The woman who personifies The Age – and why you’ll miss her as much as I will

The woman who personifies The Age – and why you’ll miss her as much as I will

April 28, 2023

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A former editor once told me he considered The Age’s stable of reporters to be the publication’s “shop window”. Theirs are the voices our subscribers recognise. They develop their own followings. They are celebrities, of a kind, who bring people to our homepage and our newspapers with news and opinions that provoke discussion and debate.

Without them, we would have little to offer.

But even the most glittering diamond in the jewellery store window is the end product of a supply chain with manifold components. From exploration and extraction to distribution and merchandising, many hands are required to make that diamond sparkle.

In this note, I want to acknowledge someone who has polished more stones than just about anyone in the history of The Age newspaper: Margaret Easterbrook.

Margaret Easterbrook gets her first taste of The Age during work experience.

Margaret, or “Margie” as we all call her (though I feel somewhat guilty for never asking whether she approves of this abbreviation), has held just about every job of importance at this storied publication during her 34-year tenure, which finishes today.

When I joined The Age she was managing editor, attempting to keep us all out of trouble and ensure the newsroom’s wheels turned smoothly. Rewind to when she first arrived, and Margie was reporting on Melbourne’s ill-fated bid for the 1996 Olympics. Since then she has prospered as a reporter in The Age’s Canberra bureau, run our Insight section, and, more recently, wrangled our opinion coverage. Her five-or-so years as editor of The Saturday Age was legendary among staff and readers.

Margaret Easterbrook (front) with colleagues Cass Knowlton, Debbie Cuthbertson and Nerida Hodgkins.

As she confessed in a speech at her send-off party this week, Margie’s love for The Age and its readers bloomed immediately after a week of work experience.

“I was sobbing when my dad picked me up,” she told us. “He was a tad alarmed and asked if anything had happened, but then I blurted out ‘I want to work there’.”

Although Margie definitely had her time in the shop window, to labour the diamond analogy, she has spent the recent part of her career as a polisher. Someone who with great care and skill crafts words into journalism, extracts meaning from ramblings and curates and refines our work in such a way as to make it appealing and accessible.

There are many such people at The Age whose names you rarely see, but whose influence on our product is profound. Our editors, subeditors, multimedia producers, librarians, picture editors, artists and designers all contribute to the final product you see on the screen or page. They are invaluable. Every one improves the quality of the product that appears in our shop window, but few are as adept at their craft as Margie.

Margaret celebrates a haul of Quill awards for The Age.

I have a theory as to why that is.

I think it is because she exhibits the same mastery over people as she does over the journalism we produce. She has a reputation as a great nurturer of talent and mentor to many.

When I started at The Age several years ago, I was allocated a desk not far from Margie. She made me feel welcome and provided me with the guidance I sorely needed. Most of all, though, she tormented me with her banter and relentless wit. I thought we had a unique connection that only a work neighbour could forge, but since she announced her intention to move on to the next phase of her career, I discovered via the extensive tributes from others in the newsroom that she had formed similar bonds with almost every person who joined The Age in the past 34 years.

Margie has endured 12 editors, three owners and three headquarters of The Age. Change, she says, has been the only constant during that time. Changes in personnel, in journalism and in technology. She is buoyant about the future of The Age, citing its consistently high-quality stories and the depth of talent within the newsroom (much of which she has nurtured herself).

Through all that change Margie has maintained the good humour for which she is renowned and the positivity that draws people to her. Her colleague Duska Sulicich, paying tribute to her this week, described Margie as the personification of The Age, which prides itself on independence, excellence and integrity. I doubt anyone would disagree.

While her colleagues are sad that she has chosen to move on to new challenges, they are also pleased that others will now have the opportunity to know the benefit of her wisdom.

I hope that you, subscribers, won’t mind if I take the liberty of thanking her on your behalf for her inimitable contribution to this publication. Diamonds will continue to sparkle in our shop window for many years because of her decades of effort.

Thanks, Margie. Catch you later.

Patrick Elligett sends an exclusive newsletter to subscribers each week. Sign up to receive his Note from the Editor.

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