Stuart Simson grabbed the opportunity to get in early on the Internet, and has risen to be the chair of one of the largest digital advertising agencies in Australia.
Stuart came to Canberra in February 1973 as a cadet reporter with the Sun News-Pictorial newspaper where he worked with Laurie Oakes in the press gallery at Parliament House for the first parliamentary session of the Whitlam Government.
“It was at about that time I commenced a Bachelor of Economics degree part-time at ANU,” he says.
“I was working in the press gallery, and the Economics Faculty had a number of very strong identities such as Professors Peter Swan, Peter Drysdale and Ross Garnaut and [now Emeritus] Professor Stuart Harris.
“The real value I got out of doing economics at ANU was it supported my journalism – was able to make use of what I was learning at the University in what I was writing for the newspapers.
“I have fond memories of ANU and I’ve stayed in touch with some of the academics I worked with there at the time.”
During 12 years in Canberra, Simson also worked for the Australian Financial Review and was political correspondent for the National Times and later Business Review Weekly.
“I came to Melbourne in 1983 as editor of BRW and in 1993 I was appointed managing director of the Age and the Sunday Age,” he says.
“In 1994 I first came into contact in a serious way with the Internet when we put the IT job classifieds on the Internet. The Age was the first paper in Fairfax to do that.
“Even at that very early time I recognised the potential power of the Internet with classifieds. Since I left the Age, I have pretty much lived and breathed the Internet.”
Now he is chairman of one of the largest independent digital advertising agencies in Australia, Switch Digital and Optimo Designs, with 40 staff in Melbourne and Sydney.
“We’re up to our ears in trying to keep up with everything digital,” he says.
“We help companies and businesses manage Internet disruption and what that’s really saying is we’re helping companies manage their digital journey.
“The whole Internet advertising game is becoming increasingly automated so we’re at the forefront of that game also in Australia.”
Simson is concerned about the impact of the younger generation not reading mainstream news media.
“They snack on bits and pieces across social media and other digital channels – generations of Australians are just not going to be interested in journalism as we’ve known it,” he says.
“That increasingly is going to be the simple challenge for mainstream media. And that’s quite apart from the massive challenge of losing their classified advertising and large swathes of other advertising.
“Whether there’s a viable business model there for the traditional media is quite questionable.
“As you know, we’ve already seen literally hundreds and hundreds of journalists in Australia lose their jobs and there’ll be more to come unfortunately.”
The result of the decline in traditional media is an increase in the trivialising of public debate, he says.
“It makes it harder and harder for matters to be dealt with as they used to be,” he says.
“It’s just incredibly difficult getting across issues with some complexity to the broader population.
“The whole thing is being snacked-up and trivialised and it is very difficult for serious politicians to operate in this environment, and for academics and public servants.”