Why I write a ‘note from the editor’ and what to expect from it

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Today this note will land in the inboxes of thousands of readers for the first time as we expand our weekly editor’s missive to include all subscribers to The Age.

If you are one of our first-timers, welcome to this inner sanctum where I attempt to break down the fourth wall of the fourth estate to give subscribers a sense of the goings-on in The Age newsroom.

In my first note of this kind to subscribers back in February, I wrote about the principles that would guide my editorship. I recited the words of a legendary former editor of this publication, Graham Perkin. They are the words that greet me every morning as I hurry through the entrance of The Age office. The quote, emblazoned on the wall in stark black letters, says The Age “does certain things differently from other newspapers simply because … we’re not there as a means of simply passing a word from a mouth to an eye, we’ve a responsibility to our readers and to society in general”.

Each day when I enter The Age office, I am greeted by a quote from legendary former editor Graham Perkin.Credit: Simon Schluter

Perkin was right. Readers of The Age want more than the kind of imitable journalism they can find on countless free-to-read news sites and unoriginal, uninspiring and sometimes unhinged publications.

As I wrote in that first note, our readers want depth and quality, excellence and rigour. They want a publication with scruples that is willing to fight for its readers, its city, and hold power to account, without fear or favour. One that will doggedly pursue public interest investigations to shine light on the darkest parts of our society, but also celebrate Melbourne’s successes and be constructive and mature in its approach to difficult subjects.

Now, close to a year into my editorship, I am pleased with the way the excellent people who work here have pursued these ideals.

After successfully defending a defamation case against journalists Nick McKenzie and Chris Masters earlier this year, The Age was able to continue to report freely on the war crimes of Australia’s most decorated soldier, Ben Roberts-Smith. We promoted mature discussion about the future of Melbourne and its suburbs. We broke the news that the nation’s biggest plastic bag recycling scheme was continuing to operate even though its recycling function had collapsed, resulting in millions of bags being stuffed into warehouses across the country.

We fought for our readers’ right to know what is happening within the justice system, by opposing suppression orders and battling for access to court documents in the Magistrates’, County and Supreme Courts, all the way up to the High Court of Australia.

We exposed huge failings in the Department of Home Affairs across a range of stories that exposed a failure to prevent human trafficking and questionable payments of Australian taxpayer money to foreign officials. When we reported that the influential head of that department, Mike Pezzullo, had attempted to influence and cosy up to politicians, he was stood down pending an investigation.

We pored over every detail of the state government’s cancellation of the Commonwealth Games and exposed the shambolic management of that decision. We sent reporters to cover a war in the Middle East with huge emotional impacts on many in Australia, and indeed on domestic politics. We led the coverage of one of the most extraordinary murder investigations in recent history. We’ve looked at the schools we send our children to and turned our attention to the burgeoning suburbs where Melburnians are increasingly choosing to live.

We’ve celebrated the city’s major events. We didn’t miss a beat during one of the great AFL seasons. We took readers inside the Lord’s Long Room at one of the most controversial moments in its history and we replayed the Bairstow dismissal as frequently as we possibly could.

You, our subscribers, made all this and more possible by supporting our journalism. And I can assure you, this is only the start of what we believe we can accomplish as a newsroom.

Now, since we are welcoming new friends to this note today, I thought I would take the opportunity to address the two most frequently asked questions I receive about it:

Now that’s out of the way, let me furnish you with some examples of the kind of things you can expect from this missive.

I like to invite readers into our newsroom and highlight some of the unseen work that our subscribers support.

On that note, it would be remiss of me not to mention the team behind The Age’s Good Food Awards held earlier this week.

Every restaurateur in town should doff their one, two or three hats to the small but mighty Good Food team for the power of work they invested in these awards and the compilation of this year’s The Age Good Food Guide.

Regular readers of this note might recall my obsession with food and love of Good Food’s coverage over a long period of time. Good Food is truly unrivalled in its influence on Melbourne’s culinary scene, with the ability to turn budding chefs into superstars.

Sometimes, I ask for your help

On occasions, readers of this note have become test samples for changes at The Age. Not long after starting as editor, I floated the possibility to this group of reducing the number of editorial opinion pieces we write each week. I explained my reasoning and outlined what it would look like if we offered a couple of editorials a week, rather than one every day, which I believed did not always make a meaningful contribution to the national discussion.

The feedback I received from readers was immense and gave me the confidence to proceed with those changes, which have been a great success. The editorials we do write now regularly sit among our top stories in terms of reader interest. When we write an editorial, we do so with passion and enthusiasm. I am grateful to the many of you who generously offered your opinion.

I have more ideas for reform in the coming months, which I will discuss with you all in due course. You will be the first to know.

On some occasions, I will shamelessly highlight the excellent work of the journalists you support

A few months back I wrote at length about the determination and moral compass of three of our journalists – Royce Millar, Ben Schneiders and Clay Lucas – in their reporting on corruption in Victoria. Their work over many years resulted in Operation Sandon: the most costly and sweeping investigation of raw corruption in Victoria since the state’s anti-corruption watchdog was established more than a decade ago. The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission bosses publicly acknowledged our journalists’ role when they handed down their report in July.

I have often written in these notes about the dedication of our journalists and the skill of our photographers, designers, editors and producers. You support their work with your subscription and I can assure you, that fact is not lost on anyone who works here. They pursue excellence on your behalf and take immense pride and care in the work they do.

That is, perhaps, one of the reasons why so many of these people were nominated for Walkley awards this year. You will be familiar with the names of the nominees from The Age: Nick McKenzie, Michael Bachelard, Jason South, Paul Sakkal, Sophie Aubrey, Clay Lucas, Badiucao, Justin McManus, Ben Schneiders and others.

I should also mention that Eddie Jim won the Nikon Portrait Prize recently for this wonderful photo of Fijian elder Lotomau Fiafia and his grandson John – an image I praised in another of these editor’s notes.

Eddie Jim’s magnificent photo of Kioa island resident Lotomau Fiafia and his grandson John was a deserving winner of the Nikon Portrait Prize. Credit: Eddie Jim

Next week, I will resume regular programming and take you behind the scenes at The Age. Until then, take care and have a great week.

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