Business

Former Judith Neilson Institute executive unloads



“Philanthropy has played a major role in fuelling a golden age of journalism that has driven real change in areas such as climate change, criminal justice reform, big tech and immigration in the US and other parts of the world,” Clarke said. “At a first of its kind organisation like this in Australia it was crucial that the leadership have extensive global journalism and philanthropy expertise. I was to be deputy to an executive director with more experience than I had. Indeed, the organisation’s founding document called for the executive team to have that experience.”

Clarke claims when she was hired she was told she would be reporting to an executive with more experience in journalism and philanthropy than her. But when she arrived in Australia, she was told Ryan, a former adviser to Prime Minister Paul Keating and the Lowy family, would be executive director and Bubalo, the former deputy director of the Lowy Institute, would be his second in command.

“I would not have agreed to the role under those circumstances,” Clarke said. “I made my concerns known to two members of the board and the leadership of the family office before I left.”

Clarke now runs the US-based philanthropic newsroom New Narratives, which brings $1 million a year in donor funding to support investigative journalism in low-income countries. She was not the only person to leave the Institute after less than two years. Former ABC journalist and editor Lisa Main, director of grants, was in her role for just over a year when she resigned in April.

Sources familiar with the Institute’s plans said a board meeting will take place later this week, where it is expected appoint new directors. They said one of Neilson’s daughters, Beau, is expected to be put forward for a seat.

Jonathan Teperson – former chief financial officer for the Lowy family and Westfield Group director – left his position as chairman of the Neilson family office and as board director at the JNI in April.

Teperson is one of several board members at the Institute to have ties with the Lowy family. Ryan and Spigelman both remain board directors at the Lowy Institute, with the former spending more than 20 years working for Westfield.

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Leaked emails show that Ryan, who is currently fighting the terms of his ongoing employment, recently urged members of an international advisory council to sign and endorse a letter to Neilson expressing serious concerns about the organisation’s future. In the email, he said recent events at the organisation had “spiralled out of control”.

The Institute still has three directors: secretary Simon Freeman (who is the chief executive officer of Neilson’s family office), private banker Edward Jewell-Tait and Ryan.

Freeman told staff on Monday that changes at the organisation were “desirable”. He said the Institute would shift focus to funding the development of journalism in youth, regional areas and migrant populations, and on investigative journalism, photojournalism and grassroots media.

Sources familiar with the conversations between Neilson and the independent directors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Neilson was unhappy with certain decisions being made with her money since launch in 2018.

Others claimed one point of tension was Neilson’s rejection of a proposal to form an international award, which was described as an Australian version of the Nobel Peace Prize. Ryan’s ongoing position at the JNI was another source of tensions, sources claimed. People within the organisation – and those advising it – remain divided on whether to support him.

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