Anger over the Sydney Morning Herald’s reporting of Rebel Wilson’s new relationship spilled over into the newsroom, with an anonymous staff member emailing colleagues claiming the newspaper’s reputation was ‘trashed’.
“Here we are again – our newsroom has become history,” said the email sent on Monday afternoon. He was referring to a February controversy when the publisher, Bevan Shieldswrongly insisted shutdown of the rail network ordered by the state government was a strike.
“With the ‘strike’ fiasco, we were a national laughingstock – but now we’ve gotten international attention,” said the email, signed “staff reporter.” “You don’t have to look far to find the common denominator in these editorial decisions.”
The anonymous email claimed that “our reputation is being trashed” and the author said “management is silencing us on social media and treating our audience with contempt…what’s the point?”
The email was sent after the SMH, owned by Nine, deleted a column on the Aussie actor and columnist’s new relationship Andrew Hornery apologized – admitting he made mistakes in his approach to reporting.
Hornery had complained in Saturday’s Private Sydney Column of being ‘gassed’ by Wilson revealed on friday that Ramona Agruma was his new partner.
Ahead of Hornery’s apology on Monday, Shields had written a note defending the article and saying that the newspaper did not take Wilson out but “simply asked questions and, as standard practice, included a response deadline”.
Multiple sources sent Monday’s anonymous email to Guardian Australia. Nine Entertainment declined to comment.
“When I started at the Herald, I felt proud to work for a masthead that had such a wonderful reputation,” the staff reporter wrote.
“This reputation is slowly eroding each day as the newspaper makes seemingly inexplicable editorial decisions. The hardworking staff have again been tarred with the same brush as the editor and we have limited ability to talk about it.
“Many of us would know that co-workers are instructed to delete social media posts. If we talked about it, we would almost certainly be disciplined or fired.
Guardian Australia confirmed that the company’s social media policy is enforced and that staff are regularly asked to remove social media posts that violate the policy.
The anonymous reporter stressed that the email was not about Hornery who had “admitted his mistake”.
They complained that management was crying poor and refusing to raise wages in line with inflation, despite being ‘extremely ill-advised’ comments on writer Clementine Ford “cost this masthead $39,000 plus expenses”.
Later Monday, Shields responded to the email, telling staff his door was always open to anyone with concerns.
“Since I started as editor in January, I have regularly emphasized that I am always available to speak to anyone in the newsroom about anything,” Shields wrote.
“Many of you who have come to me with problems – professional or personal – know that I am a decent and fair person, and committed to the Herald and everyone who works here. We are a tall masthead and in a great position. I obviously saw the anonymous note sent this afternoon.
Shields went further in his email to staff than he had in his note to readers. He apologized for the mistakes that had been made and said he had asked for Hornery’s column to be removed.
He told staff that if Wilson hadn’t responded to Hornery’s email about his new relationship “it would have been impossible to publish.”
“That’s a key point,” Shields said. “I am acutely aware of the dark stain on the history of the Herald through the publication of the names, addresses and occupations of dozens of people who marched during the 1978 gay and lesbian Mardi Gras.”
He said the inclusion of a deadline in Hornery’s email to Wilson was a mistake “because it seemed like an ultimatum.”
“Andrew also acknowledges that the tone of Saturday’s article was inappropriate, and I have requested that it be removed from the line today. I appreciate Andrew being upfront about this.
An SMH reporter told Guardian Australia on Monday night that “the sentiments in the anonymous email ring true” and “Bevan continues to make mistakes”.
But another Nine reporter said ‘it’s a tough gig’ and ‘we have to make some quick judgments and the wrong call has been made – give the guy a chance’. They insisted that Shields had been “very approachable”.
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