Fairfax journalists across the Ditch are running around like proverbially Chicken Little’s proclaiming the sky is falling in, because mining heiress Gina Rinehart, the world’s richest woman has bought almost 19 percent of their rickety-rackety company and is demanding not only the Deputy-Chairman’s position but also three seats on the board.
But if you read those in the know (e.g. those who have worked or are working in Fairfax’s newsrooms) Fairfax Australia’s problems began well before Big Bad Gina, the shoot-‘em-up-miner, lumbered into view.
And it’s a salutary lesson in the pious pursuit of Serious Journalism.
Miranda Devine, writing in The Daily Telegraph yesterday (I know, I know, you haven’t got a link; I’m such a god-damned luddite, go find it) inventories how “The Sydney Morning Herald’s” journalists became disenfranchised from their newspapers readership.
As a columnist at the SMH for ten years, Devine says she was brought in to “reflect the values of its small conservative readership.”
She says there was a group of journalists in the newsroom called “the collective” who were not household names. “They rarely had bylines because they did very little of what you might call journalism. They were too busy policing what the real journalists did.”
She says their tactics included bombarding her computer screen with poison messages at deadline or getting friends to lodge complaints about her work.
Former Editor-in-Chief Alan Revell believed that “they saw themselves as ‘the keepers of the flame’.”
Looks like that flame in the newsroom is about to immolate its inhabitants.
This week the publisher and editor in chief of the SMH along with its first female editor (and the editor of the Age) resigned. All said they weren’t resigning because of the drastic reorganisation of Fairfax but, basically, because it was time to go.
It sounds like a few in the newsroom of the SMH would do well to follow their lead.
The lesson is that newspapers exist in a commercial environment, they must adapt or die, and that adaptation includes taking a more popular approach to the news they produce. “Popular” meaning stories that their readership can relate to and want to read – not sermons from the Mount or lessons in someone else’s ideology.
As an aside, the NZ Herald, for all its sins is taking that more populist approach and reaping the benefits in increased circulation and readership. Curiously, around 51% of Herald sales are now newsstand, not subscription. If you’re wondering why the glaring “goody boxes”, whizz bang headlines, and saturation front page Scott Guy murder trial coverage – it’s because the Herald now knows its billboard and front page have to sell the paper to passersby if it is to survive.
Alan Rusbridger, the E-in-C of the Guardian thinks Fairfax’s draconian moves, announced last week, could be a sign the publisher has pushed the panic button.
God knows, Rusbridger has issues of his own.
As technology imperils every media business “The Guardian” hemorrhages more money than most. And, last week, philosopher and author Alain de Botton, argued “The Guardian” would be better to replace Rusbridger with “The Sun’s” editor Dominic Mohan.
“This is not a case of bad quality selling and good quality not,” de Botton argued. “It is about “The Guardian” resting on the laurels of its seriousness and using this as an excuse not to be commercial. “The Guardian” is simply dull and their dullness is a sign they haven’t done their job well. It is lazy and “The Sun” is not.”
“What “The Guardian” needs is the focus of “The Sun”,” he said.
In making those comments, de Botton has neatly summarized the issues facing media outlets here.
“Morning Report” and the late TVNZ7 please take note….