In the wake of Fairfax’s death knell announcement yesterday
Catherine Deveney posted an article she wrote while a columnist for The Age in
2008. She wrote about the company’s short-sightedness for slashing hundreds of jobs and putting profits ahead of quality.
Since I have been
writing for The Age I have been astonished and heartwarmed by the level of
pride and passion that people have who work for this paper. And the loyalty
of the readers. Readers who are disappointed in the quality or content or feel
let down by editorial direction are vocal, noisy and as wounded as a jilted
I was quite shocked by my own reaction
to the possible demise of The Age:
broadsheet or tabloid, online or printed, paywall or not – I really
didn’t care. Why? Because like the jilted lover, since Fairfax started savaging staff numbers a few years ago, when Deveney first wrote the piece, my affair
with The Age has been dying a slow death.
The Age has been home to some great
journalists, cartoonists and columnists, and as Deveney says many have done so
with pride and passion. But perhaps in recent years there’s been a bit of
smugness as well. The paper has been loosing its edge. I’d include the sacking
of Deveney in their strategy to play it safe. She’s loud, offensive and brash.
This is how she got the job in the first place, and articles that got spiked
like this one were no doubt part of the reason she lost it.
Instead of a once a week dose of the
Dev, there’s a daily lashing of anti-Gillard vitriol from Michelle Grattan. I
loved Grattan when she was the darling of the ABC, but in her new home I’m not
sure if her opinions have morphed or she’s become a mouthpiece for her new employer.
Whatever, her political column has become rather tedious in it’s
Then there’s another ABC gem turned
Fairfax columnist, Annabel Crabb. I love her tweets, her work on The Drum is
insightful but the columns in the Sunday Age are frippery, downplaying her
I’ve never had the time to read a daily
paper. To be honest, I hyperventilate at the trees killed, just to clutter my
house unread. So that left the weekend papers, still panic-attack worthy for
the reams of unopened paper, but a joy to chew over slowly with brunch. For
almost two years this old habit has become a rarity. Time is not the issue, quality is.
So for the headlines and the odd article
I, like many others, migrated to The Age online. I can’t compare the content to
the print edition but the subediting is in a word – woeful. Some days on
twitter reporting grammatical, or factual, errors in Fairfax are almost a meme.
And those jilted Age lovers are mean when they’ve been done wrong.
My lack of emotion at considering Melbourne life without The Age as we know it may have a lot to do with not being born in this city. I didn’t grow up with the paper, it wasn’t a matter of making my allegiance to supposedly quality journalism, over it’s opponent The Hun (you’ve got to admit, if that was the only competition it set the bar pretty low). Like choosing a football team, Melbournians take sides for life. Even if they've backed a dud.
I feel great sorrow for the printers who will be loosing their livelihood, the sub editors and graphic designers who’ve already been showen the door and the journalists nervously waiting to find out if they’ll have a job. But like in any relationship that goes sour, Fairfax you took me for granted and I found love elsewhere. My news reading has become increasingly non-monogamous. Depending on my mood it ranges from The Conversation, Crikey and the ABC, to Al Jazeera and The Guardian. If I watch the news it’s SBS, when I listen more often than not it’s the BBC World Service. And then there are blogs. You never know, if our local paper becomes a shadow of its former self or lost in the Siberia of pay-per-view it may reinvigorate the political blogging scene. This excellent piece on the HSU in Wixxyleaks last month being a good example of kind of investigative journalism we weren't reading in our dailies.
News delivery has changed. Fairfax has lagged behind in this revolution. They now have to earn their place in the altered media landscape. Unfortunately if they think they can still play on loyalty and quality journalism, they may find they’ve left it a little too late.
Deveney was prophetic when she penned
her closing paragraph all those years ago.
Sure, Fairfax owns
this newspaper. But it belongs to us. The readers and the people
who make this paper. Cherish it and protect it because when you start
dismantling things nut-by-nut, bolt-by-bolt, screw-by-screw it can be
impossible to put it back together again. Make your voices heard about
how you want to digest your news, your culture, your sport and your commentary.
Because if you don’t you may end up with a newspaper outsourced to India and
delivered by text to your mobile phone. And then how will you be able to
cut a Leunig cartoon out and stick it on your fridge?
I have faith that Leunig will find a
forum to be published for as long as he can wield his wit in ink. The Age
however, with it’s subediting outsourced to cheaper shores, centralized content
and hotly anticipated paywall, may not be so lucky.
Update 22.6.12: An article in Mumbrella on how the PR world is viewing the axing of journos and subbies at Fairfax (and now News Limited) as an opportunity to get more press releases for their clients published as articles. Tina Alldis, the bright young thing who penned the piece, gets a lashing in the comments for badly timed and ill toned piece. However as one commenter stated, "PRs getting into newspapers is one of the reasons they’ve lost the trust of their audiences…"
On the upside, the piece has shone a light on the grubby world of PR generated "journalism" and has been almost as successful as #qantasluxury in attracting the wrong kind of attention. Read Hootville's take on it for a similar but slightly different view. Was Tina just voicing what both industries know already?
Of course, by the end of the day Tina's employers were in full damage control, with an apology at the end of the Mumbrella article. Though sorry for the offense caused by their employee, the agency still defended her as a 'consummate professional '. So I guess, unlike many on the Fairfax and News Limited payroll, she's not destined to explore the exciting opportunities of the dole queue anytime soon.
Update 5.7.12: Classic Leunig c1999, the signposts have been there all along as to the direction of cutting edge journalism in this country. The irony being it was originally published in The Age.
Labels: Catherine Deveney, Deveney, Fairfax, fairfax freefall, media, melbourne, Michelle Grattan, paywall, The Age