Farewell to a tenacious editor and mentor

Martin Beesley gives a speech upon leaving The Australian. Photo: Renee Nowytarger

Martin Beesley gives a speech upon leaving The Australian. Photo: Renee Nowytarger

It may sound like a glib observation, but those in any doubt of the tenacity of Australian journalist and editor Martin Beesley should check his birth date.

Although he was born in Ealing, outside of London, his birthday was all-Australian – April 25, Anzac Day. Many of the qualities the Diggers took with them to the Dardanelles in 1915 were evident in Martin; stoicism, courage and a quiet grace and good humour that often belied his resilience and resoluteness.

Martin rode the media roller coaster in a 45-year career, reaching the heights of the profession, but was pragmatic when he hit any momentary downward slide – as is the way in the industry – knowing there always was another pinnacle to conquer.

Six months after his retirement in December, Martin died suddenly at his home in Winston Hills, north-west of Sydney, last week, aged 66. A funeral service will be held at the Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens and Crematorium on Friday, in the Northern Chapel at 1.15pm.

Martin rose from an unpaid contributor to a small community paper outside of Melbourne to hold a number of the most senior positions in print and television journalism in Australia.

Martin Beesley from his time at The Australian. Photo supplied

Martin Beesley from his time at The Australian. Photo supplied

He was news editor of The Daily Mirror at the height of the Sydney afternoon newspaper war with Fairfax’s The Sun and went on to become editor of The Daily Telegraph and later managing editor of The Australian, a position he held in tandem with the role of editor of The Australian’s media section from 2003 until 2007. In television, he held two of free-to-air news’ hot seats – chief-of-staff of Mike Willesee’s A Current Affair on Nine and news director of Channel Ten.

Born in 1948, Martin came to Australia with his parents in 1952. The family settled in The Basin, 31km east of Melbourne on the approaches to the Dandenongs. His passion for journalism drew him to the local newspaper, The Knox and Mountain District Free Press, to which he contributed articles.

It was the editor of Free Press who suggested in 1968 he try for a cadetship that was available at The Canberra Times, a tip that provided the launching pad for his career.  A year later, Martin left Canberra to join the Sydney bureau of the short-lived Melbourne afternoon daily Newsday. When that venture failed, he was picked up by The Daily Mirror in 1970. He became part of a reporting team that included Mike Munro, before he launched his television career, and Col Allan, the boy from Dubbo in central NSW who went on to become editor-in-chief of The New York Post.

Renowned in the industry for his gentle, calm demeanour, Martin was not one to acquiesce if it meant his masthead was to miss out on a story, or an opportunity. He would declare his position or do what was needed to achieve the objective, regardless of who might disagree.

A memorable example occurred during the transition to colour printing at News Limited in Sydney when Martin was managing editor of The Australian. As the tentative steps were taken to publishing regular colour in Sydney mastheads in the 1990s, it was decided at a management meeting that colour would be launched with one page each day in The Daily Telegraph. Only once this was bedded down would The Australian be allowed to follow.

That decision lasted less than 24 hours. At the management meeting the next day, attendees were confronted with not only the first colour photo on page one of The Daily Telegraph – but the same image in vibrant, living colour on page one of The Australian, a spectacular image of a fire in Sydney’s CBD.Martin Beesley

While executives fiercely debated the use of colour by The Australian against the decision by management, Martin simply stated that the photo was available, the colour process was in place; why should his publication be disadvantaged by not running the image in colour as well? It was a simple, but courageous, position that was difficult for anyone to counter.    

When Martin was considering retirement in 2007, he was persuaded instead to move to the Cumberland-Courier community newspaper group owned by News at Parramatta – a short distance from his Winston Hills home – as senior editor.

It was a position he relished, as it enabled him to mentor young journalists while working with editors on front pages and major stories for the close to 30 newspaper editions NewsLocal publishes each week in NSW.

“He was a much-loved colleague and mentor for many editors and journalists who came through the ranks,” NewsLocal director of news Tony Vermeer said. “He was the person who everyone turned to when they had a problem. He always had the answer,” he said.

In his farewell message to staff when he announced his retirement, he said he was looking forward to enjoying life “on the outside”.

“It is with much sadness, but, I confess, mixed with more than some happiness, that I say goodbye to you all. As I said to Bob [Osburn] recently, when I came here, it was for a year, maybe two – and that was six and half years ago.

“The reason I’ve stayed so long is I’ve enjoyed so much every day working with you all producing great newspapers that I firmly believe are the future of this industry, products that are edited by people who know and understand their readers.

“Your appreciation of whatever I’ve been able to contribute has kept me enthused well beyond the time when I thought I wanted to pack it all in. I’ll miss you all terribly.”

The same will be said of Martin, by his many colleagues and those he had helped along the way.

Martin is survived by his wife, Julie and three sons, Lachlan, Jeffrey and Darren and grandchildren Zaric, Georgia, Evie, Jordy, Lexie and Zoe.

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