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Business

Jan 8, 2015

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This is the fourth installment in a five-part series on Australian business journalism. Read part three here.

A common argument is that business journalists are failing, at least in part, because the diminishing resources of media outlets and increasing pace and complexity of financial markets leaves them ill-equipped to scrutinise companies and the powerful people who run them.

Academic Gillian Doyle interviewed more than a dozen business journalists from the Financial Times, Sunday Times, Telegraph, Investors Chronicle and CNN for a 2006 article published in Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism. She found skills generally had to be learned on the job and “surprisingly little commitment to training is available to support journalists working on the business sections of many mainstream newspapers in the UK”.  Financial irregularities buried in the accounts of fraudulent companies like Enron could easily go undetected.

A lack of expertise can lead to a possibly unhealthy reliance on financial experts such as broking analysts. In his 2010 article “What are financial journalists for?“, Damian Tambini from the London School of Economics’ media policy project interviewed journalists and editors, and was told, “The people that are really skilled go and make loads of money working in the financial sector. Not writing about it”.

Not so, say the half-dozen accomplished Australian business journalists Crikey interviewed for this series (see part one for a list of interviewees). Only two of them, Adele Ferguson and Ian Verrender, had directly relevant qualifications: both hold economics degrees and Ferguson also completed a graduate diploma in applied finance. While both thought their studies had been helpful — Ferguson says training gives the journalist “more confidence to ask questions” — neither believed financial qualifications were necessary to being an effective business journalist, and could cite plenty of names to prove it. Most important were the fundamental attributes of any journalist: curiosity, fact-checking, and the determination to keep digging to get to the bottom of a story. Trevor Sykes, who had a leaving certificate in English honours, told Crikey that studying accountancy and law could be useful but “journalism after all is really an unqualified profession; anyone who can write something that people want to read can get a job”. Sykes, who started as a cadet at the Adelaide Advertiser in 1952, continued:

“… as soon as I got into newspapers it was just what I wanted to do. I was good at English, which qualified me to make tea for subeditors for 13 months as a copy boy. I never wanted to do anything else, you were always somewhere that was either interesting or important, because if it wasn’t interesting or important, you shouldn’t be there! [After a year on the state politics round] I thought if I can get into finance I’ll spend my life working out what fellas are doing who are a lot smarter than I am and the bastards have never let me down, they’ve always been a jump or two ahead, it’s a never-ending game.”

Indeed one writer, Ben Hills, thought financial training could be a handicap:

“… In some ways it can make you a worse business journalist because you come into close contact with a lot of people who are going to be accountants and company secretaries and so on, and you start to think like them, you start to think it’s OK to rip the public off, I think it gives you a mindset that can be really damaging, if you’re going to do your proper function as a business journalist … you’re going to say to me ‘well how are you going to read a balance sheet if you’ve never studied accounting?’ Well I’ve never studied accounting. You’ve never studied accounting. We can both find our way around a fucking balance sheet. It is not that hard. And if you come across a bit that is hard — thinking of Michael West trying to analyse how much tax corporations have paid, which is deliberately made into a spider’s web of complexity just to defeat the regulators who are trying to get them to pay their share — then you can always call up an expert to help you through it. That’s what journalism’s all about, it’s not about knowing everything yourself, it’s about knowing where you can go to find out.”

Much the same could be said of firsthand experience working in the financial markets: it might be helpful for some journalists — or not, as the case may be — but it is certainly not essential.

Interestingly, almost all interviewees describe falling into business journalism — in a few cases, as a second preference or even what Gideon Haigh thought of at first as a “hardship post”. But all describe falling in love with the field. With her economics background Ferguson, for example, started in business almost by default and originally hoped to get into political reporting. Later she would knock back a tempting offer from then-editor-in-chief of The Australian Paul Kelly to join the Canberra press gallery, choosing instead to go to BRW: “At first I thought, how boring is business journalism? Who cares if the All Ords goes up or down a few points? But after a while I thought, this is where the power is. It’s got everything — politics, power, money, everything.”

