Compacts v Tabloids: The only game in town is the back page

As of yesterday [Monday 4 March 2013] we are in a weird scenario: Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian is the only broadsheet daily newspaper left in Australia. Think about this for a minute.

Yes, shocking, I know.

All of the other Australian dailies are tabloids. Or, if you prefer the Fairfax Media spin, most of the others are tabloids and two of them are ‘compacts.

The compacts are the former broadsheets: The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (published in Melbourne).

The last broadsheet to tabloid conversion was when Brisbane’s Courier-Mail made the switch in 2005. Today the Courier-Mail is indistinguishable from its News Limited stablemates in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. The Courier-Mail embraced the whole essence of becoming a tabloid. It has adopted the big double-deck headline technique with a large photo-splash and it has eagerly turned itself to tabloid news values as well.

But this is something that Fairfax Media says it won’t do; at least not yet. While it is clearly competing head-to-head with News Limited in Sydney and Melbourne, Fairfax honchos have said repeatedly–and whenever asked about it this week– that The Age and the SMH will not become tabloids, driven by celebrity, gossip and the sort of low-level moral-panic inducing campaigning journalism that characterises all the Murdoch mastheads.

Advertiser 5 March Courier Mail 5 March

Daily Tele 5 March

So how will Fairfax compete with News Limited?

This week I am looking at the Melbourne papers The Age and the Herald Sun to do a daily comparison. Yesterday I looked only at the front pages; comparing layouts and lead stories. I reckon the Herald Sun won on Monday with a stronger story and a stronger sense of how a tabloid front page should work–bold, brash, shouty and colourful. The Age didn’t quite meet the challenge. Others called it “dull but worthy”.

Over the next few days I want to extend that analysis inside the two papers.

So far, Monday and Tuesday, I would score it pretty even in terms of page allocations. The Age had 20 news pages on Monday and 17 on Tuesday. The Herald Sun had 19 news pages on Monday and 20 on Tuesday. The Age had four pages of World News on both days and the Herald Sun had one on Monday and two World News pages on Tuesday, but it was nearly all devoted to the car crash in New York that killed a pregnant woman and her husband; the couple’s unborn baby dramatically survived.

The differences kick in towards the middle of the book–as you’d expect.

The Herald Sun had to find room for Andrew Bolt on Monday and and a gob-smackingly awful column by Susie O’Brien on Tuesday. Here’s a taste, remember it’s written in the first person plural ‘We’.

IF YOU come to our country, you must abide by our laws.

It’s as simple as that.

There must be only one law for all Australians.

…we do not want people coming here and insisting their values and laws should take precedence over ours…

We do not think a self-styled Muslim Imam should be allowed to send offensive, derogatory and hurtful letters to the families of dead Diggers in the name of free speech.

And we do not think innocent children should attend rallies holding up signs with slogans such as: “Behead all those who insult the prophet”…

In fact some of the comments on my own Herald Sun blog show the hatred and antipathy towards Muslims…

Such views are regrettable, but they will continue to spread until Muslim leaders rein in members of their own communities.”

Extraordinary stuff. It is all ‘their’ fault because Islam is radical. Did Mr Wilders do a powerpoint for these assholes at News Limited. No thought at all that inflammatory rhetoric, like O’Brien’s own in this column, might also dog whistle some of the dribblejaws who infest the lower reaches of News Limited blogs and breed anti-Muslim racism.

But that’s a digression; we all know this vein of opinion runs deep in the News Limited trenches. I have exposed the groupthink before so there’s no need to re-hash it here. But if you’re looking for a reason not to buy the Herald Sun, then the vile columnists and reactionary editorial lines could be a good one.

Both the Herald Sun and The Age give us around four pages of news features, op-ed and columnists and about the same amount of business news–that is a lift-out section in both papers. Other specialist pages are also found in both mastheads: kids (Herald Sun, Tuesday); education (The Age, Tuesday). The Age will also keep its popular lift-out lifestyle sections.

The Age has an obits page, the Herald Sun a list of in memoria ads that kick of a still healthy classifieds section. The Age doesn’t do classifieds.

When too much sport is barely enough

The Herald Sun is fiercely competitive about its AFL coverage and that is the key–many people say–to the newspaper market in Melbourne.

It will be interesting if it can maintain that dominance now. On Monday the Herald Sun had 23 sport pages (including racing and results); on Tuesday it was a more modest 15 sport pages; that was all The Age could manage on Monday.

So footy-mad Melbournians (about 3.5 million people I believe) may well opt for the Herald Sun on Mondays once the AFL season proper gets under way. The Age had a meager 13 sports pages on Tuesday; I wonder if this clear athletic advantage for the Herald Sun could the the game-changer?

The daily winner on Tuesday was probably the Herald Sun again. The front page headline is the tipping point for me; it lets off a subtle double entendre that might bring tears to the eyes of sensitive blokes and it continues the story from Monday that has embroiled the Baillieu government in a shit fight.


A winner every time; but The Age was also trying harder with a good front page exclusive that also targeted the Liberal government.

The real loser this week could be Ted Baillieu. It’s being suggested (at least in the Melbourne newspapers) that he might face a challenge to his leadership this week.

It would be a funny thing indeed if the Liberal premier was a casualty of the first 21st century newspaper war in Melbourne.

Herald Sun 5 March The Age 5 March

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