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What’s happening at CT?

By Kerces 31 August 2005 16

Today’s sealed section of Crikey gives some insight into what on earth is happening at The Canberra Times and why.

17. Behind closed doors at The Canberra Times

Crikey reporter Jane Nethercote writes:

Is it true there are only three journalists left of the 60 who were there when editor Michael Stevens took over the helm of The Canberra Times three years ago? That’s just one of the claims made by a Crikey tipster who paints a pretty bleak picture of life and times at the paper.

For starters, the circulation figures are appalling, he says, with drops of 3.8% weekdays, 3.2% Saturdays, and 2.7% Sundays: “The worst for any major metrop in Australia.” About the “only good thing Stevens can claim is each edition of The Canberra Times is being read by even more and more public servants as even fewer and fewer actually buy the paper!” (The figures can be seen here – The Times’s figures are indeed the worst, but drops at the SMH are similar: 2.9% weekdays, 3.5% Saturday, and 2.0% Sundays). [You can have a look at Michael Stevens’s take on the figures in this story.]

More worryingly, all the older journalists have left, says the tipster, “replaced by young, inexperienced and shamelessly sycophantic cadets from Rural Press’s stable of suburban and country titles … And it shows in the sheer lack of any quality in the rag these days.”

While one of our inside sources says it’s “definitely, definitely not” true that only three of the 60 staff remain, it’s a “salient point” that staff are younger and less experienced. Has the quality of the paper dropped for this reason? A hesitating, but firm “yes.”

There aren’t many old hands left, another insider tells Crikey. In fact, turnover and “generational change” has been such that journalists don’t even know each other despite working on the same floor. Why the shift? Younger labour means cheaper labour, so as older hands with large salaries have left, they’ve been steadily replaced with younger journos from within the Rural Press stable. The downside: They don’t know Canberra and they don’t understand its very particular demographic.

Rural Press, which bought The Canberra Times in 1998, are “penny-pinching b*stards” from what I’ve heard, says one source. They’re definitely tight with money, says an insider. The travel budgets are “practically zilch” which makes things very difficult for political reporters. But maybe it’s all part of Rural Press’s grand plan for the paper. Their philosophy, as put into practice by Michael Stevens who is very much “Rural Press’s man,” is to dig into the local community, says the insider – because that’s where the advertising base is.

But another insider disputes the financial stinginess, saying that Rural Press has “always been quite willing to fork out” the money for political reporters, and during election time, Canberra Times’s journos “travel with the best of them.” Meanwhile, the paper is “not nearly as dysfunctional as people portray.”

Whatever the case, Stevens certainly divides The Times’s community. And there’s been some “pretty intense concern at senior levels of Rural Press” about angst and faction-fighting within the paper. Stevens has had enormous problems with staff – it’s all “pretty poisonous stuff” – but when it comes to the crunch, Rural stands by its editor. Some “can’t stand him,” says an insider, while others respect his decisiveness. And he’s certainly “full of ideas.”

We tried to contact Stevens for his response, but he was out of the office, as was editor-in-chief Jack Waterford, who was off being Principal for a Day.

What’s Your opinion?

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16 Responses to
What’s happening at CT?
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Smackbang 11:18 am 05 Sep 05

Is that why you decorated your bag with a poster of 2CC?

Also, in response to that other questions you asked (is the City News the worst newspaper in the country?) I think you left out consideration of ‘The Word’, which is not some religious organisation’s newsletter, but apparently someone’s attempt at a community newspaper. At least the production values at City News extend to knowing how to do layout.

Samuel Gordon-Stewart 12:28 pm 02 Sep 05

Glad I entertained you Annie, and yes, I agree to disagree.
I’m not going to say they’re perfect, because nobody is, but I will say that in my opinion they are closer than CT.

annie 10:53 am 02 Sep 05

Samuel, we will just have to agree to disagree on this one I think. We’re never going to see eye to eye on the subject, and it’s very tiring arguing about that lot.

But I can’t go without responding to a couple of things…

Re. your response to my remarks on the bushfires, let’s be clear. I’ve not said I didn’t like the coverage. Also, I’ve never claimed they “sat there and played with their thumbs”. I said that a journalist was especially brought in to cover the fires – which is appropriate for a major event like this – I was glad to hear they appeared to get the coverage right, but that (to use another analogy) one home run doesn’t win them the game. Basically Capital Radio IS stingy as hell, and 2CC is usually under-resourced. They DON’T even have a newswire, which is standard practice just about everywhere else.

YOU may not think so, but there are hordes of former 2CC reporters nodding their heads vigorously in agreement when I say this, some rather quietly because they don’t like to rock the boat or bite the hand that feeds them.

It’s a sad fact that with a few rare exceptions, 2CC is considered to be notorious in the industry, but useful if you’re ambitious, because it will provide you with a pathway to the metros if you play your cards right. All you have to do is shut your eyes and think of England for a few months while you rack up enough frequent flyer points to cash in.

As for the ratings, they indicate that while FM stations do well, so does Radio National and 666 Canberra (RN quite often scoring better than 2CC). That’s because in my opinion they do what 2CC should be doing, except they do it better.

Well, as Forest Gump would remark, that’s all I have to say about that. I’m off to reflect on your last line that “2CC have better journalistic standards than the Canberra Times”… OMG, that’s a good one, Sam. Funniest thing I’ve heard in ages!!

Samuel Gordon-Stewart 1:57 am 02 Sep 05

I’m up late and not tired, so I’ll respond.
I don’t think I’m being unfairly biased here, but if you think it, well, your opinion…

Anyway, 2CC taking a feed from 2UE and a couple other Southern Cross Broadcasting stations is called having resources. It provides them with access to news & reporters in all parts of the globe.
I am yet to see proof of “local press releases thrown in to give it some ACT flavour”. In the time I have spent at 2CC I have never seen the news staff just copy a local press release, in most cases (especially when it is from an MLA) they will arrange a telephone interview with the person responsible for the release.

