Vale Vic Carroll, giant of journalism

Andrew Clark
Andrew ClarkSenior Writer
Tributes have poured in for Vic Carroll, a legendary Australian newspaper editor and a significant influence on the emergence of the modern Australian economy, who died early on Tuesday morning in Sydney. He was 94.

Mr Carroll was editor and editor-in-chief of The Australian Financial Review and The National Times from 1964-75, and editor-in-chief of The Sydney Morning Herald from 1970-84.

Born in the north Queensland coastal city of Mackay, he moved from stockbroking to work in newspapers from the 1950s until the late 1980s. He had been a gunner in the Australian Army in Papua New Guinea and Borneo in World War Two.

Chris Anderson, who succeeded Carroll as editor-in chief of The Sydney Morning Herald in 1984, and is a former chief executive of Optus, described him as “the greatest editor Australia has ever had”.

According to Greg Hywood, a former managing director of Fairfax Media (since taken over by Nine), Carroll was “the Godfather of modern Australian journalism”.

“The greatest editor Australia has ever had”. Vic Carroll was described as a great teacher, an original thinker and the person who led the Financial Review to explore the development of the national economy and Australia’s relations with the world. Supplied

Trevor Kennedy, a Carroll protégé who was the foundation editor of the (now defunct) National Times, was editor of The Bulletin magazine, and later managing director of Kerry Packer’s Australian Consolidated Press, described him as the “most innovative editor” in Australia since World War Two.

In a joint statement, Michael Stutchbury, editor-in-chief of the Financial Review, and Paul Bailey, the paper’s editor, said Carroll’s Financial Review was a “confident and substantial” newspaper “but also irreverent in an Australian larrikin sense”.

“Vic Carroll remains the foundation stone of The Australian Financial Review as Australia’s first national newspaper,” the two said.

He “recognised that the nation’s business publication had to cast its gaze beyond dusty and fusty financial scribbling to be about the development of the national economy and hence the nation itself and its relations with the world”.

“Gathering a rat pack of pioneering journalists such as Max Walsh, Peter Robinson, Max Suich and Trevor Sykes, the Financial Review built the case to force business to compete freely in the global economy, rather than be shielded behind an anti-import wall.

“Just as it changed Australia for the better, Carroll’s foundation has helped the Financial Review remain upright through the internet-era opening up of the media market.

“By remaining true to the sense of purpose handed down to the following generations of editors, the Financial Review continues to commercially prosper by focusing on the economic prosperity of the nation.”

According to Chris Anderson, Carroll “understood newspapers and he dragged Australia into the modern world. He used to say ‘follow the money and you’ll find out what is happening’. He had a mind like a steel trap.

“I loved him dearly.”

For Trevor Kennedy, Carroll was “a great teacher” and “a very original thinker. He even recruited people from the letters pages like John Edwards” who worked as a journalist on the Financial Review, has been a banking economist, adviser to former Labor Prime Minister and Treasurer Paul Keating, an author, and a Reserve Bank Board member.

Staunch support

Carroll “was also among the first to honestly recognise women as equal in every respect in the business”, Mr Kennedy said.

Max Suich, who was editor of The National Times and chief editorial executive of the John Fairfax and Sons Media group, which published the Financial Review and The Sydney Morning Herald, recalled Carroll’s staunch support for the late Evan Whitton’s hard-hitting analysis of Australia’s military involvement in the Vietnam War, and published around the time of North Vietnam’s victory in April 1975.

Publication of the highly critical series “led to suggestions from [Fairfax boss] Rupert Henderson and [company chairman] Sir Warwick Fairfax that Vic, Evan Whitton and the editor (me) be sacked”, Suich said

However, the company’s circulation department “produced a bullish estimate of near-record sales of the issue with the first part of the series. I never inquired whether the estimate proved to be correct. Nor did Vic”.

“He admonished with silence and rarely offered praise. When editor of The National Times I once complained that a story idea had failed. ‘It should have worked. It was a good idea,’ I said. ‘Good ideas work,’ he pointed out.

“When invited to be a member of the Australian Journalism Hall of Fame, he said: ‘I’m not much interested in fame.’ Carroll was “rightly” included, despite his lack of interest, Mr Suich said.

Mr Hywood, who is also a former editor-in-chief of the Financial Review and the Herald, said Carroll “fought for the editorial independence that the profession now takes for granted. Australians enjoy the benefits of his legacy every day”.