sydney morning herald

sydney morning herald

The birth of Fairfax Community Newspapers as told by Ron Stewart

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Ron Stewart was a young family man and working as a clerk at The Sydney Morning Herald when he was given a sobering insight into his career prospects. ‘‘I was told that if I wanted to get any further there, I would have to wait until I was greying at the temples, could wear a hat, carry a furled umbrella and have a Herald folded and tucked up under my arm,’’ he later recalled. Mr Stewart, who died on July 31, 2014, aged 82, was not that patient. Besides, he was ahead of the times in seeing the potential of a new force in the Sydney media — suburban newspapers. The move he made led him to play a major role in the development of the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader. Mr Stewart took a job managing The District News, which served the shire, which was his home until his death. When that paper was absorbed into the newly founded Leader in 1960, Mr Stewart became assistant manager and, six weeks later, was appointed manager. He went on to become general manager of Suburban Publications and then Fairfax Community Newspapers, with responsibility for dozens of titles. Suburban Publications was losing money at the time he took charge, and he was later told by an auditor it was to have been closed if the situation couldn’t be reversed in 12 months. Fortunately, the group started making a profit, and the axe never fell. On the 25th anniversary of the Leader in 1985, the founding editor Tom Mead said it was not only journalists who had made the paper what it had become. ‘‘Without advertising and proper management from people like Ron Stewart, it would not have survived,’’ he said. On his retirement in 1989, Mr Stewart said the Leader ‘‘revolutionised’’ suburban newspapers in Sydney, and set a benchmark for others. He believed there would always be a place for suburban newspapers, ‘‘because you want to know why that road’s a mess, what happened in that accident, what the local politics are and what other community members are doing’’. -Marray Trembath (The St George & Sutherland Leader, August 14, 2014)