At the beginning of this week news broke that the doyen of Australian investigative journalists, Chris Masters, had a new gig at the Daily Telegraph newspaper. It’s a significant move in Australian journalism, so how did it happen and what will follow?

Masters, for those who have spent the last few decades under a rock, had the majority of his career at the ABC, most notably at Four Corners, where he broke the kind of stories that changed our country. His achievements are too numerous to list here, but there is a website for those who want to know more.

Masters had a cooling in his relationship with the ABC following its 2006 decision to can the publication of his biography of Alan Jones – which went on to be a best seller for Allen and Unwin. I have reported on the background to this imbroglio on Crikey before.

At a time when the ABC newsrooms are not known for breaking stories, what is the organisation’s former star investigative reporter going to do for the Tele?

This morning Masters told me he hoped to explore not only conventional investigative projects, but also  “anthropological” journalism – “stories that reveal not only what happened but how people behaved and what that says about them and us.”

He will also be assisting the paper with its investigative effort. In his mind this should be not so much a matter of “a few gun slinging stars” but rather an inculcation of investigative attitude throughout the paper. The details of how this will work at the Tele have yet to be nailed down.

He hopes to help counter an “unhealthy and destructive” trend in recent journalistic history in which reporters spend too much time “preoccupied with what to think, and not enough time on how to think.”

Masters’ gig with the Tele is not a full time staff appointment. Rather, he will be paid a retainer plus wordage. As for how the tabloid snaffled him, distressingly and tellingly, it seems there wasn’t much competition.

Masters says that after his retirement from the ABC he wanted to keep writing, while not having to go back to full time work. “I stumbled for a while trying to find the right home.” He did some work for The Australian, but got the impression that neither that newspaper nor the Fairfax broadsheets “needed me or wanted me”. Fairfax, apparently, didn’t even make the call, although since he signed with the Tele “a number of people from there have said they didn’t know I was on the market.”

The key factor in the Tele getting Masters was editor Gary Linnell, for whom Masters has considerable respect. He also admires the Tele. “An under-rated newspaper”. Linnell and Masters had a number of conversations before the deal was sealed. Perhaps things ere helped along by the fact that Clare Masters, Chris’s daughter, is deputy chief of staff at the Tele.

Masters’ first story for the Tele, on the Rugby League Grand Final, was published last Saturday.

His ongoing relationship with Sydney’s tabloid will be one to watch.

Declaration: Chris Masters is on the board of the recently established Foundation for Public Interest Journalism,  of which I am the Chair.

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