I'm definitely of the Ita generation, and I well remember what a phenomenon she was. And despite the schoolboy leeriness of some of the lyrics of the Chisel song, they capture something essential about the moment. Honestly, how could you not believe what Ita told you to?
Will she make a good ABC Chair? Who knows? I think she is certainly a better pick than any of the men who were on the official shortlist. There's a lot of guff about how dare the government spend all that money on a shortlist and then ignore it, but a shortlist like that is only ever a guide. It's not holy writ, and in this case, I think they ended up with a better choice.
Honestly, the thought of Greg Hywood or Kim Williams being given the keys to the national broadcaster is a horrible thought.
Nonetheless, I think there are some things we can legitimately raise as concerns about her appointment.
Buttrose (it's hard not to be on first-name terms with her) is obviously an experienced media person, though I genuinely think her experience is of the wrong kind. A huge part of the problem with media organisations, as they have transitioned into the digital age, is that legacy editors, the old guard, people's whose whole experience is based in the pre-digital period, simply can't get their heads around the new environment.
Traditional media is a craft of hard-learned skills, built on presumptions about not just what the job of the journalist is, but about the relationship with audience, and having watched such media people closely over the last twenty years, I am still astounded at how reluctant they are to give up their old beliefs and certainties. They are a large part of the reason media has struggled in this new era. Not the only reason, but a key one.
Ita (see?) needs to be the exception here, if she is to be effective. She needs to demonstrate she understands the new dispensation, not simply try and reproduce the glory days.
In particular, this means understanding social media, the platforms where many (if not most) people, now get their news. It means understanding that the relationship with the audience has changed dramatically and that transparency and engagement are the key skills. As analyst Ben Thompson says, 'the fundamental nature of the Internet is abundance, and the critical competency is discovery' and that means you can't just 'build it and they will come' (though the ABC has some unique advantages in this regard). You need to actively engage with audiences, and that's something most of those of Ita's generation are reluctant to admit.
Having said that, Buttrose may well be the exception.
She was doing social media before the idea of it -- let alone the platforms -- were invented. Her editorials and television spots were object lessons in engagement. She spoke about her kids, about her management practices, about other personal matters--she may well have published photos of her cats--in a way that is reminiscent of the best social media users today. If she can bring that vibe to the ABC, that will be a good thing.
The challenges facing the ABC are immense, not just in terms of funding, but in terms of defining their role. The world of media has changed. The ABC is the national broadcaster, but that no longer means what it used to. They can no longer see themselves as the great general broadcaster, speaking to the whole country. Those days are gone. The new world requires a different sort of engagement.
Engagement in this environment means providing niches, discrete subjects that attract given audiences. It doesn't mean trying to be everything to everyone, as it did in a past era. By and large, the days of the general broadcaster are over, and organisations like the ABC need to understand this in their bones. To speak to everyone means to speak in many voices, to the niches that matter to people. (And the ABC could do worse than follow the lead of the NYTimes in this regard.)
Ita brings some other baggage to the job too, including what seems to be a fairly right-of-centre politics, and she will need to do some reassuring--and actually follow through on it--in that regard.
And while I don't think her age is a factor per se, I don't think it is unreasonable to maybe wish for a younger candidate, someone with the skills and sensibility of the new era, and with a reputation to make rather than enhance. But maybe this says more about the talent pool available, the tendency of those who make such decisions to draw on the usual suspects, rather than saying anything about Ita herself.
Overall, she probably isn't a bad pick for the job of Chair (if this was Director's job, we might be having a different conversation). Let's see how she goes.
"Get a dose of integrity"