What is undoubtedly important for a business journalist is experience — especially covering bull and bear markets, in an echo of the great Warren Buffet quote about exposure to reinsurance risk in the wake of the September 11 attacks: “you only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out”. Busts could be the making of the journalist. In Sykes case, it was the Poseidon nickel boom in the ’70s, which led to his first book The Money Miners. For Haigh and Ian Verrender, it was the ’80s crash. For West, the tech wreck:

“When I first started as a columnist at the Oz I used to lunch everyday. I had the perspective of a market participant. I got a lot of scoops. I moved share prices. But after the dotcom boom, I realised I’d been manipulated too. I became more concerned with matters of public interest, and understood my role was to be critical and to pursue stories in the public interest, rather than in the interest of a few investors who might own the stock.”

But to gain such long experience, finance writers need to specialise and this is a sticking point for some of the journalists we interviewed, leading to capture or (just as bad) stagnation.

“Finance reporters have to work through a boom-bust cycle or two to learn the necessary scepticism …”

Gideon Haigh, also a celebrated cricket writer, is scathing about the quality of business writing, telling Crikey that there are few memorable wordsmiths. “I like peppery Michael West and shrewd Adele Ferguson, but I wouldn’t go to the business section for the promise of scintillating prose”. For example, said Haigh, “it’s really pretty scandalous how poor the writing is about BHP … that’s a bit of a reflection on the quality of business journalism, the fact that our biggest corporation tends to get written about as though it descended from the sky five minutes ago”. Haigh fears business reporting here has fallen into a narrow rut, becoming “safe as milk” and failing to do justice to stories that are every bit as exciting as those in sport or politics or the arts. A loss of experienced hands on finance desks is partly to blame for the dull copy, according to Haigh:

“… when I worked at The Age one of the important influences on my writing was the fact that the business section had its own dedicated subs desk. They were excellent subs and they sat right next to you — a pool of desks in the middle of the business section. And if they had a problem with anything you wrote, they called you over and they taxed you about it — exactly the kind of relationship that young journalists don’t have with subs any more. Ingrained in my memory is this lovely, fruity English sub called Stephen Hall, looking around the business section and saying ‘where’s Haigh, where’s Haigh?’. I think I was looking in a drawer in one of the filing cabinets, so he couldn’t see me. Anyway, he said as loudly as he could to everyone on the subs desk, ‘if there’s a piece of jargon lying around, Haigh goes to it like a fly to shit’. Fair dinkum, I never forgot it. From that day forward, if I ever had an opportunity to avoid using a piece of jargon I took it. He picked me up on a stylistic tick that I’d fallen into and he rightly remonstrated with me about it. And I think maybe if business journalists had people who are reading them on a daily basis and challenging them about their style they’d probably be better off.”

The general reader has to come first again. Tell it like it is — and context, depth, history, colour, humour and imagination wouldn’t go astray. Michael West says satire can be hugely effective:

“Until a few years ago the story of mine with the most impact by far was ‘Casey Williams’ … the HIH Royal Commission was on and hearing about Ray Williams’ penchant for business travel. He was Qantas’ number one customer, and used to book seat 1A and seat 1B to put his briefcase on, because he didn’t want to sit next to anybody. I’d come in after a long lunch at 5.30 with an hour and a half to file by 7 and we’d been talking about HIH at lunch and I concocted this [satirical] bit of transcript to the royal commission, cross-examining Williams, the whole spiel was deadpan, under whose name did you book seat 1B? Casey Williams! The internet had just got going. The next day I had all these people who’d clicked on the story and sent in messages. It was huge, [even] mentioned in the summing up of [presiding judge] Neville Owen!

“One of the big problems is that business journalists regard themselves as business journalists, rather than journalists, and they hold themselves to a lesser standard and write all these boring business yarns for business, rather than for the public.”

Finance reporters have to work through a boom-bust cycle or two to learn the necessary scepticism, so the wave of senior redundancies from newspapers — which dominate business journalism — looms as a real threat to corporate accountability. As Hills observes:

“Unfortunately we don’t have enough journalists with enough skills with enough talent with enough motivation let alone enough time to do their job properly … because there are fewer journalists because they get less time to do their job the proportion of genuine news in newspapers has just collapsed. An Australian Centre for Independent Journalism survey [conducted jointly with Crikey in 2010] found 55% of all content came directly or indirectly from a press release. My own guess is it’s now closer to 75%. You just can’t do the same job in a newsroom that’s got 150 people in it and most of those are young kids. I mean the people who walked were the older hands who wanted to get their $200k, $300k, $400k superannuation, and they’ve been replaced by kids who are wet behind ears who, even if they were given the time and resources, wouldn’t know where to start on an investigative story.”

