Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mary Vernon parts company with The Bulletin - so the blood-letting has started in earnest at The South's Own Paper.

Mary Vernon, one of the longest serving and most high-profile journalists at The Bulletin, has become one of the first victims of a savage cost-cutting directive from News Ltd's Sydney HQ. She was told last night that she was to be retrenched, and was given a month's notice - to be paid out or worked out is not known. 

On the same day, photographer Darren Hilder and a bloke described to The Magpie as a marketing analyst named Simon Cowling (not sure of the spelling) were also given their similar marching orders. In recent weeks, at least three other journalists have resigned amid claims of bullying and stress.

This seems to be the start of changes which will have a significant impact on Townsville and North Queensland. The Magpie paints an overall picture and a possible positive outcome from the unfolding train wreck, here at www.townsvillemagpie.com.au
Mary, a former deputy editor of the paper, is a walking repository of local community, social, business and arts history, and has always given strong support to local charitable organisations.

Mary has been the go-to person over a wide variety of matters, can do it all from writing, subbing and page layout (not many can do all that) and she has been a strong and respected mentor for many of the young journalists who have passed through the paper over the years.   

That is now all lost to Townsville because of one of the least deserved razorings by the small clique of workplace psychopaths appear to be using spite as a guideline for sackings. The 'Pie wonders if nepotism will be strong enough to save some jobs. (On that point, The Magpie recommends to all remaining staff, particularly on the editorial floor, the book Working with Monsters: How to Identify and Protect Yourself from the Workplace Psychopath by John Clarke.

The bird is now hearing that paranoia is setting in throughout North Queensland Newspapers, with talk of staff phone taps (ironic if News Ltd is now hacking their own phones) and increased electronic (as in email traffic) snooping. Staff have already been warned about talking to The 'Pie, who still receives a steady stream of roundabout coded info - some of these self-protective efforts are hilarious. 

Suddenly, it's all shambolic. For a more comprehensive look at the state of play, have a read of this well informed article by a fellow blogger . 
None of this augurs well for a return to fair and balanced reporting. The deliberately promoted News Ltd culture of second guessing management and flinching rather than being forthright will become a way of life, something that up until recently Townsville had been spared.

But this is just business, you say? No it is not. If the paper is to take its own advice and believe it's own hectoring stand towards others, this is not 'just' business.Legal, yes, ethical, even moral, no.

Consider this. The Bulletin and its satellite publications certainly have seen a drop in revenue -  it's happening throughout the newspaper world although not at the  alarming rate as up here. BUT News Ltd is still clawing in well over $10-$14million annually out of this community, all of which heads off to the Sydney counting house. Nothing remains or is ploughed back into this community other than that which is both necessary and profitable for a faux 'good corporate' look. And - for the moment - it remains the only game in town, and still can't read the community mood correctly and take advantage of its once unassailable profit position. 

Would this be happening if The Bulletin was still owned by local, community-involved shareholders? Would the paper have got itself into an over-reaching situation because of external obligations and demands? Would it be in the situation where mass sacking - the 34 of last year, the current ones and the looming knivings coming up - would be necessary? It is reasonable to believe that the most likely answers are no, no, and no.

In his blog of Friday, April 15 this year, The Magpie pointed out the arrogance, hypocrisy and self-stroking that has bedevilled the Astonisher for the past couple of years. You could almost breathe the hubris as the paper condescended to lecture other more reputable organisations on corporate behaviour.  The issue was the paper's belligerent demands that Ergon build its new HQ in the CBD.
This from the blog back then (the 'they' is former editor Typo Gleeson and Shrek the Ogre Wilkins):

No, it was the following bit of the jaw-dropping editorial double standard when Typo/Shrek deigned to lecture Ergon chairman Ralph Craven on his naughtiness in not immediately succumbing to the paper's demands. They wrote:

'For Mr Craven and his board, this shouldn't be just about the bottom line. Ergon is a highly visible community partner in North Queensland, a company that makes millions of dollars in profit each year. Yes, it would be financially safer and cheaper to base its new headquarters in the suburbs. But Ergon should be considering not only its corporate responsibility, but its social and community obligations to Townsville when making these types of decisions.' 

