PERKIN, (EDWIN) GRAHAM (1929–75)
Graham Perkin became editor of the Melbourne Age in 1966, aged 36, and held the job for nine years. By then, due largely to his leadership—and favourable circumstances—what had been an almost moribund broadsheet was listed among the world’s great newspapers. The annual Graham Perkin Award for Australian Journalist of the Year was established in his memory.
Perkin initially enrolled part-time in law at the University of Melbourne, but left in 1949 to become a cadet journalist at the Age, quickly earning a reputation as an outstanding reporter.
In 1955 he was awarded a Kemsley journalism scholarship to Fleet Street. Back at the Age, he wrote features, joined the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery and won a Walkley Award for covering a 1959 ‘hole in the heart’ operation. He became deputy news editor in 1959, followed by a stint lecturing in journalism at the University of Melbourne (1961–63).
Back at the Age, Perkin became news editor in 1963, assistant editor in 1964 and editor two years later. The challenge suited him. The Age—whose glory days under David Syme were a faded memory—was in the doldrums and in desperate need of modernisation.
Two events in 1964 contributed to Perkin’s success. One was the appointment of Ranald Macdonald, Syme’s 26-year-old great-grandson, as managing director. The other was Rupert Murdoch’s decision to launch the Australian, posing a new threat to the Age. Macdonald took two wise decisions: to make Perkin editor, and to back him against board resistance.
Working extraordinarily hard, Perkin transformed the paper. He attracted and motivated talent from around the nation—reporters, columnists, feature and leader writers, photographers, cartoonists and illustrators. He launched a lively graphic redesign, fostered investigative journalism that exposed political scandals (the Loans Affair, 1975) and social injustice (the Minus Children Appeal), boosted space for features, comment and letters to the editor, and acknowledged mistakes under the heading ‘We Were Wrong’.
Change swept through every area: political, finance and foreign news coverage, sport, the arts and women’s pages. Circulation rose from 183,000 when Perkin took over to 222,000 when he died of a heart attack, aged just 45, widely acknowledged as one of Australia’s most effective and inspirational editors.
From 1966, Perkin was a director of Australian Associated Press (AAP). He became chairman from 1970–72, and from 1971–74 was a director of Reuters Ltd, London.
REFs: B. Hills, Breaking News (2010); personal knowledge.