After an enforced sabbatical under the volcanic ash cloud in Bali, Media Week returns this week with more grim news about country newspapers in South Australia, the surprise end to Michael Smyth’s ABC career, and more.
Michael Smyth shown the door
ABC 891 in Adelaide has decided not to renew the contract of the man who many consider to be its best local announcer.
Michael Smyth has held down the Drive shift with aplomb for the past four years.
An opaque statement from the ABC this week said Smyth had “announced that he will be departing ABC Local Radio at the end of 2015”.
ABC local manager Adelaide Graeme Bennett wished Smyth well “in the next phase of his media career”.
However, when contacted by InDaily, Smyth said he had wanted a new contract for 2016.
“I hadn’t planned not to continue,” he said.
“It was quite a surprise, it’s fair to say.”
He was told of the decision at a meeting with Bennett last Friday.
His ratings have come off the boil in the past year, but it’s traditionally a tough shift for the ABC in competition with syndicated FM celebrities and popular local sports shows.
However, the former ABC TV and Channel Nine newsreader has run a tight professional ship, with few of the resources of his rivals. As well as switching effortlessly between hard news and lighter interviews, Smyth struck up a good rapport with fellow presenter Peter Goers in a regular joint shift on Fridays.
“It’s been very challenging but satisfying: 45 segments a week is a hungry beast,” he said.
Bennett confirmed to InDaily that Smyth’s contract would not be renewed.
When asked why not, he said: “From time to time we need to take the opportunity to review and refresh our content offer and line-up.”
It seems clear that the ABC has a replacement in mind. When asked if he had settled on Smyth’s successor, Bennett said: “The 2016 line-up will be announced soon.”
Smyth says he has no firm plans for the future. He will continue on air until the Christmas break.
It’s a sad echo of the end of Smyth’s previous gig. Almost exactly four years ago he was axed from Channel Nine, along with Georgina McGuinness, as part of cost-cutting by then owner WIN. There was little question about the quality of his performance back then, either.
After many ups and downs, the year’s radio ratings look like they’re ending as they began – with a few exceptions.
ABC 891’s long-dominant breakfast duo of Matthew Abraham and David Bevan have been regularly written off this year after a mid-year slide, but they surged back in the penultimate survey to take an equal share of the lead with Mix 102.3.
They’re now pulling about the same share as they did late last year.
Their breakfast talk rivals, FIVEaa, have been in a transition period and lost ground in the latest survey. However, the new breakfast team of David Penberthy and Will Goodings is sounding more assured than the previous, sometimes awkward, three-hander of Penberthy, Mark Aiston and Jane Reilly.
The most relieved team in radio will be the Adelaide management of Southern Cross Austereo. The company’s rebadging of SAFM as hit107 has started to work, with the station recovering from a shocking 5.9 per cent share in the first survey this year to hit 9 per cent in the latest figures. This puts it within striking distance of youth music rival Nova, which has lost ground.
The final ratings survey of the year will be released on December 15.
South Australian appointed to ABC Board
Adelaide business consultant Donny Walford has been appointed to the ABC Board.
She was one of two appointments to the board this week, along with Queensland businesswoman Kirstin Ferguson.
Walford, an experienced banking and business executive, runs DW Bottom Line Transition Strategists and DW Behind Closed Doors. The latter is an enterprise designed to help executive women further their careers. Walford is a past chair of Australian Dance Theatre, among many other business and community board appointments.
Curiously, Walford’s name was not put forward by the independent ABC nomination panel. Rather, she was hand-picked by the Federal Government for the role.
Fairfax continues to make cost cuts to its country newspaper network in South Australia.
It has announced the closure of offices for the Border Chronicle and Coastal Watch in Bordertown and Kingston, with staff to be centralised in Naracoorte. The offices will close at the end of the month. Thankfully, there won’t be any new sackings connected with the closures (Fairfax has already cut staff numbers at its SA regional newspapers).
While the closures will make it more difficult for reporters to cover their beat, of even greater concern is a Fairfax regional advertisement for a “West Coast Editor” to cover a huge portion of the state.
The editor will have to look after three newspapers over a massive geographical area – the Port Lincoln Times, the West Coast Sentinel based in Ceduna, and the Eyre Peninsula Tribune based in Cleve. And the ridiculously huge job description warns that the poor sod who gets the job might have to look after even more newspapers.
“With a new group focus in our business, the role may be required to produce content and perform other editorial tasks for multiple titles and operating groups, outside of the main portfolio,” the job ad says.
The Advertiser, in its traditional mode of kicking competitors to its parent company News Corp, put the news of the South-East office closures on page two under the heading “Fairfax abandons SA regions”.
That headline is quite the beat-up considering Fairfax continues to run 17 local newspapers in regional South Australia compared with News Corp’s zero.
Speaking of the Tiser, we know circulation has been dropping, but surely things aren’t this bad (taken from News Corp Australia’s corporate website)?
Top of the class
After recent horrors in Paris, the Middle East and Africa, there seems to be an insatiable desire for answers – which is why the erudite take on Islamic State by The Project’s Waleed Aly has gone viral.
But the realities are murky, complicated and wrapped up in hundreds of years of geopolitics. The idea that there’s a clear-cut “solution” out there seems fanciful.
This is why serious, detailed journalism is so important. And one of the best recent pieces of reporting on Islamic State was published by US news website The Daily Beast this week. “Confessions of an ISIS Spy” by Michael Weiss is a jaw-dropping and very significant piece of work. It’s long, it’s in many parts, but read it.
Media Week is published on Fridays.
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