As for the bushfires, I think the emergency procedures stuck up on most of the walls there would indicate that they did more than just realise they needed to kill the sydney programming, they had good coverage. I’m sure everybody was running around frantically doing everything they possibly could, I’m sorry if you didn’t like it. I have heard many stories about that day from 2CC employees, and if you think they just sat there and played with their thumbs you would be drastically incorrect.

You would be right in that I have said I like 2CC’s content and listen regularly. Certainly a lot (OK, most) of the day is syndicated 2UE broadcasts, but most of it is pretty good.

The local shows (breakfast & drive weekdays, mornings on weekends) are also pretty good and tend to be well researched. I persoanlly find the mix between entertainment & news to be quite good, I don’t expect it to appeal to everyone (and I think the ratings show that most Canberrans like FM Music stations) bu it appeals to me.

I do think that 2CC have better journalistic standards than The Canberra Times, they may be understaffed, they might not be, I don’t have enough experience to comment on that, but I do think they handle the job respectably.

As for your question about medication…No, I am not on medication, but if you are a doctor and feel I need some then please let me know.

Finally, if David Leitch is reading this, I hope I haven’t breached my non-disclosure agreement…I don’t think I have, and any breach was not intentional.

Thumper 4:32 pm 01 Sep 05

I think 2CC does a reasonable job given the resources. At least it does have local content, well, at least in the mornings, and Mike Jefferies is good value when interviewing local pollies.

Pity about the syndicated golden tonsil and the f#wit Zermanik.

annie 3:14 pm 01 Sep 05

Chris, first of all, Mike Jeffreys is a jock, not a journalist/reporter. He would have been given information on the fires by his producer, who would have gotten it from the newsroom, which at that time was staffed by 2 people, one whose entire job for that period was to cover the fires.

2CC may be as stingy as hell, but they knew that a big local event like this HAD to be covered. Good for them if they actually got it right and gave you the info you wanted.

But one pie in the window doesn’t make the place a bakery. That’s the exception, not the rule. That second person went straight back to a regional station after January.

Whether you like or not, the 2CC newsroom IS otherwise seriously understaffed and underresourced, something anyone else who has worked there can tell you.

I don’t happen to think that taking a feed from 2UE in Sydney and getting one person to rehash it for 2CC’s NEXT HOUR, with local press releases thrown in to give it some ACT flavour, is appropriate for a newsroom in the national capital. That’s not journalism, it’s writing practice.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticising your choice to listen to 2CC. Go for it, if that’s what you want. CHOICE is as important as thorough reporting in a democracy.

I’m just trying to say – and this is the point I was making to Sam – is that if you are going to apply a certain journalistic standard to the Canberra Times or the new Transact channel or whatever, you should apply those same standards across the board, not just the ones you happen to approve of.

Chris 1:59 pm 01 Sep 05

Annie, “rehashed sydney bull… “? 2CC and particularly Mike Jeffreys and crew was one of the FEW who was giving on-track reporting of the bushfires while the gummint buried its collective head in the sand. 2CC gives Canberrans news about Canberra (which may not actually be what you want to hear) but like Sam, I’ll stand up and be counted where 2CC is concerned.

annie 1:42 pm 01 Sep 05

Wait a minute, Sam. You say the Canberra Times has lost the plot, its local news is fairly poor, and overall is “disappointing”. You’ve also bagged the new Transact tv channel. Yet you consistently stand up for radio station 2CC.

I’m sure I’ve heard you say you like its content and listen regularly, and I don’t think you’ve ever bagged the news, even though it’s rehashed Sydney bullshit mostly.

So I’m confused. 2CC is owned by people who make the stingy Rural Press look like Mary Poppins, and who have set back the cause of thorough and ethical news and current affairs reporting in the territory a thousand years.

I just have to ask… are you on some kind of medication at present?! LOL…

bonfire 10:18 am 01 Sep 05

the other thing you notice is that all the local alp media hacks are ex ct staffers.

ct has gone way down hill, to teh point i only get it on sat and sun now. i’d dump the sunday edition if it werent for the TV listings and the wine review (which is always pretty good if you ask me, the bloke does his research).

ssanta 8:38 am 01 Sep 05


Thats quite handy for a press release person.

terubo 8:05 am 01 Sep 05

I kid you not, there was an article in there yesterday which was, word-for-word, a Govt press release. No wonder there was no reporter by-line.

Thumper 8:00 am 01 Sep 05

After spending a few weeks in tassie last year I would have to say I was most impressed by their local rags, especially in comparison to the CT.

Samuel Gordon-Stewart 10:39 pm 31 Aug 05

“The ACT Post” or “The Canberra Examiner”, I think the second one sounds better.

johnboy 9:55 pm 31 Aug 05

Well they have been taken over by tasmanians.

glimmertwin 9:15 pm 31 Aug 05

The Times should aspire to be like the Washington Post, instead it is heading in the direction of the Launceston Examiner

Samuel Gordon-Stewart 5:58 pm 31 Aug 05

To quote my opinion of The Canberra Times from my rant/editorial about City News:

The Canberra Times has gone downhill since Rural Press bought them. Editor Jack Waterford has tried to maintain some credibility, but has ultimately failed. The Canberra Times has really lost the plot, it’s local news is fairly poor, and it’s coverage of national and international news…well…buy The Australian…you won’t find much of use in The Canberra Times.

For a broadsheet, The Canberra Times is fairly disappointing…so much paper, so little content, what a pity.

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