Woman walking out the doors of The Age building
(Image: AAP/Julian Smith)

To: Chief digital and publishing officer Chris Janz; The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age executive editor James Chessell; The Age editor Alex Lavelle

From: 70 The Age journalists

Dear Chris, James and Alex

We write to you about recent events and trends that we believe pose a threat to The Age’s proud reputation and independence.

We want to make it very clear we do not seek to single out individual journalists for criticism. Our concerns are about the system and culture in which we work.

As journalists we have watched with alarm as changes have been made in our editorial approach. Our concerns include, but are not limited to:

  • Errors being inserted into reporters’ copy during the editing process
  • A story on the Black Lives Matter protest that required a correction, and an ill-informed editorial that said Australia “does not have a legacy of slavery”
  • Pressure on reporters to produce particular angles on stories
  • A failure to understand the values and interests of our Victorian readership

Sadly, our newsroom does not reflect the diverse and multicultural state in which we live and work. As far as we are aware The Age has had only one Indigenous reporter in its 166 year history. Every editor in The Age’s history has been a white man, as is every current foreign correspondent.

We ask that an Indigenous affairs reporting role be created in Melbourne. We also ask that a greater effort be made to hire and promote people from culturally diverse backgrounds.

We are concerned that key editorial decisions are being made on a regular basis from Sydney, rather than by local editors with a better understanding of our readers, our city and our state.

The Age is a proud masthead with a long history, and we are not and never should be a subsidiary of Sydney. This loss of local editorial control has come at a cost to our coverage and standing. We reiterate the need for editorial control to return to Melbourne.

As independent journalists we do not favour any political position, party or ideology. Our job is to find facts, make sense of them and explain them to our readers. We believe stories should be assessed on their journalistic merit.

In recent years this independent approach has meant our award-winning journalism has been the best in Australia. Our exposure of corruption and of government, corporate, bank and union misconduct has led to changes that have improved our society. Such journalism can only flourish when we are free to work independently.

We believe there is a growing public perception that we have become politicised, a perception that is damaging the reputation of The Age and, potentially, the viability of the business. Politicisation undermines Nine’s commitment to editorial independence, and hurts The Age masthead, beneath which appear the words “Independent”. Always.”.

These are troubling matters to put in writing and we do not do so lightly. We would be happy to discuss this in person.

Peter Fray

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