Michelle Guthrie: ‘I wanted to be Jana Wendt!’

When she was growing up as a young woman in Sydney, Michelle Guthrie wanted to follow in the footsteps of Jana Wendt.

Speaking this week to One Plus One, the ABC managing director recalls her interest in journalism was piqued by watching Wendt on television.

“I loved Jana Wendt. I remember watching her, mesmerised at how different she looked on television. How composed she was, how brilliant she was in far-flung places. I thought ‘That’s it. I want to be a 60 Minutes journalist! I want to be Jana Wendt!'” she said.

Guthrie would go on to work experience at a tabloid newspaper before studying Arts Law at Sydney University.

“There’s no way when I was growing up I ever thought I would be running the ABC, for goodness sake. But it all seems to have come full circle.”

She also confessed to once having an “LA Law addiction.”

“Everyone wore nice clothes and ate donuts for breakfast. There wasn’t much law involved.”

Growing up in a household with 3 generations, working for News Ltd in the mid 80s, she became CEO at Singapore-based Star TV.

Despite her role with Google, Guthrie is absent on Twitter, but has a LinkedIn account.

“Snapchat I do but I have to do it very quietly because my daughters are horrified.”

Host Jane Hutcheon turned her attention to the public spotlight that comes with the ABC role, including the appearances before Senate Estimates. Guthrie is not a fan of such attention.

“In board rooms you don’t normally have cameras there capturing every hair flick or other expressions on my face. So it is much, much more public. Obviously the ABC should be accountable for is expenditure and what it does. Senate estimates (are) a very important way in which we can be held accountable,” she explained.

“I would much rather the cameras weren’t there! I understand there is a lot of curiosity about me, but I’m not sure I feel entirely comfortable with being as public as I have to be.”

Asked about facing public criticism, she said, “I do find when it becomes personal, particularly around being described as a Murdoch Hatchet Woman, …..I never felt my role at Star TV was remotely about being a hatchet woman…..it was about building an incredible business across Asia. The idea that I’ve joined the ABC ….and wanting to disembowel it is beyond ridiculous, frankly.

“So when it’s personal it does hit me.”

The ABC has also come under fire by commercial rivals including for advertising online, including through Search results. But Guthrie was adamant.

“My view is it’s a crime to make great programmes and then not tell anybody. The attention and impact we had around War on Waste was very much that we told people (it) was a terrific programme and it was on,” she said.

Hutcheon concluded by asking about how she would judge her own performance in the top job?

“All I can do is try as hard as I can. Other people will judge whether it was good enough or whether I could have done better. With every role that I go into, I do go in whole-heartedly… we have limited time … and really create a sense of urgency and momentum, because we always under-estimate the speed of change. “

6 Comments:

  1. Tex, I think the recent Senate Estimates Committee served only to highlight the number of incompetent Senators rather than show up any short-comings on the ABC’s part.

    I’m not saying there aren’t any short-comings… just that my take-away from the hearing was that if I was in the ABC’s position, I’d be pretty incredulous that I had to put up with the ridiculous, facile, self-serving questions of Hanson, Abetz, Roberts etc.

    • Good point. Senators generally ask stuff that further their agendas. I once saw them grill ABC on how many staff went to Cannes when the reality was they were going there to market ABC titles to buyers / trade, and piggybacked other meetings in London in the same trip. Senators made it sound like it was a holiday on the French Riviera.

  2. The cameras in Senate Estimates weren’t there to satisfy public curiosity about her. But they did capture a bumbling & arrogant performance from someone who seemed ill-prepared for – and ill at ease with – actually having their decisions questioned.

    And that’s precisely why Senate Estimates Committees exist.

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