The Melbourne Press Club is in crisis after the resignation of three of its leadership team in the space of a few hours, including the Nine newspapers investigative journalist Adele Ferguson and the ABC’s Michael Rowland.
The resignations of club president Ferguson, the vice-president Rowland, and the chief executive Mark Baker, a former editor of the Canberra Times and senior editor at the Age, have thrown the future of the Quill awards, the Perkin award and other journalism programs in jeopardy.
Rowland, the co-host of ABC News Breakfast, was the first to resign, telling the press club board on Tuesday night he could no longer tolerate the ongoing dispute between Baker and veteran club member and former Age editor Michael Smith.
Rowland’s resignation followed a failed attempt at mediation between the two men.
“Despite all the months of work we have put in trying to resolve the issue between Mark Baker and Mike Smith, it has become clear to me that it is unlikely to happen,” Rowland said.
“I think it has reached a stage where the reputation of the club is now at serious risk and the matter needs to be urgently addressed at next week’s meeting.”
At our next media lunch on 13 November, Professor Ross Garnaut introduces his new book Superpower. Australia’s unparalleled renewable energy resources and scientific skills could make us a leader in global industry. Details at: https://t.co/GWSOCaBn1A pic.twitter.com/SPIdy9TeOv— Melbourne Press Club (@MelbPressClub) October 16, 2019
Baker and Smith fell out over plans for the publication of a second press club book featuring Australian journalists who have been inducted into the Australian Media Hall of Fame.
The dispute centred on the choice of publisher, Wilkinson Publishing, which Baker objected to because the Melbourne company had bought the Australian rights to the Milo Yiannopoulos book Dangerous, which was cancelled by Simon & Schuster in 2017.
The Hall of Fame was founded in 2011 and includes reporters, editors, broadcasters, photographers, cartoonists, commentators and publishers who have contributed to Australian society.
The first book, Media Legends: Journalists who Helped Shape Australia, co-written by Smith and Baker, was published in 2014.
Baker and Ferguson have confirmed they have resigned but have declined to comment. Smith also declined to comment.
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“I have made this difficult decision after an unsatisfactory end to the lengthy mediation process between the Melbourne Press Club and Mike Smith,” Rowland said in his letter.
“That process culminated today with a formal mediation hearing involving myself, Adele Ferguson and Richard Leder (all appearing on behalf of the board) and Mike Smith.
On 20 August 1989, three #Sundaypapers launched on one day. Today we celebrate the anniversary with a long lunch and panel discussion featuring @stephenjfoley, @lgmediagang, @brucerguthrie and @crjdek! @SundayHeraldSun @sundayage pic.twitter.com/pTkMLKQBP9— Melbourne Press Club (@MelbPressClub) August 23, 2019
“I have tried my best for the past eight months (as have Adele and Richard), and am completely spent.”
The Quill awards for excellence in Victorian journalism were established in 1995, joining the Perkin award for journalist of the year which carries a $20,000 cash prize.
In August a separate dispute erupted at the club, when Baker dumped the family trust of the late Age investigative reporter David Wilson as the sponsor of the Quill for young journalist of the year in favour of a more lucrative offer from the Commonwealth Bank – whose “unconscionable banking practices” had been exposed by Ferguson, in a series that won her a Gold Walkley.