Melbourne’s heavily indebted Star News Group has been accused of dudding local residents by pressuring staff to write hatchet job stories calculated to pressure targets to book advertising with their newspapers. Staff have spoken out about the ethics of senior managers according to explosive new claims from within its ranks.
A source who asked for their identity to be protected for fear of consequences from management has told VEXNEWS “there is constant pressure on us” to produce commercial outcomes for Paul Thomas, the company’s CEO. “It’s not journalism in any way that it was traditionally taught,” the source explained.
The informant told VEXNEWS that journalists who work at the company are having their reputations sullied by the antics of senior managers at the company.
“It’s no secret that Mr Thomas is furious with the Dandenong council because they won’t advertise with Star and haven’t for over a year,” the source explained. There are also suggestions that Thomas has been seen inebriated at local community gatherings in the south-east, drowning his sorrows before staggering for a cab for a long fare back to his inner-city Melbourne residence.
“So they send in Melissa Meehan, who is basically a junior member of staff in to do a vicious hatchet job on the mayor to put the pressure on the council to buy ad space before June 30.”
“It makes life impossible for Melissa who is covering Dandenong council and wants to be able to do her job by talking with everyone and maintaining civil relationships with all the council officers and councillors. How the f**k can that happen with headlines like ‘Mayor’s a ‘dud?’ I mean what is Garry Howe thinking? If anyone’s the dud here, it’s Howe and Thomas, the captains of the SS Titanic they are. What credibility will Howe have left? What will he leave an up and coming young journo like Melissa with? No wonder she wants out. This is not something anyone wants on their CV. She’s not alone in wondering why she’s staying,” he said.
FINANCIAL PRESSURES COULD CAUSE IMPLOSION AT STAR
Whistleblowers tell VEXNEWS that Star News Group is struggling to service its growing debt mountain, run up during an acquisitions and expansion binge under Paul Thomas’s reign.
“Melissa is a young talent who won’t be at Star News Group for long, she’s told her friends that ‘it’s just wrong’ what goes on. There’s a lot of anger beneath her smile I reckon. There’s a lot like her there. They hand out awards instead of paying people the right amount, it really is a scandal.”
The story on Dandenong’s mayor that appeared with Meehan’s by-line was allegedly substantially rewritten by others our source was unwilling to name. It quoted from two political rivals – one of whom is believed to suffer from serious mental illness – asserting the mayor was a ‘dud’ who didn’t diligently attend to her council duties. Meehan insisted on speaking with the mayor who council officers told VEXNEWS fully co-operated with her, even providing her access to her diary which showed a very busy schedule indeed.
By the time the story appeared in the paper, Meehan reportedly told friends she was pleased to be “on the front” of the newspaper but disgusted and ashamed at the one-sided and biased way it was presented.
“A lot of people come out of Uni all idealistic and excited about journalism. It’s corrupt joints like Star News that beat it out of them very quickly. It wouldn’t surprise me if Mel walked. There’s a big turnover of people. The pressure is really on this year, constant rumours of bad debts, long meetings with banks, you name it…” the whistle-blower revealed.
Claims that Star News Group is effectively extorting money from local businesses and councils by threatening to write axe-attack stories on them unless they “co-operate” with the paper are growing in currency in Melbourne’s south-east. It is a very disturbing development and one that its rivals are increasingly concerned about too.
Previous VEXNEWS Investigations Unit stories have revealed the company owes its banks $8 million, which will be increasingly difficult to service with plummeting ad sales this year.