Editor’s Note

Editor’s Note March 2014

Many readers will recall the construction, in the early 2000s, of the new Age printing plant by the freeway near Melbourne airport. Up went a glorious, glass-walled, transparent building, rendered all the more striking by the plainness of its immediate surroundings, not to mention the inordinate ugliness of its bunker-like forerunner in the CBD. Those were swish times. The new site flaunted a 32-metre freeway-side sculpture of a rolled-up newspaper, which I wasn’t alone in initially mistaking for a giant replica of Sydney’s Olympic torch.

Alas, there was no eternal flame. Looking at the state of the newspaper industry today, it’s confounding to think that its heyday was as recent as ten years ago. But the decline has been rude and swift. When the new printing plant opened, in mid 2003, I was writing for Good Weekend, the insert magazine the Saturday Age shares with the Sydney Morning Herald. In 2004, the magazine raked in $50 million in advertising, or $1 million per issue. Our editor’s farewell was held at the Opera House, as were our Christmas parties. We staff writers averaged a story every four weeks, yet still I was able to resign from that job four times over ten years, always confident, if not entirely sure, that they’d have me back.

Just a decade on, those times are well and truly gone. Anyone who leaves Fairfax now leaves forever. The still newish printing plant will shut down on 28 March. The Age, no longer a broadsheet, will be printed in the short term by the Ballarat Courier’s presses. No one is thinking long term. In fact, the Age will in all likelihood cease to exist in print on weekdays by the time the last Australian-made Holden rolls off the production line in 2017.

Rachel Buchanan saw the writing on the wall earlier than most. In 2002, she left the Age to become a newspaper historian. Having spent the past few years researching a book, Stop Press: The last days of newspapers, today she launches a one-off pamphlet commemorating Melbourne’s newsprint past. The elegant publication, which could pass for a newspaper itself – Buchanan has called it the Melbourne Sirius – lists the births and deaths of 525 newspapers, along with images of 175 mastheads, including those of the Abstainer (1889–1890), the Onlooker (1925–1928) and the Herald (1840–1990). It is a ghostly record of extinction. Someone ought to do the same for Sydney.

The Sirius does not mention the Age. Nor does it note the birth of this country’s newest newspaper. The Saturday Paper was launched in Sydney on Friday night by Malcolm Turnbull. It is a fresh and sharply political publication. It is also a stablemate of this magazine; we share a publisher, Morry Schwartz, who has been rated as everything from deluded to heroic for having embarked on this latest venture, with the pointer settling on crazy brave.

The Saturday Paper deserves to succeed. Plenty of quality journalists need work, and plenty of readers crave quality journalism. More than that, though, readers need and deserve choice. Witness the way Murdoch’s media henchmen have become spruikers for the government of late. And witness the no less shameless way these commentators, along with radio shock jocks, have rounded on the ABC. The Saturday Paper is there to be brandished in support of media diversity, not as a finger in the dike, holding back the tide of online media – let’s not be so fusty as to pretend that will work – but as a poke in the eye of Rupert Murdoch.

John van Tiggelen

John van Tiggelen is a freelance writer and the author of Mango Country.

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