Greg Taylor, editor of The Age, 1976-1979
By John Tidey
There is no more appropriate tribute to the late Greg Taylor than to describe him as that rare creature, the complete newspaperman. Talented and widely admired, he devoted his working life to the Age. Taylor was the cadet journalist who became editor and ultimately managing director of David Syme and Company, publisher of the newspaper. He was 85.
Gregory John Taylor was a Tasmanian who was educated at Hobart High School and is said to have decided on a newspaper career when he was nine or ten years old. His father was a journalist, as was his future father in law. His two brothers spent their lives in the media industry and one of them, Philip, was also a journalist and senior executive at The Age.
In 1949 two cadet journalists who would later edit the newspaper joined The Age – Greg Taylor and Graham Perkin. After completing his cadetship and by arrangement with The Age Taylor spent several formative professional years overseas working in London and New York for Australian Associated Press. Many years later he would serve as chairman of AAP which was always one of his great media industry interests.
On his return to Australia major reporting assignments he undertook for The Age included the Tokyo Olympics and the French nuclear tests in the South Pacific. In Melbourne he filled a range of editorial executive positions including chief of staff and news editor and after Graham Perkin became editor in 1966 served as his indispensable night editor and trusted deputy. The Perkin years marked what has been called "a second golden age” of the newspaper and during this time, and beyond, it once again attracted an international reputation. Greg Taylor was a vital part of the team led in those days by managing director Ranald Macdonald; people like Bill Bland, John Paton, Creighton Burns and, of course, Graham Perkin.
Former Age editor Les Carlyon said of his colleague and friend: "Greg Taylor did just about every job in journalism with distinction but will be best remembered for his extraordinary skills as a long-time night editor of the paper. He was an expert finisher of copy, had a gimlet eye for reporters’ errors and loathed wordy first paragraphs. He could completely remake a paper between editions without once appearing flustered".
Between 1976-1979 Taylor was editor of The Age and subsequently editor in chief of the Syme group. Unusually around a newspaper office he was a steady, seemingly unflappable presence. As Carlyon put it: "He was all about poise and composure, a man of uncommon decency, good humour and modesty. Few editors have worn their talents so lightly or been so universally admired". Ranald Macdonald described him as a "terrific newspaperman, a most effective executive and one of those people who performed calmly and quietly whatever the pressure from within or outside".
Much of Greg Taylor’s working life was undertaken at night and around 7pm he could usually be found eating his regular evening meal – a packet of potato crisps and an apple. His main meal of the day was at lunch time before he left home for the office. Like his colleague Graham Perkin, indeed most of the news executives of that era, he was a heavy smoker. Even after he became chief executive he would stay at the office late into the night every Friday, helping to sort out the huge volumes of classified ads that would appear in the Saturday paper.
In 1981 Taylor was named group operations manager with overall responsibility for all production areas including introduction of a complex new copy processing system. "Introducing the ATEX system was the worst experience of my life," he once told a colleague. In fact, installation of the system on his watch was a triumph.
When Ranald Macdonald stepped down after 19 years as managing director of David Syme and Company in 1983 it was Greg Taylor who replaced him as chief executive, first as general manager and from 1984-1993 as managing director. Macdonald’s
departure marked the end of the Syme –Fairfax partnership and henceforth the Syme organisation was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Sydney based Fairfax group. Max Suich, a senior Fairfax executive at that time said that Taylor quickly forged a relationship with the Sydney board and chief executive (Greg Gardiner) that gave him an unprecedented and broad autonomy to run Syme as he wanted. But this, Suich added, was within a budget "that Age editor Creighton Burns persistently complained was inadequate when compared with that of the Sydney Morning Herald".
The Fairfax organisation went into receivership in 1991 after an ill- fated privatisation attempt by “young” Warwick Fairfax. There were four bidders for the company and the Melbourne based Australian Independent Newspapers was widely thought to be the front runner. Greg Taylor had agreed to be a director and chief executive of A.I.N.
But when the political dust settled it was interests associated with the Canadian Conrad Black which gained control of Fairfax.
In his long retirement years Taylor took a close interest in the industry he had devoted his life to and was appalled and frustrated by many aspects of its decline. If he had any hobbies I was not aware of them although he was occasionally seen at the football when St Kilda was playing. To escape the worst of the Melbourne winter he took to holidaying briefly in Far North Queensland once or twice a year. His battle with cancer over the last couple of years of his life was conducted with his trademark calm and stoicism.
Greg Taylor was a family man, devoted to his wife, Anne, whom he married in 1955. She survives him together with a son and a daughter.
John Tidey was a colleague of Greg Taylor at the Age.