Whether a cunning media strategy to avoid scrutiny or simply incompetence, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s admission on the ABC’s 7.30 last night that he had personally donated $1.75 million to the Liberal Party on the eve of the election caught newspapers on the hop. The deadline for pretty much all the print editions around the country had passed, with only The Australian adjusting today’s print edition front page with the news. What to do when the Prime Minister makes news after the paper has gone to bed?

The Australian quickly amended a pre-existing front-page story on how the Prime Minister had not revealed the size of his donation, to reflect the fact that he had and to include the details from the 7.30 report. The journalist sent through the quotes at about 8pm and made the front page. 

But for Fairfax it was too late. Both The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age missed the story in their print editions as did the Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph and The Mercury. The Courier-Mail managed to squeeze it into a corner.

Why didn’t Turnbull announce the figure earlier in the day at his National Press club address? Was it an attempt keep the revelation out of the papers? A source at The Australian reckons it wasn’t deliberate, but that Fairfax deadlines have crept forward over the years to cut costs and the media giant is unable to pounce on late-breaking news as it once was.

At Fairfax journalists are pushing to make any late changes to the print editions at 7pm, and by 7.30 it is all over except perhaps for minor corrections. A source at Fairfax said journos and editors scrambled to update the story online. “Whether or not it was a deliberate tactic, it did stuff us.” 

Even though The Australian got its “exclusive” front-page story today, the timing of the announcement reflected more a lack of clear thinking on the behalf of the Prime Minister. A source at The Australian said Turnbull’s late disclosure meant poor media management: “They’ve had months to get the number out there … It was another own goal.”

If the timing of admission was a consideration for his media advisers, the tired political media management of the timing of announcements could be soon a thing of the past. Maybe they should just start tweeting at 3am.

Peter Fray

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