

“But rather than dwell on the things that we can’t control, let’s concentrate on what we do best — producing top quality journalism that our audience wants to read, watch and listen to. Negativity is unhelpful and, frankly, boring.”

And anyway, he added, progress was being made by the gender diversity group, started at The Age earlier this year with a focus on “the gender pay gap and career progression”.

“We have also been working towards 50% of the articles on the opinion pages in the paper being by women.”

An analysis by Women in Media of coverage from Feb 1 to Feb 21 this year found 88% of The Age‘s columnists were men — the worst gender breakdown among the newspapers studied. Though perhaps the figure has improved since then. Lavelle continued:

“We need to recognise and break down unconscious bias. And we need to raise awareness of the issue of gender equality and diversity wherever possible.

“Equality and diversity are not things that just happen. We need to work hard together to achieve them.

Lavelle’s “top priority”, he added, “is to do all I can do to fight for gender equality and diversity in our news room”. Which is an interesting statement, given the growing calls for The Age to break a 162-year tradition by appointing a female editor-in-chief. Lots of people in the newsroom are hoping Lavelle’s position is made permanent. But could he step aside for a woman? We’ll wait and see.

The Age‘s editorial Christmas party is tonight. We bet it’s a highly respectful affair.

Peter Fray

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