Fairfax is losing one of its biggest journalistic icons, Michelle Grattan, as the company prepares to put its metropolitan websites behind a paywall and with a federal election looming.
Grattan, who has been a press gallery stalwart for over 40 years, is leaving her post as political editor of The Age newspaper to become a professorial fellow at the University of Canberra. The 68-year-old will also become chief political correspondent and associate editor for The Conversation website.
The shift could see Grattan's gravitas-soaked byline appear in News Limited or other competing publications. The Conversation — funded by major universities and the CSIRO — operates under a creative commons licence, meaning all media outlets are free to republish its articles.
University of Canberra vice-chancellor Stephen Parker told Women's Agenda sister publication Crikey Grattan will teach and research in politics and political communication as well as providing him with strategic advice on government relations. She will not, however, be treading Parliament House corridors as a lobbyist.
"As soon as we heard there was a possibility of this we jumped at it," Parker said. "It's very exciting."
The Conversation's editor-in-chief Andrew Jaspan, a former editor of The Age, today said Grattan "epitomises the very best in political journalism". "She's going to be brilliant for us in the run-up to the election," he said.
Grattan, political editor of The Age since 2004, has worked for the Melbourne broadsheet for 34 of her 42 years in journalism after a previous career lecturing in politics at Monash University. She also reported for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review and became Australia's first female newspaper editor in 1993 when she took the reins at The Canberra Times.
Former Age editor Michael Gawenda told Crikey: "She's an icon of The Age and it would have been a different paper without Michelle all these decades."
Known to her colleagues as "Cobber", Grattan is famous for her prodigious work ethic, commitment to balance and late-night phone calls to check facts with politicians.
"Getting things right has been a defining feature of her journalism," Gawenda said. "She doesn't go off half c-cked. Even in her commentary she is always fair and accurate. Sometimes I thought Michelle could be bolder in her commentary, but the upside is she can always be trusted. In my memory, Michelle never got a big story wrong."
Gawenda says Grattan's departure from The Age is a "sign of the times we live in". He believes the era where one star reporter could define a publication's political coverage is over because the relationship between readers and mastheads is breaking down.
Grattan's departure is likely to accelerate the trend towards more Canberra copy-sharing in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Unless Fairfax brings in an outsider as political editor, Age readers can expect more analysis from SMH staffers Lenore Taylor and Peter Hartcher. Age press gallery veterans Tony Wright and Katharine Murphy may also take up a more prominent role in the paper.
In a reversal of roles, Grattan held a press conference outside Parliament House at 12pm today to take questions on the appointment.
The Age's editor-in-chief Andrew Holden said: "Michelle Grattan is a profoundly talented political journalist. She's a leader of the Canberra parliamentary press gallery and her astute commentary will be missed by The Age and its readers. We wish Michelle all the very best in her new pursuit at the University of Canberra — academia is richer for having her part of it."