Maxwell Newton, The Australian Financial Review, October 21, 1988, p. 2s.
In the middle of 1963, I began a campaign with Fairfax executives in favour of making The Australian Financial Review, then a twice-weekly financial newspaper, into a daily financial paper available throughout Australia.
Passions were high; a major fight was to ensue. But the decision to move to daily production truly reflected the outcome of a deep, swirling struggle that had evolved over the previous three-and-a-half years.
When I was appointed managing editor in early 1960 (I had to invent my own title because an editor, Harry Williams, was already in place), Australian financial journalism was at a very primitive stage.
The only two financial journalists of note were Tom Fitzgerald, the legendary financial editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, and Jack Eddy, the financial editor of the Melbourne Herald, whose energies were tragically depleted by the drink.
Inevitably, the focus of power in Australian finance was moving to Sydney under the stimulus of a growing tide of foreign capital investment in Australia.
In early 1960, when I moved into an 8ft by 6ft cupboard on the fifth floor of the gloomy, dark and even dank Fairfax Broadway building, I had already had much contact with the genius of Rupert Albert Geary Henderson, the managing editor of Fairfax.
As the Canberra correspondent for the Financial Review and as the political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald in the preceding three years, I had become well known to Mr Henderson. It was at his request and insistence that I wrote many speeches for Dr Evatt in the 1958 Federal election.
Mr Henderson, a wonderfully exciting, driving journalist, had a clear vision that the emerging field of financial journalism was “ours”.
Upon taking over my responsibilities at the Financial Review in early 1960, I was under a clear mandate from Mr Henderson to push hard on all fronts — editorial, circulation, advertising — to exploit the huge opportunity he perceived.
And as I began to gather talented young people to help me, we experienced a powerful surge of response from readers. Sales of the Financial Review rose very rapidly. At the outset, we were selling about 8,000-10,000 copies once a week. Within a year, sales had risen to 30,000 once a week and advertising was also strong.
Among the journalists who joined me in the thrill of making the Financial Review go were Jules Zanetti (who remade the paper’s appearance and introduced professional sub-editing); Walter Kommer, now a senior executive at News Corp; Vic Carroll, who had created a grand reputation as financial editor of The Sun-Herald (where he pioneered “investment journalism”); Maximilian Walsh; Harry Newton (now an important magazine and book publisher in New York); Michael Baume; Alan Wood; and many contributors including Horrie Brown, Reader in Statistics at the ANU, who brought statistical analysis to Australian journalism; Torrance Doig, an undercover contributor who used to furnish us with External Affairs files from his Canberra office, and the Rev Malcolm McKay who wrote about oil.
The whole world of finance and economics was open to us. We had it all out there and it only had to be picked off the tree.
After we had been going for a while and as the circulation bolted, Frank Packer tried to start a competitive paper, The Australian Financial Times. His right-hand man, David McNicoll, asked me to go over to see him about this. He offered me a blank contract, with the amount of salary to be filled in by me.
I did not refuse then and there but instead rang Don Anderson, an old and dear friend who was the Director-General of Civil Aviation. He advised me to refuse but to tell the Fairfax executives of the offer, on the assumption that this would improve my standing in Fairfax.
The Australian Financial Times died quite early. There was not enough significant talent around to make two credible financial papers in Australia. Nevertheless, I had a most urgent feeling that unless we at Fairfax pushed ahead very hard and very fast our franchise could be endangered.
Rupert Henderson felt the excitement and helped to generate more of it. To be fair to Warwick Fairfax, as the owners’ representative, he allowed the spending of considerable sums. My two other great supporters with the company were Angus McLachlan, general manager, and Louis Leck, assistant to the general manager.
Many of my duties were involved with training financial journalists who were in very short supply as there had been no general financial publishing source until we developed the Financial Review.
From the outset, under my editorship, the Financial Review was a highly political paper. In the 1961 election campaign, I wrote a considerable number of speeches for the Leader of the Labor Party, Arthur Calwell, under the direct supervision of Mr Henderson. It was a matter of “copy to Mr Calwell, copy to SMH subs, copy to the Daily Tele, copy to AAP”. My copy certainly got a wide distribution. Arthur Calwell nearly bowled Menzies over.
Because by the time of the 1961 election a decision had been made to convert the Financial Review to twice-weekly publication and because the readers snapped up the doubling of production of copies that occurred, I was in quite a favoured position within Fairfax.
But the struggle during 1963 to force a decision in favour of daily production sorely tried my influence in the company.
I sulked. I went to Melbourne and hid in the files. I undermined the then editor of The Sydney Morning Herald (an Englishman, Angus Edward Upjohn Maude, who had the right to censor my headers). I was exceedingly unpleasant and certainly not a mature “team player”.
We were then, in the middle of 1963, selling about 25,000 copies of the Financial Review twice a week for one shilling. I wanted to drop the price to sixpence for the new daily paper I was agitating for. Mr Henderson refused. After several months of infighting and emotional storms, he agreed.
But when there was a leak of what we intended, he became enraged and stopped all work on the daily. A couple of weeks later, feeling no doubt that he had thrown his competitors off the track, he consented. In October 1963 we produced our first daily editions.
By that time, after almost three years of immense struggle, I was not emotionally ready to take on the added burden of the fierce struggle within the company that culminated in Warwick’s decision to support Menzies in the 1963 election.
So by early 1964, I was out. I decimated the skilled staff I had put together, taking them with me over to Rupert Murdoch where we started The Australian. That was in early 1964.
In these days of facsimile, jet aircraft, computers and cold type, what we had to work with in the early 1960s was primitive to a degree. We worked with hot metal, producing the Financial Review from the Broadway plant and flying actual newspapers around Australia.
When I first took over, the Financial Review was invariably late, often not going to press (with 16 pages) in Sydney before 2.30 am. This precluded Melbourne and Brisbane sales. I was able to get the finished pages to the presses before midnight and this allowed us to catch late air freighters north and south.
Out of the cauldron of the experiences of 1960-1963 emerged a generation of financial journalists whose footprints are all over Australian journalism. In the room next to us at the SMH in those days was not only the crafted talent of Tom Fitzgerald but also a talented cadet, Bob Gottliebsen, who went on to start and nurture Business Review Weekly.
While at the Financial Review, I often spoke to Mr Henderson of the need to back up the daily Financial Review with a business magazine.
At one stage I made an offer to buy Jobson’s (the publisher of business reference books) for $25,000, but Mr Henderson was too absorbed in other major tasks (including dealing with Warwick — a full-time job for any other man). So we did not have the emotional drive to continue going ahead to the goal of a paper and a weekly business magazine.
One reason for this was the extent to which our creative energies (mine, Mr Henderson’s, Angus McLachlan’s and Louis Leck’s) were being absorbed by our involvement in the attainment of major political goals — the most important of which was the destruction of Bob Menzies.
The resulting stress blunted our energies and in truth prevented us from capitalising on the breakneck advances we made in the Long March of January 1960-October 1963.
Had we been able to overcome our internal struggles and mobilise our energies completely in a fully team effort, we would have made ever more astounding advances.
This was because our daily experience of mounting sales told us that the Australian business community was trying to think in national terms.
I used to study and read the London Financial Times as my model. I despaired we would be able to achieve such heights of international and national thinking.
When I left Fairfax in early 1964 to go to work for Rupert Murdoch, Mr Henderson said: “If I had a heart, you would have broken it.” Angus McLachlan never spoke to me again.
My defection was perceived as an act of treachery against a family — which is what we had created.
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