Friday, 28 August 2009
When Peter Chapman took over as The Daily Examiner editor little was known of him locally in the Clarence Valley except that he hailed from other climes in recent years, was a former television sports commentator and had been rapped over the knuckles by an ABC TV Media Watch program in the 1990s.
I think I can safely say that a number of residents looked forward to having a new editorial voice at the helm of their only local daily newspaper on the grounds that a change was as good as a holiday.
So at first some Daily Examiner readers were puzzled by the odd discordant notes hit by Chapman in his early articles and comments.
Puzzlement quickly turned to something close to outrage in certain quarters, as those odd notes turned into frequent reports and opinion pieces which attempted to either demonise and marginalise segments of the Valley community or blatantly bag various small towns, villages and community facilities.
While an increasing number of so called news reports, whose raison être seems to have been advertising goods or services, tried the patience of many.
What wasn't widely known at the time was the fact that Chapman was using an APN News and Media running sheet benignly called Readers First. [APN version Ewart version Press Council version]
This publishing philosophy calls on editors and journalists to report news which is more responsive to and reflective of the needs and interests of a newspaper's readership, to make advertising an important part of the editorial/news team and have journalists give a less detached account of events or embed themselves in their stories.
However, in Chapman's rather clumsy hands this meant that The Daily Examiner abandoned editorials, began to pander to perceived community bias and prejudice, published blatant advertorials and allowed hearsay or downright gossip to form the basis of a significant part of the news in some issues (with a tinge of racial profiling or chauvinism often thrown in for good measure).
The Clarence Valley reacted in various ways - by simply shrugging shoulders as they turned the page, challenging the editor in the letters column, phoning him directly to refute some of his more outrageous assertions, complaining to senior management, contacting watchdogs, stopping any engagement with the newspaper or laughing outright at claims that newspaper circulation was rising rapidly rather than merely marking time as it has done since the turn of the century.
It was noticeable that some of the goodwill garnered by the 150 year-old newspaper was being needlessly dissipated under the Chapman editorship, but a few locals still tried to support this North Coast icon with news tips even when personal irritation levels were high and rising higher.
After less than fifteen months as editor Peter Chapman officially left The Daily Examiner this week as far as I can tell.
He is heading back to Queensland to take up the position of editor at yet another APN masthead, the Fraser Coast Chronicle.