Guthrie’s test: will staff stomach her shake-up?
The proof of Michelle Guthrie’s new ABC pudding will be in the eating. Her bold new recipe, designed to mix up old ingredients in search of new flavours for new audiences, is — as Sir Humphrey might have put it — interesting.
But the real test will be whether ABC staff can digest the changes. And if they do, whether the changes actually lead to better, faster, more accurate and more relevant outcomes for audiences.
We will have to wait to see whether or not the changes work. That can only be measured by, first, staff acceptance and enthusiasm and, later, discernible improvements in output. Only then will we be able to measure Guthrie’s legacy.
The central concept behind the changes is to do away with the ABC’s myriad silos — separate organisational groups for Radio National, local radio, regional radio, local television, drama, news and current affairs and so on. In their place will be three creative divisions — news, analysis and investigations; entertainment and specialist; and regional and local.
At times, the language used is opaque. Guthrie says the result of her changes will be “extended reach and relevance, a better experience for our audience and an ABC that, in a fragmented landscape, provides the critical space for debate, dialogue and ideas”. What audiences can expect is unclear.
Over the decades, the way that newsrooms work has changed dramatically. The digital revolution has been sweeping and at times cruel and there is no question all media companies need to adjust to accommodate changing circumstances.
There is nothing particularly outlandish or nonsensical in Guthrie’s plans but their success will hinge on the manner in which they are introduced. Dictatorial or distant bosses will stand less chance than those prepared to be hands-on, lead by example, mentor their people and exhibit a modicum of compassion and understanding.
The Guthrie plan is internal and purely operational. It is not designed to address the wider questions facing the ABC — its place in the media mix as a taxpayer-funded monolith with no revenue pressures at a time when the pips are squeaking for commercial media; its readiness to spend taxpayer money chasing internet users; and its “competitive neutrality”, soon to be the subject of a One Nation-inspired government inquiry.