1953 - | NSW | Reporter & editor
Col Allan’s first job in journalism was with the Daily Liberal in Dubbo, NSW and in 1974 he joined the Sydney Daily Mirror as a front-line news reporter. He served as a foreign correspondent for News Corp in New York before taking up the editorship of the Sydney Daily Telegraph where his take-no-prisoners campaigning style quickly established his paper as a centre of influence in Sydney. In 2001 he became editor in chief of the New York Post just before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. His forthright, punchy and often-witty tabloid approach led Rupert Murdoch to describe him as ‘one of the most outstanding editors of his generation.’
The 9/11 terrorist assault on the United States realigned the geopolitical landscape much as the destruction of the Berlin Wall transformed the framework of global confrontation 12 years earlier. Targeting New York was central to the attack on America because of the immense symbolism attached to the financial and media capital.
At the centre of that media hub, at the controls of the most vibrant newspaper in Manhattan, sat Col Allan, editor-in-chief of the New York Post, whose decisions about the coverage of the strikes upon the soaring twin towers of the World Trade Centre would over the next days and weeks shape much of the world’s perception of the attacks, the attackers, their victims and the political and military response.
It was a long way from Dubbo, NSW, where Col was born in 1953, and an even further leap from a reporter’s desk at the Dubbo Daily Liberal to the top slot at the Post, America’s oldest continuously published newspaper, founded by Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the US Treasury, federalist and duelist, in 1801.
Allan, who was appointed editor of the Post in April 2001, says the events of September 11 “framed everything that followed, culturally and politically” in his career: “For four days, I sat on the back bench writing headlines and posters. The staff recognised what I was doing. It wasn’t really that long since I had arrived but they could see me sifting through the overwhelming deluge of images and material, drawing pages, cropping pictures. I may have been Lachlan Murdoch’s choice for the job but during that period, I think Rupert (Murdoch) warmed to me. He gave me time, he gave me tutorials and I understood the subtle lessons.”
If the first step in that long journey to the leadership of the Post can be pinpointed, it was probably a meeting with Sydney Daily Mirror reporter John Hartigan at the Cobar, NSW, courthouse in the early 1970s where an Indian doctor was being tried for medical malpractice.
It is Allan’s recollection that he filed copy to the Mirror under Hartigan’s name when Hartigan was unable to attend court one morning. Hartigan, later to become editor-in-chief of The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph before finishing his illustrious career as CEO of News Limited, became a lifelong friend and mentor to Allan, bringing him to The Daily Mirror in 1974.
On the midnight-to-dawn round, the quintessential on-the-street beat for the early deadline afternoon newspapers, Allan was in his element competing with crews from the rival Sydney Sun. It was a world of early opening pubs, rounds car drivers and photographers as hungry for scoops as the reporters they accompanied and Allan “loved the caper.”
I first met Col Allan when he arrived as the new man in News Limited’s New York bureau in 1978. He was young and loud but eager to learn.
With the fall of the Shah of Iran in early 1979, Allan sought a visa to visit the new Islamic republic and after being coached on important sections of the Koran which he had to recite before Islamist bureaucrats in the unofficial mission to the US, he was given a visa to visit Tehran where he spent several months “forlornly standing outside the US embassy where the hostages were held.”
On his return to New York, he negotiated a transfer to News Limited’s London bureau at the end of 1980. It was then that he was mistakenly honoured by NATO’s hierarchy who thought that “Col” Allan was Colonel Allan and promoted the youngest of the foreign correspondents covering the annual border exercises junket in Germany to the officers’ table, to the fabled dismay of veteran junketeer Peter Smark of The Age.
After several years in the Bouverie Street bureau, he returned to work with Hartigan in 1983 on the new Brisbane Sun, which was launched to compete with the Courier Mail.
The turning point, Allan says, came two years later when he was asked to join the backbench of The Australian, where he worked under the great editor-in-chief Les Hollings, with me, Alan Howe (who later as editor of the Sunday Herald-Sun never suffered a negative circulation audit), Peter Blunden (who was to succeed me as both editor-in-chief of the Advertiser and The Sunday Mail), Chris Mitchell (who reshaped The Australian as editor-in-chief) and Col Kerr, who became a force at The South China Morning Post.
“Les was a great teacher and the talent there was amazing, not only in production skills but intellectually. I loved being part of the conferences and being challenged in my ideas by people like (former Labor Senator and Whitlam minister) John Wheeldon.”
After graduating from Hollings’ editorial school, Allan went to work under another of News’ great editors, Roy “Rocky” Miller, then editor of The Daily Mirror.
In 1992, Allan was made editor of the then Daily Telegraph-Mirror, and promptly dropped the Mirror name from the masthead. “The Telegraph and the Mirror were different papers, they stood for different things, the combined paper had a split personality and the future was not in afternoon newspapers,” he said.
Then, foreshadowing the direction he was to take the New York Post and seal his place in global media leadership, Allan gave the Telegraph wit and attitude, lifting its profile in the Australian marketplace.
“The best thing that happened to me then was a bollocking Rupert gave me about four years into my editorship,” he said. “He said the paper was flat. He told me to be more aggressive and more thoughtful. It was an intellectual proposition, and I got it. Without him dishing it out I’m not sure my editorship would have been successful or that I would ever had the chance to get the New York job.”
Allan is probably the only Australian newspaper editor ever to have spent an hour with a US president at the White House, but he was invited there with Lachlan Murdoch to meet George W.Bush. He also played golf with a later president, Donald Trump, and with former president Bill Clinton.
But of all the greats he has met, his loyalty to Rupert Murdoch, with whom he worked closely in New York, remains strongest: “I was ambitious, he gave me a career.”
Piers Akerman began at The West Australian in 1968 and has worked at The Age, Newsday, The Daily Mirror, The Australian, The Mirror and The Times. He was editor-in-chief of The Advertiser and The Sunday Mail, editor-in-chief of the Herald & Weekly Times, Vice President of Fox News and has been a columnist for The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph.
Courtesy of News Corp/Newspix.
Courtesy of Fairfax.
'Col Allan was the finest editor of his generation', The Australian Business Review, Mark Day, April 18 2016.
'Col Allan and me – When the boy from Dubbo first hit the Big Apple', Simon Canning, Mumbrella, 17 April 2016