Higher turnover of increasingly junior finance reporters is exacerbated by the constant lure of more highly paid jobs in business, particularly the ever-expanding public relations industry, itself a major and well-recognised threat to journalism. The big bank media units are awash with ex-finance journos. Tongues wagged last year when well-regarded Australian Financial Review journalist Andrew Cleary, who had written an award-winning (and flattering) profile of Qantas boss Alan Joyce for BRW in the wake of the airline’s controversial grounding, was hired soon after to a plum job running the company’s investor relations. He followed in the footsteps of a line of ex-AFR journos to go from the round to the company, including Tansy Harcourt and Jane Boyle.

Just as there is for government ministers, Hills thinks there should be a three-year cooling off period before journalists can go and work for a company they’ve been writing about. “It casts a grey brown stink across the whole bloody profession when journalists do that.” One way to do it would be to write it into the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance Code of Ethics. “I know a lot of people no longer belong to the MEAA, and I know that it would be impossible to force compliance, but it would signal the profession’s disapproval and it would indicate to the wider public that this was an unethical practice.”

Read the fifth and final installment of Watchdog or Lapdog? tomorrow.

Journalism

Jun 30, 2014

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If there’s one thing to take out of Ben Hills’ new page-turner on what wrecked Fairfax, it’s that there’s plenty of blame to go around. Hills fingers a conga line of incompetent, greedy and vain directors and executives, who each had their part to play in wrecking what Hills, and many others, considers to be one of the true jewels of Australian democracy.

Hills worked at Fairfax for close to 50 years, leaving as a member of staff in 2000 (without a redundancy, he somewhat ruefully revealed to Crikey this morning), but he continues to freelance for the company. He says the public is owed an explanation of what went wrong. “The internet has had a huge impact. But Fairfax has a particular responsibility for having handled it so badly. Since the receivership [in 1987], there have been 40 or 50 directors, and none of them have had any media experience. They were really ideally placed in the late ’90s to hop onto internet bandwagon. They could have bought into SEEK, REA, Carsales — just as Lachlan Murdoch and James Packer did. The were caught flat-footed, beaten, and are paying the price.”

Stop the Presses: How Greed, Incompetence (and the internet) wrecked Fairfax is out tomorrow, following other books about Fairfax like Pamela Williams’ Walkley-wining Killing Fairfax and Colleen Ryan’s Fairfax: The Rise and Fall. Stop The Presses is, at heart, a story of Fairfax’s board over several decades, and how it got it so wrong.

The ‘privilege’ of meeting Fred Hilmer. Management guru Fred Hilmer led the company from 1997 to 2005, and it was during this time that Fairfax had the opportunity to buy the internet upstarts that would go on to eat its lunch, but instead it passed on the acquisitions. Here’s Greg Roebuck (who founded Carsales.com.au) speaking to Hills on early talks with Fairfax:

“[Fairfax commercial director Alan Revell’s attitude was] we were just a little upstart; who were we to be playing with classifieds? But they might be able to arrange a conversation with Fred Hilmer — it would be such a privilege for me to have a conversation with [him]. I should be so lucky. It was ‘We’re Fairfax. We’re the big guys’. They left the meeting and we sat around the board table and said, ‘These guys aren’t going to be looking out for our best interests. They are going to slow us down. They were going to make poor decisions’.”

John Fairfax the poet, Walker the deal-maker. John Fairfax sold out of the company twice, the first time when his relative Warwick Fairfax tried to wrest control of the company in 1987, and more recently, when he lost the boardroom battle with Roger Corbett on who should be made chairman. Before he sparred with Corbett, Fairfax had a rather tumultuous relationship with former chairman Ron Walker, and penned poems on the defects of his chairman. One poem, called Man Is A Lion, had a line that described Walker as “ginger-haired [and] arrogant”. Readers are told this was the “most flattering”  line, so we can only imagine the rest.

Both John Fairfax and Walker gave extensive interviews to Hills, meaning both sides are well-covered in the volume. The antagonism between them led to a divided and dysfunctional board until they both left it.

Part of John Fairfax’s problem with Walker, Fairfax told Hills, was that Walker insisted on personally negotiating many of the deals the media company was involved in, a job usually left to the executive. That included the deals for Fairfax Media’s new headquarters in Melbourne and Sydney, which would lease out entire floors a few years later as the company shed staff.

