1950 - | Western Australia | Editor & Broadcaster
Paul Murray was one of Western Australia’s most prominent and influential journalists for more than 20 years. He edited The West Australian for 10 years from 1990, then presented agenda-setting current affairs radio programs on radio 6PR for another 11 years. No politician or community leader could ignore his opinions, which were fearlessly expressed and unashamedly Western Australian. He achieved strong circulation gains for his paper and expanded its coverage of Asia, where the local economy was increasingly focused.
Getting a start in newspapers has become a forlorn hope for many aspiring journalists in the 21st century. But it has never been easy.
Paul Murray applied for a cadetship at West Australian Newspapers in 1968 and was rejected. He applied again in 1969 and failed again. So he took a job in The West Australian’s reading room, hoping it would enhance his chances of a cadetship the following year. He missed the cut again. Bitterly disappointed and dejected, Murray was contemplating his future when he got a phone call to say one of the chosen few had dropped out and he was in.
Twenty years later, Murray was editor of the paper that initially didn’t want him, and when he resigned in February 2000 he was Australia’s longest-serving metropolitan daily editor.
Murray was born in the Perth suburb of Mount Lawley in 1950 and grew up in the semi-rural town of Guildford in the Swan Valley. His father, Keith, was a journalist at The West and his elder brother Kim was a Daily News reporter. At Guildford Grammar he was a prefect and house captain and excelled at swimming and football.
He initially studied geology at the University of WA and spent school holidays working underground in Kalgoorlie’s gold mines.
After his start in journalism in 1970, Murray rose rapidly through the ranks. He was a forensic reporter with a keen analytical mind and a strong sense of social justice.
He moved from the paper’s Fremantle office to the Kalgoorlie office in 1972 and started reporting politics at State Parliament the following year. He spent much of the second half of the decade in The West’s eastern States bureaus, first in Sydney and then in Melbourne.
On his return to Perth in 1980, he quickly became frustrated by The West’s stodgy and conservative approach and in 1981 he defected to Robert Holmes à Court’s fledgling Western Mail to become an investigative reporter. He had an undertaking from Holmes à Court that the Mail would go daily to challenge The West, but after two years with nothing happening Murray went and lived in France for a year.
He returned to The Western Mail in 1984. He won the State’s top journalism award, the
University of WA’s Lovekin Prize, in 1985, and the Daily News Centenary Prize in 1986. He also won the Beck Prize for political journalism in 1986.
In July 1987, after the Holmes à Court takeover of West Australian Newspapers, Murray returned to The West as chief-of staff and immediately began rejuvenating the newsroom. Good reporters were drawn to him; he inspired, mentored and encouraged young reporters and demanded high standards.
One of those Murray attracted was Steve Loxley, a talented reporter who had tired of The West’s staid approach and left to join The Australian Financial Review. Murray went after him. “He was persistent and insistent,” Loxley recalled. “I had no regrets about my return because under Paul’s leadership as chief of staff, The West newsroom was a dynamic place.
“Paul had energy, enthusiasm, conviction and commitment in spades. He always had a good nose for a news story and the courage to pursue it, qualities he encouraged in his reporters. Under Paul’s stewardship, The West became a paper that took on issues, brooked no political interference and always defended the rights of the ‘common man’ against bureaucracy, entrenched wealth and privilege.
“We felt we were on the side of the angels. It was a far cry from my earlier days at The West when the paper went out of its way not to offend any positions of power in WA. Paul was a larger-than-life character. He carried his reporters with him, imbuing in them his appetite and zest for the challenge presented by daily news reporting in a capital city.”
John McGlue joined The West a few months before Murray returned. McGlue, who migrated from Ireland, went on to become the paper’s State political reporter and business editor. He remembers Murray as pivotal to the transformation of The West in the late 1980s and through the 1990s.
“Reverence and pro-establishment niceties gave way to public interest and a drive to tell readers what was actually happening in their town and their State,” he recalled. “Murray brought an abundance of energy and news sensibility that set a rocket under the newspaper, inspiring young reporters to pursue major investigations and inculcating in them a fearless strength to repel outside pressure and put readers first by telling them what they should know.”
Murray’s impact on the paper saw him promoted to night editor in 1989 and was he was briefly deputy editor before becoming editor the following year. Every circulation record on the newspaper’s books happened during his tenure. In 1997 he achieved a long-standing goal and pushed the Saturday circulation past 400,000 for the first time. In 1998 he achieved the magical one million readers for the Saturday edition. He modernised the look of the newspaper and introduced new attractions from Inside Cover to the Today section to Super Soccer.
In the face of a hostile management and their friends in politics and business, Murray pursued the sort of fearless journalism and willingness to tread on powerful toes that had been the hallmarks of his career. The result was a vibrant newspaper whose reporting and opinions could not be ignored.
But by 2000, the constant carping and negativity of the management were starting to grind him down, so he accepted an offer from Radio 6PR to replace Howard Sattler as host of the station’s all-important morning current-affairs program. His vast knowledge of Western Australia, its politics and its people, coupled with his quick thinking and analytical skills, served him well in his new role.
He continued to rattle cages and mould public opinion and in his six years as host of this program was recognised as one of the leading current-affairs broadcasters in WA. He resigned from 6PR in March 2006 and returned to The West Australian as a columnist and specialist writer. But in 2009, 6PR asked him to return to the station where he remained until 2015 when he retired from radio.
He was still writing columns for The West Australian towards the end of the second decade of the century.
Bob Cronin is a former editor of The Sun News-Pictorial and formed editor-in-chief of West Australian newspapers.
A West vs. ABC cricket match in the 1970s. Courtesy of Paul Murray
From a PANPA Bulletin cover
"A West photographer caught me talking to Alan Bond shortly after I was appointed editor and sent me a ready-captioned pic." Courtesy of Paul Murray
John Artis, Paul Murray and Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter in the 6PR office, Perth. Courtesy Paul Murray
Paul Murray at 6PR, courtesy of The West Australian
Paul Murray column in The West Australian