The compact comes of ‘Age’, but the real fight for Fairfax is scooping digital eyeballs

March 8, 2013

Fairfax launched its new compact size in a week where Victorian politics dominated the national agenda, making it a very good time to consider just how Melbourne’s former broadsheet, The Age, fared with its now similarly sized competitor, the Herald Sun.

The re-launch of The Age as a compact was never about being the biggest selling newspaper in Melbourne. There’s no way The Age can compete with the genuinely tabloid Herald Sun.

The Herald Sun is a modern giant among Australian newspapers: its audited Monday to Saturday circulation hovers around the 450,000 mark. That adds up to more than a million readers every weekday.

The Age sells roughly one-third: Monday to Friday (157,000) and about half (227,000) on Saturday. Readership is about half too: 566,000 Monday—Friday and 720,000 on Saturdays, according to Audit Bureau figures.

So the driver of this week’s move was re-attaching Age readers who’ve let their subscription lapse, or who hated the unwieldy broadsheet.

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Over hump day with a bikie war then scalping the Premier seals the deal

March 7, 2013

So far I would have to say that in terms of news bang-for-buck the Herald-Sun is doing tabloid better than The Age does compact. It’s early days I know, but in Melbourne, at least, the News Limited paper seems to be ahead in the stand-out front page stakes..

Though, having said that, it seems that The Age has picked up some new readers this week. At my newsagent’s pick-ups of The Age have more than doubled and are now equal to, or a bit better than the Herald-Sun. That could be an anomaly; I  live in an area where there is a likely majority of Age-types given the number of private schools, Merc, Audis and Beemers that litter the neighbourhood.

Today’s editions (Thursday, 7 March ) might even the score for the Fairfax Media title in the stand-out competiton; but the full page picture of Ted Baillieu on the Hun might attract the mouth-breathers who like big pictures more than big words.

Herald Sun Ted Quits The Age

At least today The Age has learned that headlines should be short and sweet, but four words is still twice as many as two. Yesterday (Wednesday) it was seven words in a two-deck headline for The Age and four words in three-decks for the Herald Sun; the Hun also uses a much bigger typeface.

The issue here is that The Age is trying very hard not to look like a tabloid; it wants to be a smaller broadsheet and so it’s front pages are text-heavy.

This is OK as long as Age readers are happy to have the key elements of one or two stories related on page one. The Herald Sun is sticking to its formula of fear and emotion being the main drivers of sales based on front page scans.

Wednesday’s Herald Sun front page was a classic in that genre it had heart-string plucking sick baby Linkin Fauser and warring bikies raising “Police fear public could be caught in cross fire”.

Herald_Sun_6_3_2013 The_Age_6_3_2013

At least The Age was back in the game yesterday with its own Baillieu stuff up story detailing secret fund raisers and the ongoing fall-out from the secret tapes affair that ensnared the Premier and his deputy in a rolling maul that was getting closer to the business end of the pitch.

But The Age was always playing catch-up on the secret recordings story. It seems likely that the Herald Sun had been sitting on this little box of dynamite for a while and deliberately played it out as a spoiler to the launch of The Age as a comp-loid on Monday of this week.

That is certainly how a smart newspaper executive would play it, both to boost sales and to let the opposition know that life in the tabl-act trenches would be bloody and tough.

Today it just got bloodier and tougher because it is the first time this week that we can do a full comparison on coverage of the same story. It was an even playing surface for both titles; they heard about Baillieu’s resignation at the same time (about 7.25pm last night [Wednesday 6 March] and so had about six hours to get the story ready for this morning’s papers.

The Herald Sun is rightly claiming Baillieu’s scalp and today reveals how political editor James Campbell dropped the paper’s bomb on the Liberal party late on Sunday afternoon.

It was the Hun’s story; though as I mentioned, The Age did well on Wednesday to get its own exclusive angle of the rorting and alleged corrupt shenanigans at the core of Baillieu’s incompetency.

The Hun wins today’s battle because as the front page strapline says: “SECRET TAPES CLAIM PREMIER”.

Having said, that the depth of coverage was about the same in both mastheads and apart from the Hun’s own boasting about Sunday’s Spring street squirmfest neither paper had anything substantially new to add.

Friday’s papers will be telling. Does the Herald Sun have more dirt to dish?

If so it would be a hands down winner this week.

So for now, the Herald Sun gets to count coup, but The Age could have the last laugh.

If my newsagent is right and the new compact is walking out the door this week, then The Age may win the circulation battle.

The hope in the Fairfax Media offices along Spencer street is that novelty-factor sales turn into subscriptions.

There’s a long way to go yet before that score can be counted.


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

March 5, 2013

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

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Judging a book by its cover: Did The Age get it right on day one?

March 4, 2013

The first thing I noticed this morning at my newsagent in Melbourne’s leafy eastern suburbs is that the pile of Herald-Suns is twice as high as the pile of The Age. So the first comparison is easy.

