Thursday, 14 October 2010

Former editor-in-chief of Melbourne's Herald-Sun newspaper, Bruce Guthrie, was interviewed by Kerry O'Brien for the ABC's 7.30 Report a couple of days ago and I thought it would be worthwhile capturing here some of Guthrie's thoughts on the way managers at the tabloid operate. Guthrie left the paper under a cloud and then sued in court for unfair treatment, and won the case. While you thus should take what he says with a grain of salt due to the tenor of the split, it's still useful to hear an insider's view of how the paper - and presumably other Murdoch-owned papers, too - operates. More is available for the curious by buying Guthrie's book, Man Bites Murdoch (Melbourne University Press), which has just been released in Australia.

When asked "what went wrong" at the paper that caused those above him in the hierarchy to show him the door, Guthrie had this to say:
Well, I think within News Ltd there is - and I'm talking about the internal politics - at News Ltd the almost instinctive reaction to everything is 'What will Rupert think?' It doesn't matter whether you're an editor or a commercial manager or a section head, you put all the news through this kind of filter: 'What will Rupert think?' 'What will the Murdoch family think?' 'What will the corporate partners think?' 'Is this in the business interests?'
And so what you end up with, if you're not careful, is a kind of homogenised, pasteurised form of journalism comes out in the papers and online. And I wouldn't do that. And I think that, probably, I was in a sense still thinking like a journalist first and a News Ltd manager second. And probably if I'd been doing it the other way around I'd still be there.
So much for editorial independence at Murdoch mastheads, if this ethos can be understood to extend to elsewhere in that vast media empire. But of course Guthrie's very public split with Murdoch could be seen to infect everything he says about the company. He goes on later in the broadcast to talk about how corporate interests have come, in recent decades, to colour editorial decisions. It's pretty damning stuff and I'm a bit surprised that this interview has not been broadly discussed by bloggers, by journalists working at other companies, or in academia.

The interview was viewed on the ABC's iView service, where normally broadcasts are loaded for viewing for a period of time, and then removed to make way for more recent items. But the recording has also been loaded to the ABC News website from where it will be removed on 10 January 2011.

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