The author has been described by News Ltd as an "iconoclast", "Svengali", a pollie's "economist muse", and "pungently accurate". Fairfax says he is a "Renaissance man" and "one of Australia’s most respected analysts." Stephen Koukoulas concludes that he is "85% right", and "would make a great Opposition leader." Terry McCrann claims the author thinks "‘nuance’ is a trendy village in the south of France", but can be "scintillating" when he thinks "clearly". The ACTU reckons he’s "an enigma wrapped in a Bloomberg terminal, wrapped in some apparently well-honed abs."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Australian: Fairfax must mirror the mainstream

A withering yet resonant editorial in The Australian today:

As competition from a variety of news sources increases, advertising shifts online and consumer preferences change, newspapers, like all news organisations, need to adapt to survive. There will always be demand for quality journalism. There are talented journalists of an independent mind who work for the ABC, Fairfax and News Limited, publisher of The Australian. Although The Australian Financial Review is a quality newspaper that has a niche market, Fairfax broadsheets The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have been producing journalism for a shrinking audience. Part of the problem is that they no longer act as a mirror to the nation, are able to chronicle the vast changes under way in the economy and society and report on the diversity of stories that encapsulate life in modern Australia. It may help if they understood the market in which they sell newspapers. Mike Smith, a former editor of The Age, said the restructure "demonstrated the mass-circulation city newspaper is gone." Clearly, he does not know that Melbourne's Herald-Sun, published by News Limited, sells 470,000 copies each day.

The myopia that predominates at Fairfax has seen its broadsheets cater, almost exclusively, to a conclave of left-leaning professionals, public servants and activists situated in inner-city Sydney and Melbourne. Rarely do they report on the shift of economic power to the north and the west of the country. They do not understand the mining boom and ridicule the idea of workers from the states in which they publish chasing the opportunity to work in the most dynamic area of the economy. Their reporting of Aboriginal Australia is confined to Redfern or St Kilda rather than exploring the important stories that can be found across the continent. Too often they focus on inner-city anti-development protests rather than life in the sprawling suburbs where most people live. A cafe opening in Western Sydney that serves "good coffee" is considered a novelty. They editorialise in favour of the latest fads and praise the Greens, who, the Herald argued, had inherited the "mantle of leadership in progressive politics". Both papers usually champion negativity, embrace a culture of complaint, oppose economic progress and push the limits of social reform. They have missed most of the major political stories in recent years, such as the discontent over the resource super-profits tax or the lead-up to the coup that felled Kevin Rudd's prime ministership.

As they have for much of their history, the broadsheets continue to represent the establishment mentality opposed to change. It is just the establishment is now the progressive Left. But Fairfax can still be an important source of news. As the Herald acknowledged, its success will depend on its relationship with readers. Fairfax will not survive, in any form, if it remains ignorant of mainstream Australia and ignores the world beyond inner-city Sydney and Melbourne.