1948 | Victoria | journalist
McCrann has been a leader of the new wave of finance writers who put business news on the front pages by explaining its relevance to politics and government and by demystifying the impact of economics on the general public. In the 1980s he was amongst those who broke new ground with plain language finance commentary on commercial television news. His forceful opinions came with economic predictions that were rarely wrong. He has worked with The Sun News Pictorial, The National Times and The Age, and his nationally syndicated News Corp column is the most widely read in Australia.
Today phone tapping by journalists has become one of the more controversial aspects of the media industry. But back in 1989 Terry McCrann had a different experience – it was his family phone that was being tapped. McCrann had written a number of revealing commentaries that uncovered activities being conducted by the Bond Corporation.
McCrann was shocked to open his door early one morning to a Federal Police Officer there to tell him his phone was being tapped. The police discovered crystal clear recordings from the McCrann phone tap hidden in the drawer of a private investigator working for Bond Corporation. The phones of a number of business people were also tapped, including Robert Holmes a Court. Bond Corporation denied it was done on its authority.
Bond Corporation, after buying control of Bell Resources, used the Bell Resources money within Bond group even though it didn’t have full ownership of Bell Resources. It was this event that would send Alan Bond to jail.
The phone tapping technology in 1989 was not as advanced as today and the device that had been inserted into McCrann’s phone connection on the pole in the street could only transmit about 200 hundred metres so a car had been parked close to McCrann’s home 24 hours a day to obtain the material. It was a clear signal that Terry McCrann was touching the right buttons and those around Bond Corp wanted to find out who was giving him the information.
McCrann’s career in Australian journalism has been characterised by always being in the right place at the right time. Back in the late 1960s, and after completing an economics degree at Monash University, he had planned to study law and become a lawyer. But McCrann also had a side job at The Sun News-Pictorial – “taking the quotes” at the Stock Exchange of Melbourne at a time when the quote for each stock was actually called out and you watched and heard the traders trade each stock. It was fantastic training and gave those reporters (including myself ) a unique opportunity to understand markets.
McCrann became fascinated by the action and in 1970 he took an offer from The Sun’s editor Harry Gordon and then finance editor Des Keagan to drop law and become a finance journalist. At the time the market was booming but there was soon to be an almighty crash. The Sun finance staff of the day included Trevor Sykes, John Byrne and a very young Christopher Skase. There were a succession of crashes and major corporate events so McCrann was cutting his teeth in financial journalism with some of the best in that era. In 1975 McCrann was made finance editor of The Sun. He was then convinced by Max, the then editor of the The National Times to leave The Sun and join The National Times. It didn’t work out and he left and took some time off. When he decided to return to journalism, both The Australian and The Age actively pursued him because both papers clearly recognised McCrann’s talent. He went to The Age just as his business editor James McCausland was appointed night editor and McCrann suddenly became business editor.
At that time it was becoming apparent that the big future in financial journalism would be in writing daily commentaries. And so McCrann thrust himself into that area. He had no sooner begun writing a daily commentary for The Age when the Ansett takeover battle emerged. This was a takeover battle the likes of which we had rarely seen. It went on for months as the combatants Reg Ansett, Robert Holmes a Court, Peter Looker, Rupert Murdoch and Peter Abeles all played significant roles. They all talked to McCrann and his coverage set him apart from the daily newspaper reporting of the event. In many ways the Ansett takeover really confirmed the role of daily columnists in financial journalism.
But Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of the Herald and Weekly Times was no less intense. McCrann first met Rupert Murdoch in 1982 when he interviewed him after his first unsuccessful attempt. When Murdoch secured control on the second attempt McCrann interviewed him again but this time Murdoch had a reverse agenda – he was also interviewing McCrann seeking to get him to join The Herald and new editor Eric Beecher.
The Age fought hard to keep McCrann. Murdoch won the day and McCrann became business editor of The Herald. He had no sooner taken the role than the enormous 1987 crash took place. As an afternoon newspaper The Herald was not only able to be first with the crash details each day but McCrann was also able to lead the country in interpreting what was happing in New York. After The Herald and The Sun merged, McCrann became business editor of the combined operation but his great love was being a financial columnist. The merger enabled his columns to be syndicated into the Telegraph/Mirror in Sydney plus the Brisbane Courier Mail and The Adelaide Advertiser.
McCrann suddenly became the most widely read business columnist in the country. And he developed a skill of conveying business and investment journalism not just to the top end of town but to middle income Australia. McCrann took his ability to analyse and interpret corporate issues into politics, exposing misleading statements by both sides of politics. He had watched Paul Keating and Bob Hawke float the dollar and lower tariffs but they did not end the centralised wage fixing system and they often made forecasts or statements that, in McCrann’s view, simply did not stand up to examination.
He was particularly scathing of the Rudd-Gillard years, which included the carbon tax, the first mining tax and the revised mining tax. McCrann says that he has always found himself in the right place at the right time in terms of his journalism. He says has been very privileged to work under some of our great editors including Harry Gordon, Peter Blunden, Michael Davie, Eric Beecher and Creighton Burns. McCrann never aimed to be the editor of the papers for which he worked. What he aimed to do was simply to write interesting and provocative commentary about business events, economics and political decisions that were linked to the business community.
Indeed McCrann has been writing a column five or six days a week, pretty much continuously since 1978, a record no one has matched and there are few who have done it better in Australia. And for 20 years McCrann delivered a commentary on Channel Nine’s Business Sunday.
Terry McCrann was one of a series of journalists who catapulted business journalism onto the front pages of our newspapers and television. In the 1960s business journalism was simply a series of news items and small commentaries that were attached to stock market quotes. Yet it is business where there is real excitement and drama each day and McCrann has been in the thick of it.
And he has been the most decorated business columnist in the country. His prizes include the Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year Award in 1987. The Melbourne Press Club’s Gold Quill in 1985 and 2000 and a Walkley Award for business journalism.
Robert Gottliebsen is an Australian Media Hall of Famer, the 1977 Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year and a commentator at Business Spectator.
Courtesy News Corp/Newspix.
Terry McCrann column in The Herald Sun.