Walker, an unnamed former Fairfax radio executive says, was also behind Fairfax Media’s decision to buy Southern Cross’s radio assets, which included 2UE in Sydney and 3AW in Melbourne. The company paid a hefty price for the stations, which it believed would be useful cross-promotion with its print assets. But star presenters like Neil Mitchell and Steve Price preferred to interview conservative columnists from News Corp over stablemates from Fairfax. In 2011, CEO Greg Hywood said Fairfax was considering selling the network.

Would Murdoch buy the Fairfax papers? Lachlan says no. Former Fairfax chairman Ron Walker doesn’t think Fairfax will survive much longer, and that the assets are likely to be broken up and sold off. Hills puts this to Lachlan Murdoch, the young scion of the Murdoch dynasty, and asks him whether News Corp would be interested in buying the papers? Lachlan says no.

“We might be interested in the Fin Review, [but] what people fail to realise is that if you are sitting in New York there’s lots of good investments in Europe and America and China. Australia is a long way away and not necessarily a good investment for your shareholders. So would we be interested in some of the Fairfax assets? Maybe emotionally, but I doubt it.”

McCarthy says he was given 15 minutes to leave the building. Former CEO Brian McCarthy had helped John Fairfax build Rural Press into a regional behemoth until it was bought by Fairfax in 2007. That led to him eventually being made CEO, but he lost his board support when John Fairfax sold out of the company and left the board. His sacking to make way for Hywood was, as he describes it, brutal. After a bombed presentation to investors, Fairfax chairman Roger Corbett called McCarthy to his office and gave him the choice of two press releases. One said McCarthy had been sacked, the other that he resigned. McCarthy says he chose to resign, and was given 15 minutes to leave the building. Corbett denies this, saying it was McCarthy’s choice to leave immediately. McCarthy went to The Oakes for a drink with friends rather than home in a bid to avoid the paparazzi, who had snapped his predecessor’s humiliating exit.

Rinehart won’t sign the charter? Neither did Conrad Black. When Gina Rinehart sought a seat on Fairfax’s board after buying up nearly 20% of the company, she was rebuffed by the board, supposedly for refusing to sign the charter of editorial independence. But Hills reveals this charter wasn’t signed by plenty of board members, including former directors and one chairman.

Here’s John Singleton on the charter: “It was one of those things no one understood.” And here’s Canadian media baron (and convicted felon) Conrad Black, at one time Fairfax’s largest shareholder: “I can’t remember if we signed it, and I think such things are piffle … The proprietor can always do what he wants, as Murdoch has demonstrated …” As for Ron Walker, he says he refused to sign it. “I said: ‘My word is my bond, and we are not going to interfere with you’, and we never did,” he said.

How Rinehart responds to press requests. Speaking of Rinehart, here’s how her representatives responded to Hills’ request for an interview:

“Hancock Prospecting receives many requests for interviews each week from serious journalists such as yourself, and other major news organisations such as CNN and the BBC. If interviews were granted, a significant part of each working week would be spent on such. Consequently requests for interviews are almost always declined.”

Rinehart wasn’t the only one who rebuffed Hill’s requests for comment. Roger Corbett, Hills reveals, absolutely refused to be quoted on the record, agreeing only to a brief interview with Hywood present after repeated requests. Hywood gave Hills 20 minutes.

Journalism

May 6, 2010

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On Tuesday, Ben Hills’ biography of the late and great editor Graham Perkin was launched at a function described by one who was there as a bit like the old sensationalist trick of getting a caricature artist to draw what someone famous might look like 30 years hence. Lots of old faces. Lots of nostalgia, and lots of cause for reflection on how the grand history of The Age has somehow failed to make it in to the present.

This is not just a matter of symbolism. There seems to be a real sense in which the past has been lost. And it is a tragedy for us all.

As reported in Crikey, Hills makes some claims in his book about being denied access to the Age archives. On the apparent disappearance of those archives, he is supported by other researchers, including former Age journalists John Tidey and Sybil Nolan, both of whom have tried to get access for their own purposes, and have had little success.

But one claim Hills made in his foreword to the Perkin book is disputed by Nolan, and has formed the subject of some less than congenial correspondence. Both parties have agreed to it being published here.

The dispute began when I contacted Nolan to check out some claims Hills had made about the Age archives issue. Nolan told me that while she supported Hills in some respects, he had misrepresented her. Much to her surprise, she then found the substance of that alleged misrepresentation reproduced in the foreword to the Perkin biography.

