Williams' exit shocks media world, ignites speculation

Williams' exit shocks media world, ignites speculation

Speculation has filled the media world with most shocked by the news Kim Williams is quitting News Corp today and being replaced by Murdoch family friend Julian Clarke.

Whilst rumours had been circulating about how safe Williams’ job was after a restructuring of the newspaper business could not halt more advertising losses, many were still surprised by the sudden nature of the departure, and the choice of replacement.

The scuttlebutt intensified after Rupert Murdoch’s mysterious “Kim Williams” tweet in June, and will be fuelled by a line in a story on The Australian today that “more changes are expected to follow”, with more senior figures potentially in the firing line.

Clarke, who started in newspapers as a teenager in 1960 and retired as managing director of the Herald and Weekly Times Group in 2007, is seen by many as a surprising choice to take the helm of the recently de-merged entity.

As CEO he will be responsible for not just newspapers like The Australian, but 50% of pay-TV company Foxtel and a slew of digital assets, including the REA Group.

GroupM CEO John Steedman admitted he was “shocked” to see Williams depart, adding: “Julian is a very different operator to Kim. Obviously he knows the newspaper industry like the back of his hand and I’m sure he will bring a different perspective on things in the role.

 “I think he’s a trusted lieutenant of Rupert’s for some time and he wants to put his people who know his business into these roles.” 

The fact Murdoch, as well as his son Lachlan were at Clarke’s leaving party when he quit HWT in 2007, with his leaving speech given by Rupert’s sister Janet Calvert-Jones, speaks of the close ties he has to the family.

In his statement to the Australian Securities Exchange this morning Murdoch said he was “so pleased” Clarke was taking over, adding: “He is an experienced executive with a unique understanding of our company's culture, and the immense energy and clarity of vision necessary to drive our properties forward at this challenging time for all media in all countries.

 Mr. Clarke said: “It’s a great honour to take on this role in such engaging times. The combination of our assets and talented people makes me confident that we are well placed to embrace the future and further build this exciting company.”

PHD CEO Mark Coad described Clarke as a “genuine, honest and decent bloke” having known him from his time at the HWT Group, but admitted he was also surprised at the abruptness of the change.

Whilst it is unclear what Clarke has been doing since he stepped down from HWT, there will be more than a few raised eyebrows at the appointment of someone associated by many as a traditional newspaper man.

The return of New York Post editor-in-chief Col Allen to add “extra editorial support” and News Corps’ drive to install a Liberal government have also been mooted as reasons why Williams has left, with others pointing to the cuts made over the last year and continued reports of running battles with senior editors and staff in the company.

In the last 18-months a number of high-profile managers, including sales director Tony Kendall and chief commercial officer of News Australia Sales Tony Prentice, have left the company abruptly.

The move also prompts speculation about News Corps’ intention to extend its Australian investments, with DMG Radio, owned by Lachlan Murdoch, and Network Ten, which he sits on the board of, repeatedly cited as potential targets.

However, News did deny earlier this year it had any intentions of buying Ten.

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