1958- | VIC | Editor
Rupert Murdoch regarded Blunden as the best mid-market editor of his generation. During 10 years as editor, Blunden made the Herald Sun the most influential media outlet in Melbourne. Blunden developed an acute sense of what mattered to Melbourne. He was never caught without a story and found ways to hit a big story bigger than the broadsheets. Working with senior management, he forged solid editorial and commercial relationships with Melbourne's signature passions, including football, the MCG, tennis, major events, community safety and children. He demanded and received loyalty from his staff and networks.
Peter Blunden’s bare knuckle approach has not always endeared him to his colleagues or his competitors.
“I’ve never minded polarising people,” Blunden says. “You can’t do a job like running the Herald Sun and be everyone’s best friend – and that’s not what it’s about”.
“I reckon I’ve got a lot more friends than enemies, but I don’t mind being loathed by my competitors. That’s a badge of honour to me”.
A quintessential, sleeves-up editor of the classic News Ltd mould, Blunden got the taste for newspapers and journalists from his policeman father, whose retirement job involved monitoring police radios and working his contacts to gather information for the police reporters at the Daily Mirror in Sydney..
Blunden did his cadetship on the stablemate Sunday Telegraph, where he covered everything from television to state politics and industrial relations. In 1980 he switched to The Australian and worked there for the next 10 years, including terms as Adelaide correspondent, Canberra bureau reporter, chief of staff and assistant editor. In 1988 he became founding editor of The Australian’s new colour magazine.
“It was hair raising stuff. We started with a phone on the wall and a very small budget, and the first edition was 172 pages,” he recalls. “It’s just a delight to see the magazine still alive and well all these years later”.
Two years later, after editing the first 100 editions of the magazine, Blunden was asked to become editor of the Adelaide Advertiser and left Sydney for the fourth time in his career.
“I had a baptism of fire. In the first couple of months I was there the State Bank collapsed, the Gulf War broke out and the Adelaide Crows were formed. I can tell you which one sold the most papers … the Crows. That was a huge story”.
Six years later, after The Advertiser’s transition to become the first Australian daily to introduce colour and the demise of the paper’s competitor, the Adelaide News, he was appointed editor of the biggest selling daily in the country, the Herald Sun. “I’d always had an affinity with Melbourne and was familiar with what happened here. I came to Grand Finals and Spring Carnivals. I felt very much at home when I got here,” he says.
Blunden’s passion for sport, including racing, all forms of football, tennis and the GP, helped make him feel at home. “Sport’s a huge part of what I love, and I don’t think there’s a city pound for pound in the world that embraces sport like Melbourne does”.
He says the Herald Sun touches every part of the community, and is proud the paper has more than 90 formal partnerships with community leaders, events and organisations in every element of the city’s life - including sport.
He believes the paper’s power and influence bring with it a responsibility to make the city a better place, and says the heritage and history of events like the Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal , the Herald Sun Tour and the Herald Sun Aria are all part of the paper’s DNA.
“Being in touch with the Melbourne community, being part of it and being pro-Victoria, is something we’ve always embraced and it’s what our readers want. But we don’t go soft. We’ve done a lot of stories that have got up the noses of people who might have been perceived as people we supported. That’s all part of journalism”.
Blunden was editor of the Herald Sun from 1996-2001, then editor-in-chief for another five years. During that period he was awarded a Centenary Medal for outstanding service to the media industry and the Herald Sun was twice named Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers Association (PANPA) Newspaper Of The Year. In 2007 he succeeded the retiring Julian Clarke as managing director of the Herald and Weekly Times.
Clarke says Blunden is a strategic and creative thinker who loves the business and brings together all the qualities of a world-class editor.
“Peter is an innate reader of public opinion, has abundant street sense, a wonderful nose for news and a competitive streak second to none. He is a widely known, well liked and respected leader with a ton of experience – and always has something in the bottom drawer on a slow news day,” Clarke says.
Les Carlyon, who edited papers at both ends of town in Melbourne’s newspaper glory days, says it is “hard to think of a mid-market tabloid editor anywhere in the world who was as good as Peter”.
“Like all good editors, Peter was first of all a creature of strong instincts and never frightened to let them guide his hand. His fingerprints were all over the Herald Sun every day, from page one to the inside sport pages. He had an uncanny sense of audience. He knew who his readers were and what they were talking about,” Carlyon says.
“And he had a great sense of place. He knew how Melbourne worked, how it was different from the other capital cities. He brought us the news without humbug, without agendas, and by doing the reporting job so well he ended up setting agendas”.
Blunden says it was a huge cultural change when he went from being responsible for everything the company’s papers wrote to everything they spent. He was managing director for five years before returning to his first love in 2012, when he was appointed Victorian Managing Director (Editorial) for News Corp Australia. That post carries responsibility for all editorial content in the Herald Sun, Sunday Herald Sun, Leader suburban papers, the Geelong Advertiser, the Weekly Times and MX, as well as all website content.
He is adamant that just as many people are consuming the company’s journalism as ever before, albeit in different ways, and the digital revolution presents opportunities to tell stories better than ever. Figures showing four million unique browsers a month consuming the brand online, while nearly 400,000 Victorians a day still bought the print version of the Herald Sun, proved there was a bright future for those who came up with the right business model.
Blunden, who believes being an editor in the digital age is far harder than in his day because of the additional distractions and challenges, is happy to plead guilty to being fiercely competitive.
“I don’t like getting beaten- or the idea of pretending it didn’t happen. It’s far better to come back and steal the story on day two, smash the opposition and claim ownership,” he says, conceding he’s been known to throw pens during news conferences while displaying “above normal levels of passion”.
“When I finish my career, one of the things I’ll be most proud of is the young people who’ve worked under me and watched my silly behaviour and ruthless competitive streak and it’s rubbed off,” he says.
“Yeah, I’m a fairly good hater. I’m a good lover and a good hater. My friends and enemies are quite clear about which camp they’re in.
“Loyalty is a big deal. When you give your heart and soul to an organisation and really throw yourself into it, you expect other people around you to do the same”.
Geoff Wilkinson retired from daily journalism in 2012 after 43 years covering mainly crime and justice issues. He worked for the Herald and Weekly Times for a total of 26 years and in 2010 was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Melbourne Press Club.
Courtesy News Corp/Newspix.
Peter Blunden with the Herald Sun following the September 11 2001 attacks. Courtesy News Corp.
Peter Blunden with cartoonist Mark Knight, at a celebration of forty years in journalism. Courtesy of News Corp.
'Celebrating 40 years at the forefront of news', Herald Sun, November 30, 2016.