Hills quotes Nolan on page seven as telling him that she had been refused access to The Age archives, and making the comment that it appeared that freedom of information applied to everyone except Fairfax. Nolan says she never made this comment. She was not refused access, but rather had trouble ascertaining whether any archives existed.

Last week Nolan wrote to the publisher of the book, Scribe’s Henry Rosenbloom, protesting at being  inaccurately quoted when she refused Hills an interview. Nolan copied Hills in to her letter to Rosenbloom. The resulting correspondence follows:

Hills to Nolan, April 29:

“Dear Sybil

I have been a journalist  for more than 50 years now, and I do not get things like this wrong. The quote that freedom of information is something that Fairfax does not believe applies to them  is precisely what you told me that morning. Either your memory is faulty, or you are now chosing to deny you said it, for reasons which I cannot fathom. Incidentally, I have never asked you for an interview — I asked you to let me access your thesis, which you did and which I acknowledged in the book.

You and I are now among four of the people to whom the company has either refused access or falsely denied that historical material even exists. I am disappointed that someone like you is not prepared to make a stand on this. How on earth this could “damage your standing as a researcher” is beyond me. I intend to continue my campaign for Fairfax to make its historical records available for bona fide researchers, and I am surprised and disappointed that you are not.

Regards

Ben Hills”

Nolan to Hills, April 30:

“Dear Ben

I beg to differ.

You definitely asked me for an interview that morning you came to pick up my thesis, and I declined telling you I was on a deadline for an edit. We then spoke for a short time — at the front gate of my house — about possible sources for you, after you asked me the question.

At no stage during this brief discussion, in which I thought I was simply trying to help a former colleague with sources, did you have a notebook out or a tape recorder running in front of me. If so I would have made sure I inquired before your book went to press whether you were planning to quote me, and insisted on knowing what you planned to say.

The fact you didn’t pay me the basic courtesy of letting me know that was exactly what you intended to do speaks for itself.

If you want evidence that your memory is faulty regarding this episode, then let me point out that other details you’ve told Crikey are wrong, such as the quote from your letter to Meg Simons where you said:  ‘Sybil Nolan, a Melbourne media scholar, approached Fairfax a couple of years ago for access to its records in connection with a PhD thesis she was writing. She was refused access and given no reason.’ It was my MA thesis for which I approached them, way back circa 2000. I was awarded my MA in 2002.

My account of what I told you had transpired in relation to my approach to David Syme & Co Ltd is accurately represented in my answer to Crikey. The term ‘refused access’ is yours not mine. I would not characterise it in that way.

Of course I support Fairfax releasing any files they may have. I told Crikey that when they first contacted me after they received your letter in early April. I’m prepared to shout my support for such a development from the rooftops. That’s not the point here. The point is I object to you playing fast and loose with the assistance I gave you at your request. And I am content to let those who know us both come to their own conclusions about this, Ben.

Sybil”

Books

May 4, 2010

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Age legend Graham Perkin, valorised as the greatest newspaper editor of his generation, may have lived another 20 years if his coronary disease had been diagnosed earlier, a controversial new book claims.

Veteran investigative journalist Ben Hills, in his tome Breaking News: the golden age of Graham Perkin, tells how Perkin battled for a year with severe chest pains, repeatedly visiting scores of non-traditional doctors — and his family’s general practitioner — but all failed to find anything amiss.

Perkin, who is credited with transforming The Age into a great newspaper, died on October 16, 1975 at just 45 from a massive heart attack. Had he lived, he looked set to seize the position as chief executive at Fairfax, possibly within months.

Hills says it took The Age‘s staff medical officer, Dr Edwin Knight, to finally point out the problem, after he bowled into his office complaining of chest pain two days before his death.

“It was only a 15- to 20-minute examination, [but] it was fairly clear that he had had angina for 12 months,” Hills quotes Knight as saying.

Knight immediately telephoned Dr Tony Mirams, a leading Melbourne heart specialist, and made an appointment for the Friday. But it was too late — Perkin collapsed in bed early on Thursday morning after penning his last editorial, headed famously “Go Now, Go Decently”, and shooting an interview for This Day Tonight, calling on the Whitlam government to fall on its sword.

Knight says that when he was told of Perkin’s death: “I thought, God, that proves my diagnosis was correct. But what a way to prove it.”

