News Corp’s flagship broadsheet, The Australian, has appointed company veteran Michelle Gunn as the publication’s editor-in-chief after her predecessor resigned amid a scandal. Gunn is the first woman to lead the newspaper since it was founded by Rupert Murdoch in 1964.
Chris Dore, who preceded Gunn as The Australian’s editor-in-chief before his resignation late last year triggered by his lewd comments to a woman at a function in America, had chaired News Corp’s national editorial board. That role will go to Mick Carroll, News Corp’s national weekend editor and editor of the weekend editions of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.
And a new editorial board dedicated to The Australian, which the company announced on Friday, will be chaired by Sky News chief executive Paul Whittaker, another former editor-in-chief of the publication.
The move marks a major expansion of Whittaker’s power, extending his remit from the screen, where he has fostered conservative opinion programming, to include the company’s premier newspaper.
Former senior News Corp employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity, were shocked by the company’s decision to return Whittaker to chair the editorial board that will have an “active” role in guiding the paper’s direction and coverage.
They said the structure seemed to undermine Gunn’s authority and created a perception that the paper’s first female editor required more supervision than her male predecessor.
Professor Catharine Lumby, chair of media and communications at the University of Sydney, said she applauded Gunn’s appointment as a departure from the over-representation of men in senior editorial roles in Australian media.
“It’s interesting to me that there’s a new position, the editorial board for The Australian,” Lumby said. “It’s unclear why that decision has been taken, but the implication is that Michelle Gunn will be overseen by Paul Whittaker, but one would hope she will have editorial autonomy.”
News Corp’s Australasian executive chairman, Michael Miller, praised Gunn in a statement.
“Her leadership and deep understanding of The Australian’s relationship with its audience will ensure its trusted and news-breaking journalism sets the national news agenda,” Miller said. “Her editorship has seen The Australian achieve record readership and she will drive its growth and digital success as it approaches its 60th year.”
Gunn said she was honoured to be appointed and was looking forward to working with her friend and colleague of 20 years, Whittaker. Miller said that Whittaker had immense experience as a journalist.
“The Australian’s new editorial board will provide input and feedback on enhancements for the masthead’s editorial direction and commitment to first-class news coverage and commentary,” Miller said. “Ms Gunn and Mr Whittaker and a small group of senior leaders will sit on the board.”
Gunn’s appointment comes at a tumultuous time for the paper, with several holes in its senior editorial ranks.
People who have worked with Gunn regard her as a prodigiously hard worker, a professional, and dedicated to News Corp. Gunn, who grew up in Newcastle, started at The Australian aged 18 as a “copy kid” — a historical role running sheets of typed text around a newsroom — before winning a cadetship and working her way up the paper’s reporting and editing ranks.
Gunn has been acting as the editor-in-chief since Dore’s departure, mingling with Sydney’s power players including Premier Dominic Perrottet and former prime minister John Howard at the exclusive SCG Trust box at the cricket on Monday.
Kelvin Healey, the editor of News Corp’s Brisbane weekend tabloids, will replace Gunn as editor of The Australian.
Vogue Australia editorial director Edwina McCann, who also oversees a host of Conde Nast titles in Australia, will expand her remit even further to become editorial director of The Weekend Australian Magazine and the paper’s other premium magazines.
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