‘It’s sometime in the mid to late 1960s as we enter the foyer of 44 Flinders St, home to the HWT, and take the lift to the third floor.’
So began the virtual tour of the Herald and Weekly Times in its heyday delivered by journalist Jan McGuinness at a Press Club lunch celebrating the late Herald and the careers and "lifelong bonds and friendships" formed there.
As Press Club president Michael Rowland pointed out, the event also celebrated ‘"the days when working for a newspaper was vaguely fun – the days before consultants, clickbait and cutbacks".
McGuinness’ tour took in the "Dickensian surroundings" and "cast of contrasting and colourful characters" at The Herald, which was "a blokey heaven fuelled by cigarette smoke, alcohol and testosterone" and populated by screaming subs and hardened drunks.
Women might have been paid the same as men at the paper, but the concept of equal opportunity had not yet made an appearance, and for a new recruit from an all-female education environment, the cadetship was a baptism of fire.
Nevertheless McGuinness found strong mentorship and support at The Herald and credits the paper with developing the skills she now has.
She also put in her time at the top bar of the Phoenix, opposite the HWT on Flinders St, and recalled on one occasion going home without her car because she had forgotten she owned one.
Former Age managing director Ranald Macdonald, who also spoke at the lunch, said the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s were "the great days" of journalism, when newspapers had ‘extraordinary’ sales figures and operated in an environment of great competition but also respect.
The Herald, he said, had a circulation of over half a million, and the figure for the Sun, "one of the great tabloids" which "reflected Melbourne thinking", hit around 640,000, while distribution of The Age nearly reached 250,000.
Despite the tone of nostalgia, both McGuinness and Macdonald were adamant on the future of journalism.
"People always want information and thrive on stories," said McGuinness, who now teaches journalism at Monash University.
"It’s people, it’s journalists, who make papers," Macdonald said, referencing the 1965 Fred Schepisi documentary about The Age which attendees had watched earlier.
"Without people, without the stories, without original work, you can’t sell papers, can you?"
Among the small lunch crowd was Alan Morrison, freshly returned from Thailand, where he spent 30 months fighting criminal defamation charges over the publication of a story on his Phuketwan news website.
Macdonald acknowledged Morison, who has been acquitted of the charges, as someone who had "stood up for all we believe in in journalism".
Read the text of Jan McGuinness’ ‘guided tour’ and talk