Of course Fairfax had to sack Paddy Manning

The thing about being an editor is that you start off thinking you’re still at heart a journo. Then one day, you realise you’ve become the management.

If my reaction to the sacking of Paddy Manning is anything to go by, it’s happened to me.

From the looks of our comment thread – and indeed the piece we have just cross-posted from the Conversation – I’m in the minority on this one: Of  course, Paddy Manning had to be sacked when he wrote an opinion piece for a rival media outlet attacking his own management.

One reason is ethical, the other pragmatic.

First, on the ethics, if you take a salary to write for one company as a full time employee, you shouldn’t also write for one of its rivals.

It would be unethical for a designer for Holden to help out Ford with their new model in the evenings. Similarly, you wouldn’t see Alessandro Del Piero play for Sydney FC on a Saturday, then help out at Melbourne Victory the next week.

We journos are an arrogant bunch, but the same rules do apply to us too.

The other is more pragmatic. It’s not okay to publicly slag off your own company, even if you are a journalist who fancies dropping a truth bomb or two.

That’s not about not having freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression does not mean freedom from consequences.

As Paddy Manning has demonstrated, he exercised his right to freedom of expression, and has experienced the consequences.

This is not a whistleblower being punished for exposing wrong-doing. It’s an employee inflicting damage on the people who employ him.

In many ways, it says a lot about the journo-friendly culture at Fairfax that he thought it might be okay. I suspect you wouldn’t find a News Limited journalist under a similar misapprehension.

Where things take an uncomfortable turn though is that Manning is already facing a challenge on another front. As we wrote earlier this month, Manning is among those journalists facing legal challenges over his coverage of billionaire (and Fairfax Media shareholder) Gina Rinehart. (Update: I was mistaken: Manning’s legal challenge was from mining magnate Nathan Tinkler)

I very much hope that although he has left the company, Fairfax will continue to fight for Manning on this front.

Like most real world situations, this one is messy. Battles with reclusive bmillionaires are in the public interest, not liking what your bosses are up to, less so. The problem comes when the same person is at the heart of both battles.

Regardless, I don’t think Fairfax had any other choice.

Tim Burrowes

Comments


  1. Misha Ketchell
    10 Apr 13
    2:07 pm

  2. Hi Tim,
    This is a good piece and I think you’re right: Paddy’s main offence wasn’t expressing his opinion, it was writing for a rival outlet. But having said that I admire his courage in standing up for what he believes and wish him every success in finding a new job. Journalism needs more people like Paddy Manning, not fewer. And the fact he was willing to damage his self interest in the pursuit of something he values makes him an admirable figure in my book. The real tragedy of this is that too many journalists who come into the profession with high ideals end up doing work they don’t believe in. If that’s the case, it’s better to get out.
    Misha

  3. NS
    10 Apr 13
    2:10 pm

  4. here here Tim

    and in my view Paddy Manning’s actions prove that he is not actually not a credible business journalist because he doesn’t really understand that a non-publically funded newspaper is first and foremost a business, and an employee wilfully damaging their employer’s business will suffer harsh consequences

    (either that or he decided he really wanted a big career change and this was a suicide mission of sorts)

    it speaks volumes about the idealogical myopia and commercial naivety of Fairfax business journalists (or what you so politely call the ‘journo friendly’ culture at Fairfax) that Paddy and his cohort are surprised at his sacking

  5. Disagree respectfully
    10 Apr 13
    2:12 pm

  6. I hear what you are saying, but I disagree. Newspapers hire people like Paddy because they are passionate, dogged, fearless ratbags. Without them, we wouldn’t have many of the award-winning stories (of which Paddy has contributed more than his share) that make a newspaper a great and important read.
    Part of the challenge of managing people like Paddy is to support them – and encourage them – when they turn their attention to targets on the outside of the organisation, while trying to handle them as employees.
    Anyone who knows Paddy also knows that he is an incredibly hard worker who lives and breathes his stories. I think sacking was an over-reaction and I am hoping the company will reconsider and open up a discussion with Paddy and others who are concerned about what is happening to their company. He may have been a loose cannon on this occasion, but he has given a considerable number of years of dedicated service.

