Editor-in-chief of The Australian Chris Dore.
Editor-in-chief of The Australian Chris Dore. (Image: AAP/Dan Himbrechts)

When the pond dries up, it’s only the orneriest salamanders who are left crawling all over each other. Thus to The Australian, where the mass departure since the arrival of ex-Tele editor Chris Dore is having real effects. The departure of Rick Morton and Anthony Klan was a real blow to the paper’s firepower, but the loss of cartoonist Jon Kudelka is probably the point at which the publication has stopped being a real newspaper.

For decades, Murdoch and his editors have observed the ancient practice, established by Lord Beaverbrook in the ’30s, that right-wing papers have a main-page left-wing cartoonist. The role is similar to that of holy fool, who tells the king inconvenient truths no one else can. By being couched in humour, such messaging allows the readers to observe the obvious truth — that Hitler does not want peace, that climate change is real — without shattering the fantasy the rest of the paper pumps out. Fantasies — dreams, movies, etc — only work if a trace of them reminds us they aren’t real. When that goes, so does the pleasure of the fantasy. Kudelka with his funny, sceptical, smart but above all generous-hearted drawings, was essential to the paper’s mix.

But the Oz‘s problems run top to bottom. It’s not merely name reporters like Chip Le Grand who’ve left. The paper can’t hold onto relatively junior reporters who, insiders say, can’t stand the new heights of toxicity to which the paper’s culture wars have been taken. Two younger journalists — whom of course News Corp had spent time and money training — left at the time of the paper’s racist campaign against African-Australians. A couple more have gone due to the paper’s simplistic and one-dimensional coverage of trans politics.

Beneath the high-profile departures, insiders say that basic staffing positions are going unfilled, because the sort of journos News Corp wants at its broadsheet don’t want to work there, and those who do aren’t up to scratch.

There’s no capacity to pump out propaganda without some genuine news and relatively sane commentary. A paper that’s all Chris Kenny and Alan Jones is simply going the way of Sky News — a self-defeating freak show. Maybe change is on the way, but if not, will the last person to leave The Australian please turn off the dark?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey