‘Our reputation is trashed’: anonymous staffer criticises SMH management over Rebel Wilson coverage | Rebel Wilson

Anger about the Sydney Morning Herald’s reporting of Rebel Wilson’s new relationship has boiled over into the newsroom, with an anonymous staffer sending an email to colleagues claiming the paper’s reputation was being “trashed”.

“Here we are again – our newsroom has become the story,” the email sent on Monday afternoon stated. It referenced a February controversy when the editor, Bevan Shields, wrongly insisted a train network shutdown ordered by the state government was a strike.

“With the ‘strike’ fiasco, we were a national laughing stock – but now we’ve attracted international attention,” the email, signed “staff reporter”, said. “One doesn’t have to search far to find the common denominator in those editorial decisions.”

The anonymous email claimed “our reputation is trashed,” and the writer stated, “management silence us on social media and treat our audience with contempt … what’s the point?”

The email was sent after the SMH, owned by Nine, removed a column about the Australian actor’s new relationship, and columnist Andrew Hornery apologized – admitting he made mistakes in his approach to the reporting.

Hornery had complained in Saturday’s Private Sydney column about being “gazumped” by Wilson, revealing on Friday that Ramona Agruma was her new partner.

Before Hornery’s apology on Monday, Shields had written a note defending the piece and saying the paper did not out Wilson but “simply asked questions and as standard practice included a deadline for a response”.

Multiple sources sent Monday’s anonymous email to Guardian Australia. Nine Entertainment declined to comment.

“When I started at the Herald, I felt proud to work for a masthead with such a wonderful reputation,” the staff reporter wrote.

“That reputation is slowly eroded daily as the paper makes seemingly inexplicable editorial decisions. Hardworking staff has once again been tarred with the same brush as the editor, and we have limited ability to speak up about it.

“Many of us would be familiar with colleagues being instructed to delete social media posts. If we spoke about this, we would almost certainly be disciplined or sacked.”

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Rebel Wilson

Guardian Australia has confirmed the company’s social media policy is enforced, and staff is regularly asked to delete social media posts that breach the policy.

The anonymous reporter stressed the email wasn’t about Hornery, who had “acknowledged his error”.

They complained management cried poor and refused to raise pay in line with inflation, while “extremely ill-advised” comments about writer Clementine Ford “cost this masthead $39,000 plus costs”.

Later on Monday, Shields responded to the email by telling staff his door was always open to anyone who had concerns.

“Since I started as editor in January, I have regularly stressed that I am always available to talk to anyone in the newsroom about anything,” Shields wrote.

“Many of you who have come to me with professional or personal issues know that I am a decent and fair person committed to the Herald and everyone who works here. We are a great masthead and in a great position. I have seen the anonymous note sent this afternoon.”

Shields went further in his email to staff than in his note to readers. He apologized for mistakes that had been made and said he had asked for Hornery’s column to be taken down.

He told staff if Wilson had not responded to Hornery’s email about her new relationship, “it would have been impossible to publish”.

“This is a key point,” Shields said. “I am acutely aware of the dark stain on the Herald’s history via the publication of the names, addresses, and occupations of dozens of people who marched in the 1978 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.”

He said including a deadline in Hornery’s email to Wilson was an error “as it appeared to be an ultimatum”.

“Andrew also acknowledges the tone of Saturday’s piece was inappropriate, and I asked for it to be removed from online today. I appreciate Andrew being upfront about this.”

One SMH reporter told Guardian Australia on Monday night, “the sentiments in the anonymous email ring true,” and “Bevan keeps making errors”.

But another Nine journalists said, “it’s a tough gig,” and “we have to make quick judgments, and the wrong call was made – give the guy a chance”. They insisted Shields had been “very approachable”.

Bella E. McMahon
I am a freelance writer who started blogging in college. I am fascinated by human nature, politics, culture, technology, and pop culture. In addition to my writing, I enjoy exploring new places, trying out new things, and engaging in conversations with new people. Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, playing music, making crafts, writing, traveling, and spending time with my family.