  7. Janus
    10 Apr 13
    2:16 pm

  8. Tim.

    Don’t disagree with your pragmatic argument – most companies have ‘don’t slag the boss’ clauses in contracts, but your ethical metaphors are wrong or at worse, overplayed.

    I’d assume Paddy wrote his ‘opinion’ piece for free for Crikey (much like contributors to the SMH opinion page and others), but even if he was paid, your logic is a bit like saying that anyone from News or Fairfax shouldn’t appear on The Drum because you’re playing for the other side.

    And remember in the early days of The Punch when ABC staff were being published on both the News site as well as their own homegrown version?

    Seriously, media practitioners tart themselves about all the time. They’re not building a better Falcon in the process, or scoring a match winner for the rival.

    This is more like Gus Gould getting on Channel 10 to say he hates Tom Waterhouse ads and his commentary – see your second point, pragmatic.

  9. Paddy Hintz
    10 Apr 13
    2:28 pm

  10. Well said, tim. You’re still a journalist to.me. The guy crossed the line. Crikey is an opposition outlet. So tired of people, journalism lecturers in particular, holding Crikey up as an independent arbiter of journalistic ethics. Rheinhardt is a completely separate issue.

  11. OtherAndrew
    10 Apr 13
    2:29 pm

  12. Never been a journo but I agree – I can’t see how this kind of behaviour could be justified?

  13. Karla
    10 Apr 13
    3:04 pm

  14. Janus is right, Tim, about media promiscuity. Of course, to freelance and be paid outside your employers masthead/channel/site needs the employer’s permission.

    However we’re often keen — and just as often encouraged — to deliver unpaid opinions in our areas of expertise. But most of us have in our contracts some form of caution against content that could be deemed detrimental by our masters.

    In Manning’s case, he must have known that what he wrote would be poorly recieved at Fairfax, and I wonder if some of his exasperation stems from him facing a legal challenge from Rinehart … and his expectations of the outcome?

  15. Jet
    10 Apr 13
    4:15 pm

  16. Since when was op-ed considered journalism?

  17. Smell
    10 Apr 13
    8:33 pm

  18. you’re right, 100%

  19. Logik
    11 Apr 13
    5:16 am

  20. According to your logic, Tim, a person working on the board of one company couldn’t be working on the board of any other company.

    Naturally you will be calling for the entire Farrfax board to be sacked.

  21. mumbrella
    11 Apr 13
    7:23 am

  22. Hi Logik,

    The key element there is permission.

    If you signed a contract to say you’d only work on one board, of course. I suspect that’s not the case here.

    Cheers,

    Tim – Mumbella

  23. ExFairfax
    11 Apr 13
    10:42 am

  24. This one is a little more complicated. 100 per cent sure he wouldn’t have been paid.
    But the main issue that one of the brand values of Fairfax, which has sustained its net worth, sales and profitability, has been its ability to cope with much of the same oversight and criticism from its journos that it subjected others to. Unlike another major media company I could think of.
    Of course, it was an extreme version of that, and expressed in a rival publication. But it’s worth considering the corporate value from saying ‘guys, we can cop it, we’re all about scrutiny and independence’.

  25. Andrew Duffy
    11 Apr 13
    1:21 pm

  26. Personally I thought the sacking showed thin skin from Fairfax’s management. It was fair criticism and if you can’t handle heat from your own journos then get out of the kitchen.

    In terms of the contrast you make between Fairfax/News Ltd, I’d rather have a corporate culture where staff feel confident enough to speak their mind… but maybe that’s why I’m not in management :P

    Either way, interesting piece.

  27. Peter
    15 Apr 13
    9:57 am

  28. The Holden and Del Piero analogies are clumsy and I’m sure Paddy was well aware of the possible consequences. Thus, I rate him one of the most gutsy journalists in Australia today.