The outgoing editor-in-chief of Fairfax Media’s The Sydney Morning Herald, Darren Goodsir, told Mediaweek, on his second-last day in the job, it had “been an agonising decision” to step down from the role he has held for four years.
After 20 years at the company, Fairfax this week announced Goodsir would be leaving the company on February 16.
“Being at the top of an organisation like The Sydney Morning Herald, a newspaper with such heritage and impact on society, was a huge honour but also a burden of responsibility.
“Stepping away from that role has been a difficult decision to reach. The energy level required to sustain what I felt was the standard was waning. Five years in leadership positions in an industry that is widely acknowledged as experiencing turbulence in this stage of its history have been very draining.”
Goodsir admitted to Mediaweek he had faced questions from colleagues in the past about whether they should stay or get out of the business. “It has been my unfortunate duty to preside over the necessary shrinking of The Herald newsroom over the entirety of my tenure. It is a job I tried conscientiously and compassionately to preside over. I am very familiar with the emotions and thought processes that go through departing such a vocation. This is not really a job, but more of a lifestyle choice.
“The advice I sought to draw on for my own discussions [about my future] was to give myself as much time as possible to ensure I was thinking correctly and made the right decision for the right reason at the right time.”
The departing editor-in-chief is almost 100% convinced he is doing the right thing. “No decision that I have ever made has been without some doubt, either personally or professionally. Others might be fortunate enough to have absolute certainty.
“Having made the decision and processed it over a fair period of time, I am confident I have made the right decision.”
The announcement of Goodsir’s departure referred to him having a life away from media. When asked what that might mean, Goodsir laughed and said: “Famous last words! My eldest daughter reminded me on the weekend this will be the first time I have been unemployed since I left high school. All of that time has been either working in the media and newsrooms or public affairs.”
He added that Fairfax was and remains a fantastic place to work. “The company practises fundamentally good journalism for the right reasons. While not being mistake-free, it takes its responsibilities extremely seriously and discharges its duties with great care and a high degree of conscientiousness. If I was to continue in the media I would find it difficult to do it in a place that didn’t exhibit the same sort of qualities as the ones I have been accustomed to for the past two decades.”
When asked about whom Goodsir consulted at the company about his own departure, he mentioned his manager for the past five years, the editorial director and former editor-in-chief Sean Aylmer. “I have had a very confidential and open and honest dialogue with him about my thinking for a number of months.”
At the farewell speeches on Monday this week, Aylmer revealed he had tried to convince Goodsir to stay. “Aylmer was respectful and understanding of my decision for leaving at this time.”
Goodsir confirmed that his departure is not linked to any breakdown in contract renewal talks or as a cost-cutting measure by Fairfax Media.
After realising a decade ago that he was attracted to management roles, Goodsir said he didn’t miss writing too much. “I felt management was where I could make my greatest contribution.”
Goodsir is too generous to single out specific people who influenced his career during his time in newspapers with both Fairfax and News Corp Australia. However, he did say: “At News Limited both John Hartigan and Col Allen took a huge interest in me as a young journalist. If I have achieved any success in my career it is a large consequence of their mentoring and the faith they showed in me.
“At Fairfax The Herald newsroom has been full of so many legendary and impactful journalists they are too numerous to mention. Being able to work as the editor-in-chief of people like Kate McClymont, Ross Gittins, Peter Hartcher, Phil Coorey, Michelle Grattan and many, many others it would be ridiculous for me to try to single out any in particular.”
The upside of Goodsir’s departure is “that my family get me back. It might be annoying to them. I might be butting into things that they got used to doing without me. [Laughs] I am very much looking forward to dinners at home with the family.”
The future of Fairfax
Goodsir said he felt the publisher was doing as well or better than any comparable media company in the world in working its way through turbulent times. “The decisions that are being made to make The Herald newsroom sustainable and profitable for its shareholders are the right ones, even though they are painful to implement and administer.”
Goodsir said he thought it was too hard to tell how far Fairfax still had to go before it finds a sustainable model. “It is an ongoing story.”
As to constant speculation about the future of the print editions of the Fairfax metro dailies, Goodsir said he welcomed it. “It is wonderful that people care so much and are almost obsessed by it and speculate about it. The last thing I want is for no one to care about it.”
When asked if the departure of Goodsir from the company signalled the end of an era, he replied: “I am the leader of a team who is wedded to the highest editorial principals and values. My absence does not mean our editorial values disappear. To the contrary, there is a whole news floor who exhibit the same high vales of journalism that I was representing on their behalf as editor-in-chief.
Darren Goodsir’s next job?
“I am looking for a new opportunity,” he told Mediaweek. “I am being urged by people’s views I respect and close friends to take some time off. I will do that, but at the same time keep an eye out for another opportunity.” As to what could appeal to him, Goodsir said: “Being a newsman is only a small portion of the role of an editor-in-chief. They need management and leadership skills and I have unique insights into communications and digital disruption in the modern era. One thing that is affecting every industry is the effects of digital disruption. Media is one of the industries that experienced it first. There are many businesses now facing similar challenges to the ones that Fairfax and The Herald have confronted over the last decade.”
Photo: Darren Goodsir (L) with OMD global business director Adam O’Neill and Peter FitzSimons