The old guard returns to run Murdoch empire

The man Rupert Murdoch has entrusted with his Australian media empire turns 70 in November.

The man Rupert Murdoch has entrusted with his Australian media empire turns 70 in November.

Julian Clarke has long been a safe pair of hands for Mr Murdoch's News Corp, a man able to provide stability in troubled times.

"Murdoch's gone for generational change, except he's gone up rather than down," said Bruce Guthrie, who was sacked as editor of News' popular Melbourne tabloid, the Herald Sun, in 2008.

Mr Guthrie said he thought Mr Clarke would "warm the seat" for Mr Murdoch's son, Lachlan. "I think Clarke is just there to calm things down until Lachlan can get his house in order and he can make an emotional return to the job," he said.

"He's very considered, very diligent, very good on detail, but not a visionary. He's not a change agent - very much the opposite in a sense of Kim Williams."

In a statement to the Stock Exchange, Mr Murdoch praised Mr Clarke as "an experienced executive with a unique understanding of our company's culture, and the immense energy and clarity of vision necessary to drive our properties forward at this challenging time for all media in all countries".

Mr Guthrie said Mr Clarke was not enthusiastic about shifting content from newsprint to online.

"Probably one of the biggest flashpoints for me with Julian Clarke and Peter Blunden [ former editor-in-chief of the Herald Sun, published by the Herald & Weekly Times] was that I was a strong advocate for changing the content of the paper, because at some point we were going to have to ask people to pay and I didn't think the kind of journalism the Herald Sun was doing was the kind of journalism you could put behind a paywall," Mr Guthrie said.

An advertising man who started as a teenager at Standard Newspapers in 1960, Mr Clarke rose to general manager of newspapers at the Herald & Weekly Times before its takeover by News in 1987.

Following the takeover, Mr Clarke was sent to Brisbane to run News' Queensland operations. He returned to Melbourne in 1991 to take charge of all of the Herald & Weekly Times as managing director.

Well-regarded by employees, Mr Clarke spent 16 years at the helm before stepping down in favour of Mr Blunden in 2007.

His years at the top of the commercially dominant publisher earned him a gala farewell dinner at the National Gallery of Victoria attended by Mr Murdoch, his mother Dame Elisabeth, son Lachlan, politicians, sports stars and business leaders.

The then chairman of the Herald & Weekly Times, Mr Murdoch's sister Janet Calvert-Jones, told guests Mr Clarke had "made a wonderful contribution to our company", praising his "loyalty, his wisdom, his sense of humour and his patient persistence".

Mr Clarke's services were again required in 2009 when he was appointed chairman of the Herald & Weekly Times, replacing Mrs Calvert-Jones.

He and Mrs Calvert-Jones resigned as directors in June, as News shrank the company's board from six members to four.

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