Newspaper love: in all its forms

It would seem that there are many who took peculiar enjoyment in yesterday’s announcement by Fairfax. People who in all likelihood don’t read the Fairfax papers unless it’s to rail about articles by ‘latte lefties’ in online forums. Others are whining about paywalls or the fact their paper will be shrinking in size. I can only feel for those whose jobs are at risk. People who, for the most part, love newspapers. Just like me.

From about 6 years of age I loved to read, I loved to write stories, and from the age of around 8, I loved newspapers. So of course, I wanted to be a journalist. In the end, I took a slightly different path. But I still love newspapers.

Growing up in Brisbane we had The Courier-Mail in the morning, the Telegraph in the afternoon and two Sunday papers. We’re down to two papers now (both News Ltd), along with Fairfax’s Brisbane Times providing a second voice online. Over the years, the Courier-Mail, Australian, AFR, SMH and overseas papers have moved in (and out) of my regular reading. And despite a long love of newsprint, some I now read online. For free. Sshhh, I know I too have played my part in this.

As yesterday’s announcement shows, times are a’changing for newspapers. While newspapers are key to a diverse media, and to an accountable government, they are ultimately a business. The sad fact for news lovers is that no one has yet worked out, in this era of commoditising news and an increasing fragmentation of mass audience, how to maintain healthy newspapers alongside healthy profits.

It’s something that all newspapers face but, in Fairfax’s case, it’s not the only reason for their current predicament. It’s 20 years since Fairfax family power plays almost sent the company to the wall. In many respects they’ve been trying to march uphill with full packs, a hinky compass, and an out of date map ever since.

Of course there are those who aren’t revelling in the misfortune, but genuinely concerned for Fairfax staff. Yet some of the sympathetic are at the same time bemoaning pay walls and insisting online content should remain free. Your news is already behind a paywall! You’re just not noticing because more people now think of a newsagent as the place you buy lotto tickets (which sadly is exactly what keeps many newsagents’ doors open, but that’s a rant for another day), than as the place you get your news.

Some get the info they want from newspapers, others just get it somewhere else. Somewhere online. Somewhere that’s free. Or there are those like me who do a bit of both.

So this group that’s saddened 1900 people are losing their livelihoods? What if it meant their world had to change just a jot? Well as far as many are concerned, that’s a big HELL NO! “Have to pay SMH online and I’m gone” being one comment of many in that vein yesterday. With that view, more jobs losses would seem almost inevitable in the long-term.

Those who work in newspapers generally do it because they love it…but not enough to do it for free. Just as I like my job fine but you’re sure as hell still going to have to pay me to do it.

There are any number of ’news’ sources. When your key criteria is ‘free’, then I can’t believe you’re really that concerned with the quality of what you get. Are there some great free news sources? Absolutely. Just as there are user pay sources of utter shite. On balance though, you get what you pay for. Set your expectations so.

Although I do sometimes wonder of the point in even trying when what people really want to read is not well researched, well written news or commentary, but rather, when Lindsay Lohan last crashed a car or Lara Bingle was last seen with her boobs out. If that’s what they want, then of course I agree: no one wants to pay to see that.

Can I leave the physical newsprint behind and follow Fairfax online? Well I always loved the feeling of a book in my hands while reading, but have also come to enjoy reading on my iPad…and paying for the privilege.

So yes, I can move online…but I too have my conditions.

  • That editorial and journalistic standards stay at least as they presently are (let’s face it, there’s always room for improvement)
  • Keep the weekend editions in print as long as you can. Please. I’m generally ok with change, but some things are just rituals that should stand. Weekend. Breakfast. Coffee. News. Heaven.
  • Lastly, Gina Rinehart. She’s my deal-breaker and a very real one. If she gets the right to hire & fire Editors or a say in editorial direction or decision, then I’m sorry dear Fairfax but we’ll have to part. It will be sad, but sometimes relationships turn toxic and I’m a believer in ripping the band-aid off quickly.

One thing is certain. As things gravitate online (including me) there is a part of me that will surely miss cleaning a crime scene of newsprint off the kitchen table. Some chores are born of joy.

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