Interview - Ash Long

Interview: Ash Long, Director, Editor & Proprietor: The Melbourne Observer, Ash Long Media and Media Flash - 22nd April 2003

What's your background?

The Ash Long story starts in 1969 as a 12-year-old selling newspapers door-to-door in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. This was with the Sunday Observer, then later with the Nation Review. Learned every aspect of newspaper production: distribution, production, editorial, advertising sales, strategy, management and ownership.

What are your prime aims and objectives?

Liked the industry so much that I bought my own company. Have been broke twice, so my major corporate aim these days is to keep making a healthy profit! My chief business objects are to practise the truth, be fair, build goodwill and better friendships.

How long have you been writing and broadcasting?

Started newspaper distribution in 1969. Was elevated to earning 4.5 cents per published line for suburban newspapers in 1974. Joined newspaper management as a 21-year-old in 1978. Owned my own papers from 1983. Produced TV programs from 1997. Commenced online publishing in 1999.

How many interview requests do you receive?

Greg, the online publishing of Media Flash every week has a huge visibility, especially amongst media tertiary students. This brings about a large number of interview requests for assignments, input for a thesis, or signposts about a career in media. This led to the inclusion of the Australian Media Job Directory in Media Flash, where about 2000 media career opportunities are listed annually.

Who do you write for, and how did the gigs come about?

I own the Melbourne Observer, which is a weekly lifestyle newspaper on sale at newsagents throughout Victoria. The paper was published by others from 1969 to 1989, and I resurrected the title in September 2002. Like you, I broadcast on Sydney's community TV station, Channel 31, a weekly lifestyle TV program - 'The Sydney Report'. Plus there's Media Flash, and regular radio spots. I sought out each of the opportunities.

What news outlet do you feel most loyal to?

My deep passion is for the craft of print journalism. But the business demands of the 21st Century requires that even the smallest media company be also super-proficient in radio, TV and online.

What new opportunities have recently opened up for you?

The Internet has changed the way we operate. We market ourselves on the Net - with many thousands visiting our websites weekly. We use e-mail and e-commerce to do business with clients around the globe. PDF/Adobe Acrobat has made us able to publish newspapers anywhere around the globe cost-effectively. That excites me enormously.

What's the biggest story you ever broke?

As predominantly a local publisher, I'm into little stories - not so much the big ones! Hundreds of them - every week. The ones where you are likely to find you own name in them. The big headline stuff can be someone else's department.

What give you the edge?

Persistence. Plus I'll work longer and harder than most others. Perhaps next I'll even learn how to work smarter!

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Family interests are big on my agenda. My wife, Fleur, and I love theatre. Our daughter, Kristi, is soon to be married. Our son, James, is a soldier in Townsville. So there's plenty to do. Photography is relaxing. Traveling is fun. So I'm told.

What do you think of "Blogging", and why?

Doesn't concern me much. Lots of people with points-of-view. That's healthy ... but are they just talking to thin air? If so, it's at least good therapy.

What news sources and journalists do you respect the most and why?

Print gives me the best opportunity to help form my own opinions. Admire John B. Fairfax and his Rural Press operations for good, clean reporting. There's an independent Sydney publisher John Engisch, whose family have been fearlessly reporting the truth since 1920: they are brilliant. I greatly admire Derryn Hinch for his radio craft. And never thought I say it, but Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation is doing some really good things in Australian media generally. I love radio for its immediacy. TV is powerful but superficial. I use lots of online sources.

Do you revel in the publicity the business has given you?

Greg, I once used to revel in the spotlight. Publicity is fine if it's good for the business, otherwise what's the use? The publicity game is just that: a game.

Who are your biggest advocates and detractors?

Those in the media industry form both groups. People who I've worked with form the advocates' group. We've done good work together - and usually had a fair amount of fun in the process. The detractors are usually the armchair critics who complain about lots of things. It comes with the territory.

How has online news been both a good thing and blight on war coverage?

The trend to immediate news coverage on the Net and cable TV has seen an increasing use of US Ministry of Defense - directed information. But we have to realise the propaganda war is as much a part of the strategy as the bombs and bullets.

What’s the most dangerous situation you have been it?

Certainly not in war-zones ... but certainly with violent people. For 10 years, when I owned a chain of local, country newspapers, I covered Courts on a weekly basis. Everything from murderers, violent assault artists and thugs. And a fair share of them tried to intimidate me not to publish their details. We did.

What topics do you prefer to cover and why?

The Melbourne Observer has a healthy diet of hard news, court reports, local happenings, gossip, showbiz, lifestyle, information, sport and fun. It's not a bad mix of ingredients for a good newspaper.

Have you ever considered getting out of the business, on a matter of principle, if you became aware of something that wasn’t just?

For more than 20 years I've been a sole operator for that very reason! There is much-too-much dishonesty in the media industry, as well as board room shenanigans, that takes the time of executives and players. We should be out there practising our craft with energy, honesty and accuracy.

How have you given back to the industry - traditional and online news media?

Hopefully, a good dose of energy, honesty and accuracy. Plus some fun ... as well as some healthy guidance and encouragement for young people adopting it as their craft.

What inspired you to write a book?

The truth. How could I be a media person, exposing the foibles and failures of others, without exposing my own closet's skeletons? So I decided on a warts-and-all book that detailed the stumbles as well as the victories.

What are your future goals?

To keep up the energy levels, to share the excitement with others, to help a few media careers along their way.

What other information would you like our audience to become aware of?

Greg, thanks for the opportunity of sharing a bit of my life with you. You are doing what I'm talking about. You are in print, on TV, on radio, and you have your own website. You are working with others ... sharing and learning with them. And doing a bit of good on the way through, where possible. That's what media is all about. You seem to have discovered the formula. Good fortune to you and all those who share the same rich path.