John Drinnan 's Opinion

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Media: Editor unfazed by challenge

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Andrew Holden is leaving Christchurch and the Press to take over as editor-in-chief of Melbourne's Age. Photo / The Press
Andrew Holden is leaving Christchurch and the Press to take over as editor-in-chief of Melbourne's Age. Photo / The Press

Aussie import Andrew Holden made a name for himself as editor of the Press during the Canterbury earthquakes.

Now Holden has been made editor-in-chief at Melbourne's Age, and he is at the epicentre of a tectonic shift in Australian media.

Holden is one three new Fairfax metro editors appointed to signal a new era of tightened resources.

He is returning to his hometown, Melbourne, at what may be the darkest hour for Fairfax, replacing respected Age editor Paul Ramadge.

Writers are to be shared between the Age and Sydney Morning Herald and the papers are changing from broadsheet into compact formats.

The print and digital arms are to be merged and 1900 jobs are to be lost over three years.

Significantly, of those 1900 around 380 job cuts will be in editorial staff, and dozens of them are likely to be at the Age.

A former staffer at the Age and Sunday Age, Holden says his task is to keep the journalism at the Age strong but one of Holden's early tasks will be reduce the number of journalists on the paper.

"That is the unfortunate part, but I'm not fazed by it to be honest" he said.

"It's not pleasant and you wish you did not have to do it ... but that is the economic reality for a lot of businesses ... it's about doing what you can afford.

"Its just unfortunate we have to adapt newsrooms in such a tough financial climate," Holden said.

HQ HOLDEN

The upheavals are bound to have an effect on this side of the Tasman.

Holden backs the company line that massive structural upheavals and layoffs in Australia are not needed in this country,

We've proved in New Zealand that you do what you have to and keep a clear sense of the quality of the journalism, he said.

Newspapers in New Zealand had to cope with a recession before the global financial crisis, worked with fewer resources.

The work had already been done in New Zealand, he said. "Certainly at the Press we have never had two teams for print and online."

He said of his new role: "There might be a lot of noise but you just keep calm and do it well."

MANGO SQUEEZED

Some much-ado-about nothing news stories illustrate the oddities in the crossover of digital media and Twitter.

Social media mini-controversies frequently insert themselves into news agendas, including of course, the agenda for this column.

Such as an article by Mango PR Sydney publicity boss Tina Aldiss. Published on Mumbrella, a Sydney based website for the commercial media sector, the column pounced on the raw news around 380 editorial staff at Fairfax Australia are about to be dumped.

Aldiss opined that this upheaval was good news for public relations because it would remove barriers to getting stories into media.

"Knowing this, we must ensure our stories either carry national interest or can easily be adapted for each metro and regional market as needed.

"All in all, it's an exciting time to be in PR."

A comment that went down like a cup of cold sick for journos who always begrudged high-paid PR staff, even before the latest job cuts.

Mumbrella says much of the vitriolic reaction was from journalists but it was also from other PR flacks who dissociated themselves from Aldiss' remarks.

Mango and Aldiss both issued stock standard apologies, but after 223 responses Mumbrella stopped publishing reactions because many were so personal.

This was a PR disaster, in the sense that it offended a key part of public relations' target market - journalists it wants to pick up their press releases to conjure up news.

Veteran PR woman and AUT senior lecturer Aline Sandilands said Aldiss' comments were naive and poorly timed while the job cuts were so raw.

Another view though is that her biggest error was its timing in that, as Mumbrella says, the views will not seem controversial in six month's time.

In my opinion, it is just common sense that with fewer journalists and more focus on instant digital news, PR press releases will get a better run.

You can understand Aussie journalists' instant reaction as Aldiss danced on their graves as their careers go down the gurgler.

But complaining about insensitivity?

Journalists routinely look at bad news or emotional events objectively and dispassionately. They don't think twice about calling people in the midst of a personal tragedy to ask: "How do you feel?"

SPARKLY PANTS

Another Twitter storm in a teacup was over Laura McQuillan, a journalist for NZ Newswires, part of news agency Australian Associated Press, who was ticked off by court staff for wearing gold sparkly disco pants in the heavily televised High Court murder trial for Scott Guy.

On Twitter the 25-year-old Gen Y journalist defended her choice of clothing saying to her 1385 followers, "I don't know why people are acting like they've never seen sequinned pants before," and "I'm sitting behind a table, no one even sees my legs".

McQuillan describes herself on her Twitter profile (ironically?) as "the most awesome person of the year 25 years in a row".

Well ... I'll sound like an old grump Laura, but the murder trial is not about you and your disco pants.

A man died.

Intentionally or not, you show no respect and no self-awareness about respecting his death or the court. We all make mistakes, but this was not the time for a national journalist with 1385 followers to boast about their special pants.

NZ Newswire was relaxed.

Editor-in-chief Tony Gillies said: "It's a funny old world when a reporter's choice of clothing makes the national news pages of the respected NZ Herald's website."

He said: "Sadly the yarn was a beat up. Our reporter Laura McQuillan wasn't ordered out of court."

"Indeed she was approached by an officer of the court to move away from the press bench because her pants were considered inappropriate attire in that environment."

But Laura was invited to continue reporting from the public gallery, which she did, he said.

"The court made the right call.

"Laura's an attractive professional and pulled off the look nicely but it's not what we'd encourage for such occasions. "AAP and its subsidiary New Zealand Newswire have a strict dress code and Laura has been reminded of this. She's graciously accepted that," Gillies said.

TV TRIAL

That said there has been a glamorous angle to the coverage of the case. That may have something to do with the presence of TV in court.

I'm told that TV One's Sunday is working on a programme focused on Anna Macdonald, the wife of murder defendant Ewen Macdonald.

TV3 is said to be planning a piece on Kylee Guy, wife of the late Scott Guy.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

John Drinnan is the media writer for the New Zealand Herald. A business journalist for twenty years, he has been editor of the specialist film and television title "Screen Finance" in London, focussing on the European TV and film industry. He has been writing about media in New Zealand since the deregulation of the television industry in the late 1980s. He is focused on the business side of the digital revolution in media.

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