Hills also quotes Perkin’s GP, John Wright-Smith, and suggests he may have “missed” the real reason behind the editor’s persistent chest pains, producing this exchange.

Hills: “You don’t think, given that history, that maybe you missed something?”

Wright-Smith: “Well, when you say miss there’s a difference between not diagnosing something and missing something. So I wouldn’t say I missed something. I would say I didn’t diagnose something … you are really talking fairy-tale stuff if you are saying if this had happened and if that had happened. You can’t really answer those questions but I don’t think there’s any doubt that, if he had been diagnosed as having accessible surgery, he would have lived longer than he did. There’s no doubt about that. But one can’t say for how long, because he was a bad prospect for surgery and for recovery.”

But, according to Hills, Perkin “may have simply worked himself to death”. Overweight, smoking, and firmly on the lunch circuit, he continued to pull 16-hour days and slept just four hours a night as he fretted over the first, second and third editions of the paper.

Perkin was also still recovering from surgery to remove a metre-long bowel cancer, returning to work just two weeks after the operation with the wound still bleeding.

Despite his tender age, Perkin’s heart problems were a long time in the making. The book recounts one incident over Easter 1974 in New York in the days following a Reuters board meeting in London. Perkin had been on a late night drinking binge with Stan Swinton, vice president of the Associated Press wire service and Graeme Warner, a former Age colleague at Bill’s Gay Nineties bar on East 54th Street. Perkin retired to his suite at the Plaza Hotel, when he called Warner to say that he wasn’t well.

“‘I’m sorry to ring you at this hour,’ he said. ‘But I think I’m having a heart attack.'”

After a few days shuffling around in his dressing gown at Swinton’s apartment, Perkin returned to Melbourne, where he was still feeling grim. Hills says Perkin was sent for an ECG and other tests, but Wright-Smith said that everything was “normal”.

“If it wasn’t normal I would have done something,” he said.

Perkin continued to complain about chest pains, and submitted himself to numerous tests, but all failed to pinpoint his rapidly congealing arteries.

His private secretary Kathy Duffy is under no illusions that her old boss’ life was cut short, telling Hills:

“The thing that saddens me to this day, and I just think it’s heart-breaking even now, [is that] none of us could help him. We just didn’t read the signs fast enough, including those doctors. He shouldn’t have died. None of us intervened fast enough or effectively enough, and that’s quite tragic.”

But Duffy also fails to escape from the book unscathed, with Hills revealing that she had in fact moonlighted for ASIS while serving as Perkin’s private secretary at The Age. However, Duffy insists she never spied on her boss or on The Age‘s journos, who at one point were being secretly vetted by ASIO. Instead, she simply acted as a “post-box” for Darrell Dorrington, a fake boyfriend (and now ANU professor), who daubed love letters in invisible ink to relay reports to his minders from Communist China.

And despite the book being enthusiastically excerpted in The Age this week, Hills, who worked for the media giant for 25 years, doesn’t spare Fairfax any favours either, repeatedly referring to the “faceless grey men” who now control the paper.

Hills reveals in the book’s introduction that company secretary Gail Hambly and former Fairfax chairman Ron Walker refused to respond to his requests to access the company’s historic records. One possible explanation is that they were systematically trashed at the hands of disgraced former Fairfax owner Conrad Black as part of a controversial document retention policy.

Black is said to have remarked, when he took control of the company in 1991, that “the history of Fairfax begins with me.” Hambly also refused to respond to Crikey‘s queries this morning.

Perkin’s shadow continued to colour The Age‘s newsroom well into the 1990s. The Sunday Age‘s editor at the time, Bruce Guthrie, who has been making headlines of his own in the last week over his $2.7 million unfair dismissal case against News Limited, recalls that the long-dead editor’s influence was everywhere. “I [felt] this weight on me … some people were calling me the next Graham Perkin … it must be like a singer-songwriter being called the next Bob Dylan … I felt the paper had been living off its reputation for many years.”

But Jennifer Byrne, who cut her teeth on the paper under Perkin, is more circumspect, questioning the continued reverence among current Age staff for the paper’s golden age.

“I think there’s a lot of looking over the shoulder … and I think it’s been quite crippling in lots of ways on people’s emotions,” she said. “For the people who still work for it there’s always this place, there is this Eden that is past, and I think that’s been quite hard [for them]. It’s not Perkin’s fault, but it is part of his legacy.”