Remember your roots

It involves a 150-year-old local newspaper, with traditions steeped in a farming community, and a local boy who made the big time.

Robert Thomson’s career began in a newspaper office on the quiet main street of Echuca.

Today he has domain over a glass-front office within the News Corporation skyscraper on Avenue of Americas in the heart of New York.

Now he is editor-in-chief of America’s top-selling newspaper the Wall Street Journal, which is recognised globally for its innovation and digital publishing strategies.

This is the big time.

I visited him recently. It was one of those courtesy calls where you wonder what you’re going to say to someone recently profiled in New Yorker magazine as “Rupert’s best friend”.

There was no reason for fear, as Robert is remarkably friendly and personable.

As the meeting ended, I plonked a bottle of Aussie Shiraz – shamefully bought at the airport – on the table, and handed over a copy of the Association yearbook.

Immediately, he dived into it with the thirst of a man denied water. He went straight to one entry – the Riverine Herald.

Beaming, he animatedly pointed to it, saying: “My first newspaper. My local paper. Do you ever go there?”

As it happens, I was due there in less than two weeks to present an Advertising Award.

“Hold on,” Robert says. “Don’t move.”

He disappears for five minutes and returns with a bag of Wall Street Journal loot – hats, cups and other marketing gizmos.

“Please give this to them. And make sure the young journalists get the caps.”

As promised, I made the drive from Sydney to Echuca, the bag of Wall Street Journal goodies sitting on the back seat.

The welcome was wonderfully warm. Local newspapers are a trove of camaraderie. Work stopped and everyone from all departments turned out for the presentation of the Ad Award.

There was more to come, of course. And it was Robert Thomson who stole the show.

Only a couple of colleagues knew of Robert’s history and his rise to be one of the most important journalists in the world.

Everyone was delighted at his generosity and the fact that he remembered his first newspaper so fondly.

The journalists of the Riverine Herald now proudly wear their Wall Street Journal caps around the office.

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