Change of tack: man overboard
Rupert Murdoch's choice of a man without ink in his veins to replace News Ltd CEO John Hartigan suggests big changes.
Rupert Murdoch's choice of a man without ink in his veins to replace News Ltd CEO John Hartigan suggests big changes. THE journalists at News Ltd's Sydney headquarters won't be quaking in their boots today it's not their style but some will certainly be fearing for their futures. Not only have they lost their protector and advocate, John Hartigan, but he has been replaced by a man who doesn't have a drop of ink in his veins.Kim Williams, who has run Foxtel for the past decade, has been appointed to succeed Harto, as he is known to all at the company. That Hartigan is going is less of a surprise than Rupert Murdoch's decision to put a non-newspaper person in his place.Certainly it breaks with the company's recent traditions. Hartigan, who has run News Ltd for 11 years and worked there for 41, took over from Lachlan Murdoch, who had grown up in a newspaper environment. He, in turn, succeeded Ken Cowley, a former printer who ran News for 17 years. The three men were positively drenched in ink. Williams, by contrast, has spent his career in film and television. His appointment is a distinct departure for News and possibly explains why Rupert Murdoch has appointed himself chairman of the company, a position Hartigan also held until yesterday's announcement.No doubt Holt Street, Sydney and Southbank and all the other News Ltd satellites will be busy reading the tea leaves today. The conspiracy theorists will be guessing it all represents a shift away from a journalists' culture. And they may be right.Certainly Williams and Hartigan could not be more different. While Hartigan enjoys a drink and a punt, Williams is an aesthete by comparison, favouring a good book and a night at the opera over a party.I first met Hartigan at a News Ltd editorial conference in Aspen, Colorado, in 1988.It was the same conference where Rupert Murdoch called me a "wanker" for questioning the lack of ethics at The Sun in London and, by extension, the now defunct News of the World.Hartigan was much smarter than me and didn't ask any questions over the entire three days of the confab. In many ways it explained his success at News he knew when to shut up and when to speak up. And when he did, critics said, he usually agreed with Rupert.His appointment as chief executive officer of News in 2000 was a surprise to many and a shock to him. In those days he was editorial director of the company and, from all reports, not enjoying the job terribly much. As a former editor himself, he understood how much they hate backseat drivers. So when Lachlan Murdoch dropped by his office one afternoon and invited him for a drink at a pub, Hartigan thought he was going to be sacked. Instead he was offered News Ltd's top job in Australia. He later confided to me that his first thought was: "I wished I'd paid more attention in school."In that sense, Hartigan was about as far removed from an MBA as one can get. He loved the seat-of-the-pants culture that pervades newsrooms. Outcomes are everything and process is for Fairfax, the ABC and weaklings.When former Nine Network boss Sam Chisholm proclaimed, "Losers have meetings, winners have parties", he could have been thinking of Hartigan.For no one loves a party more than Harto. His Christmas shindigs, usually on the shores of Sydney Harbour, were legendary. In time he added another, the annual News Awards, which took place only a week ago, honouring the company's best journalism. This was Hartigan's response to News being continually overlooked in the Walkley Awards. Outraged, he simply created his own.Hartigan, who will turn 64 next week, takes great pride in his appearance, working out regularly each morning, often using a personal trainer.He was just as regular in his appearances at the East Sydney Hotel and other well-established inner Sydney drinking holes, a man who openly said he enjoyed several beers a day.A former News Ltd executive once summed up Hartigan's senior managers as "a team of half-back flankers give them their instructions and they'll deliver to the letter". In many ways Hartigan epitomised this approach, taking his directions on the phone from Rupert Murdoch.In the publishing industry that was enough for a long time, but suddenly checkers has become chess and strategy is everything. Perhaps Murdoch decided that wasn't Hartigan's strong suit.Then, of course, there were "the problems": the Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal, the toxic relationship with the Gillard government, haemorrhaging newspaper circulations, even my own unfair dismissal case against the company last year that saw Hartigan accused by a judge of putting together his reasons for sacking me as editor of the Herald Sun "after the fact".Hartigan's relationship with the former editor of Sydney's Daily Telegraph, Col Allan, now running the New York Post, remains close and the two are said to swap weekend punting tips via text message each week. But other friends are said to be few and far between. Many senior insiders used to wonder what Hartigan would do when retirement arrived. Now they'll find out.