The death this week of former editor of The Courier-Mail Kev Kavanagh at the age of 93 has prompted Bug staffer Don Gordon-Brown to rush out another small advance chapter of his probably-never-to-be released journalism memoir, Arse over Tit, of his fun six years at the masthead.
“I think you should give serious consideration to what you’re doing here.”
It’s a funny little statement, isn’t it? And one possibly open to both half-glass-full and half-glass empty interpretations.
You could be forgiven for thinking the speaker, possibly a boss, might be imploring a member of staff to better themselves by reflecting on their current level of enterprise and to lift performance as a result of such introspection.
Or they might be really saying, and I’ll paraphrase here: “You’re no fucking good and I think it really would be best for all concerned if you fucked off yesterday.”
Well, I can report that the latter interpretation was the accurate one in this case. The speaker was the editor of The Courier-Mail Kev Kavanagh and the one being given the “ship out” rather than the “shape up” advice was the paper’s then industrial roundsman (they weren’t roundspersons back then) who was, unfortunately in this case, me.
I had been called into his office late one afternoon during one of Queensland’s power industry disputes in late 1979-early 1980 for, as it turned out, a total dressing down for my overnight reporting efforts.
The clip show here is not the article in question – it’s an earlier one from the November 29 1979 issue but I’ve included it mainly because it appeared in The Courier Mail’s Golden Jubilee commemorative publication, 50 Years of Great Pages, from 1933 to 1983. A front page, in fact.
A bylined piece by me on a “great” Courier-Mail page. Oops!
The serious one-on-one with Kavanagh came some time later after my story of an imminent breakthrough in the dispute had made the paper’s splash that morning.
Was I expecting praise to flow at that meeting? That Kavanagh, a broad grin on his face and a hand extended in friendship, would be announcing I’d be getting an immediate promotion to A grade, something that had always seemed to go with the position for as long as I could remember and one I had inquired about from time to time with no response.
Probably not, but neither was I expecting the way the discussion quickly panned out.
Kev Kavanagh informed me that the Leader of the State Opposition, Labor’s Ed Casey, had made a complaint that his media release on the dispute had not been used in my story.
I replied that, yes, I had considered Casey’s release but had decided it offered nothing new in terms of settling the dispute. I thought that was a reasonable stance given my story that morning was about a way forward being offered by one of the power union leaders; one in fact that resolved the dispute shortly after.
Kavanagh pressed on with his view that I should have used Casey’s release.
I said something like: “What, some of it?” Kavanagh replied: “All of it.”
Now this is where I could understand I might have pissed off Kavanagh ever so slightly because I replied: “I think we might have gone to different schools of journalism.”
There was a bit more to-and-froing before he uttered those words: “I think you should give serious consideration to what you’re doing here.”
Readers can trust my interpretation on this one. I was there. Kavanagh was hostile from the outset; his intent and attitude clear. And I knew why.
The journos at The Courier-Mail had, along with their colleagues in metropolitan dailies around the nation, just come out of a five-week strike over new technology.
As the Australian Journalists’ Association state junior vice-president, I had done my fair share of table-thumping in various meeting rooms with management at Queensland Newspapers during that strike.
My long-departed VP mate Leon Pearce and I had willingly adopted the “bad cop” roles in those talks. Then AJA president Quentin Dempster played the good cop, patting down his golden locks and saying statesmanlike things such as “that’s a matter for you” and, although none of us could have known it at the time, doing a very reasonable impersonation of Kevin Rudd.
I had already been given signs that I wasn’t much liked there any more if, indeed, I ever had been. No, I knew exactly what Kavanagh was saying to me that afternoon.
There I was, a known member of the Australian Labor Party, someone who thought they had been doing a very reasonable job on industrial rounds for some months, in serious trouble for not using a stale media release from the Labor Party!
That surely had to be a sackable offence yet here was a kind and benevolent Kev Kavanagh holding back from such drastic action, suggesting it would be best all round if I fell on my sword instead.
I’m sure he had given consideration to my future well-being and job prospects, in a one-paper town and with my first-born son barely a few months old.
Those suggestions as to my journalistic worth and where I should practice it were ramped up in the months ahead, both verbally and in writing. I was a shit journo who should fuck right off.
Decades later, maybe I should have seen Kavanagh’s comments in that late afternoon face-off as a call for help.
I had reached a stage where I was very proud that my industrial rounds stories were often used virtually unchanged. Well, apart from the subs fixing up my speling seeing I never ever done senior English.
Here was my editor basically admitting that if I was shit, so were his sub-editors, and as a logical extension of that, so perhaps was his newspaper?
Maybe Kev didn’t really think it was back then – especially under his excellent editorship and with his uncanny ability to spot shit reporters who were holding the paper back – but it certainly is now.