Sydney Morning Herald and The Age re-advertise for critics after two resign over diversity concerns

Nine has re-opened applications for two freelance book critic roles after Bec Kavanagh and Jack Callil tendered their resignations to allow space for non-white writers.

Last month, Kavanagh and Callil were two of five white writers selected as critics for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age as part of a program funded by the Copyright Agency and Judith Nielsen Institute. But, in a joint statement, the pair said they sent a resignation letter to their editors “in opposition to the lack of diversity in the selection”.

Kavanagh and Callil

“We are thankful for the work done by non-white writers who have articulated the problems with this selection far better than us,” they said.

“Our resignation is not due to any pressure on us from these writers or the community, who have been incredibly supportive of our individual writing, but because we stand with them and support their call for change.

“We are complicit in the problem. We advocate publicly for diversity, but it was taken us too long to act upon these ideas. Privilege allows us to take the time to talk to each other, and to learn, but it also demands that we do what we can to effect meaningful change.”

In the context of a renewed focus on the Black Lives Matter movement, racism in media, and a lack of diversity in newsrooms, the line up was met with criticism at the time of its announcement.

In response to the resignations, the newspapers said they will consider previous applicants, in addition to new ones, to replace Kavanagh and Callil, who finish up at the end of July.


“We accept the reasons why Jack Callil and Bec Kavanagh have decided to resign,” The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s life editor,  Monique Farmer, said.

“We are re-opening applications for the two freelance book critic roles, considering the previous applicants as well as seeking to ensure the roles are posted more widely to encourage a greater diversity of applicants. The successful applicants will need to have expertise as literary critics and strong writing skills.”

Matthew Burgess, culture editor at the Herald and The Age, previously said the Nine papers had been “inundated” with applications.

Writer Omar Sakr tweeted that the responsibility now lies with the newspapers: “This ought to make you reflect on your processes, and not just reflect, but proactively change to ensure this outcome is not replicated again.”

In addition to Kavanagh and Callil, Chloe Wolifson and Tiarney Miekus were appointed to review visual arts, and Cassie Tongue was chosen as a theatre critic. At the time of the hires, Adam Suckling, the chief executive of the Copyright Agency, said the five critics would act as “important new voices to the landscape of arts criticism and review in Australia”.

Burgess added at the time: “It is an exciting opportunity for our readers to gain fresh perspectives in visual arts, stage and book criticism, and for the critics to work on developing their voice and reach.”


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