Social and community obligations?!? 

Now, c'mon, you pair of buffoons didn't really think you could get away with that, did you? Tears of mirth mingled with those of rage are the likely result for any informed person reading this bit hypocritical cant. 

To use a word much beloved of boofademics and acadills, let's 'deconstruct' this bit of double-dealing with a little substitution and re-writing. See if you can spot the subtle differences in this FAB (fair and balanced) version.

'For North Queensland Newspapers general manager Michael Wilkins and his Sydney-based News Ltd  board,  this shouldn't be just about the bottom line. North Queensland Newspapers is a highly visible community partner in North Queensland, a company that makes millions of dollars in profit each year. (Note: Just under $20million profit last financial year. `Pie.) 
'Yes, it would be financially safer and cheaper to base sub-editing and other behind-the-scenes jobs in an el cheapo central sweat shop in Brisbane. But News Ltd  and North Queensland Newspapers should be considering not only its corporate responsibility, but its social and community obligations to Townsville when making these types of decisions.'

There ya are, boys, that's a bit more accurate, nothing like a bit of FAB editorialising. Your rapidly dwindling number of readers deserve nothing less.

And if you live by the mealy-mouthed sentiments which you see as your clarion call to corporate responsibility and community pride, The Magpie then takes it that you, Mr Wilkins, will be recalling the 34 employees you peremptorily turfed out with no warning  and put on the dole queue this year - not to downsize but to transfer the positions to the Brisbane market. And of course, one can be confident you will also dump plans to sack all NQN (Bulletin, Ayr Advocate, Bowen, Ingham, Charters Towers and Innisfail) sub-editors within the next year for the same purpose.

In another editorial, there was a Typo Gleeson special in the 'unfortunate phrase' department when he honked on about naughty bloggers, saying 'We (the Townsville Bulletin) have been here for 130 years, and we aren't going anywhere.' 

Unfortunately, it is a bitter laugh to be had, since, while the paper might stay around, most of its staff embodying local community memory and history, will not - they will be going anywhere they can find work.

Folks, in this computer day and digital age, it would be financially and electronically feasible to create a more honest (electronic) entity to serve this community's need for honest information.

The 'Pie reckons it's time to buy back the farm. 

Do you? 


  1. Yes, it's well time to buy back the farm. We were promised with the new look Bully that there'd be a lift in quality and some investigative reporting, and we've got the opposite. It gets worse and worse. One wonderful unintended consequence of the recent 130 years retro selections was the evidence of just how low the paper has gone. There's an inverse ratio between the point size of the front page lettering (can hardly call them headlines) and the information value of what follows. A few years back at an open day at Davies Laboratory the reporter sent to cover the displays etc didn't stay, making the comment that "there was nothing there for the paper, it targets a market with the reading capacity of 7 year olds. Even that seems to have dropped.

  2. Hooray for Mary!!!! .. you wouldn't want to stay on board a ship that's been slowly drifting further and further from its 'real' audience for the past ten years anyway.. You deserve better and your friends and fans know it .. and for the loyal Townsville public that still finds some sort of antiquated attachment to this horrible skewed tabloid .. there's much better stuff to do with your money than buy what used to be a good read .. I haven't purchased a 'Bully' for over a year and have to say the planet is still rotating and the sun comes up each morning .. amazing! Psst And I still know the important stuff that's going on (and not just about Thurston's knee or Mooney's next political tilt)

  3. The wind don't blow in Odgen Street, it just sucks.

  4. Bad luck Mary ; you'll be missed

  5. There hasn't been a decent editor at the helm of the TB since John Affleck packed his swimmers back to the pools of the Gold Coast.

    There were enough psychopaths vying for positions straight after that which cost Townsville some of their best talent and left left them with malingering hacks and fresh faced greenlings.