Even in this relatively affluent suburb, the newsagent expects to sell more Herald-Suns than copies of The Age.

The second comparison is also easy and perhaps explains the first: the Herald-Sun is $1.20 and The Age is $2.00. Price-conscious newspaper buyers will probably prefer the cheaper product.

The canny Herald-Sun buyer also gets more bang for their buck-twenty. The Murdoch ‘tabloid’ has 80 pages and the Fairfax Media ‘compact’ has 72, plus a 16 page insert that is numbered differently.

But how do you tell a tabloid from a compact? It’s not that easy because technically they are the same size: 30X40 centimetres.

Perhaps it’s in the layout and use of colour on the front page.

Herald Sun4 March The Age

The Age has retained its signature royal blue, but the masthead is superimposed reverse in white on blue. The Herald-Sun uses a verdant green and a superimpose/reverse white, but it’s masthead block is deeper coming 14 centimetres down the page. The Age masthead is a shallow nine centimetres.

The Herald-Sun also uses its masthead to promote a “Superstar Footy DVD” give-away and incorporates action pics of two AFL stars who I don’t recognize, but who I’m sure would be very familiar to Aussie Rules fans.

As you would expect the Herald-Sun has a brighter more ‘tabloid’ front page with a bold headline in four centimeter solid capital letters: “SECRET TAPES BOMBSHELL”        . Over the top of that is a white-on-red banner also in heavy caps: “POLICE CRISIS ROCKS GOVERNMENT”. Just below the headline is a series of three ‘pointers’ also in block caps: “KEY STAFFER PAID $22,500”; “JOB HELP AT ODDS WITH PREMIER”; “BAILLIEU ADVISTER SLAMS DEJPUTY PREMIER”.

The kicker is that readers are invited to “Now listen to the recordings heraldsun.com.au”

The copy itself, across five columns is about 350 words and the story is continued across four pages (4-7) inside.

At the bottom of the page there’s three ‘skybox’ promos for contents inside the paper. This is a great tabloid front page and if you were buying the paper on its shelf-appeal, you would probably go for The Herald-Sun.

By contrast The Age seems dull, if worthy. Read the rest of this entry »


The Age raid: where’s the public iterest?

December 16, 2011

Republished from The Conversation

Victoria Police e-crime squad members yesterday raided the offices of The Age newspaper as part of their ongoing investigation into allegations that reporters from the paper illegally hacked into an ALP database.

Officers attempted to seize the computers of investigative reporters Nick McKenzie and Royce Millar, but The Age obtained an emergency injunction blocking the removal of the equipment.

Police interest in the matter stems from a story published during the 2010 Victorian election campaign demonstrating the high level of personal detail kept on individuals by ALP on its voter management database.

The Conversation spoke with Associate Professor Martin Hirst about journalism, the law and what constitutes public interest.

The original story in The Age revealed how the Victorian ALP collected and used data on constituents. Was this in the public interest?

I guess every story in politics is in the public interest, and this certainly was a politically interesting story, but having reread it, it seems to me that it was merely a one-off, a front page splash for The Age, and an exclusive for them, so it was good for them, but in the scheme of things I don’t think anyone would be surprised that political parties, or indeed any organisation, is keeping files on them.

Has the significance of this story been overblown?

I think the significance of the original story has been overblown. It’s been kept alive very well over the past several months by the Herald Sun and by The Australian and I think they’ve done a very good job of keeping it alive in the public mind. They’ve related it very much to the British phone-hacking story and used it as a bit of a spoiler to deflect from the heat from that. It’s on a different scale,though. The News of the World events are much more significant.

How did the article lead to a police raid on the paper?

Well it seems there’s a bit of a background here. After the Herald Sun started sniffing around on this story, one of the people they spoke to was the Victorian Electoral Commissioner, who then complained to the police and asked the police to investigate whether any illegal activity had taken place. So it seems that’s where the original complaint was laid from, and the police are now just doing what they’re tasked with, which is to follow up on these types of of allegations.

Who do you see as being the victim in this crime?

It’s hard to say that anybody’s really a victim here. The Labor Party is obviously embarrassed because their secret polling and the existence of this database is now public information, so they’re a little bit embarrassed. The Age has been very careful not to release information they got from this database without checking with those people, so they haven’t really released any private information. I think to some extent it’s a victimless crime. There’s no victim I can see here.

The police have raided the office to establish whether journalists who accessed this database have broken any laws, in particular section 478 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code. If the journalists have broken this law, do you think it was a law they were entitled to break, and are journalists entitled to break the law in general?

The police have to establish through their investigation whether or not a law has been broken and I think if I was advising The Age journalists I’d be very cautious about what they say about this, and certainly I would argue that given that they got the password and the username from an ALP worker that they perhaps could argue that they were authorised.

But in the general sense of when it’s permissible to break laws, I think what has to happen in a a situation like that is that the public interest has to be set very, very high. I think the public interest test bar has to be incredibly high in a situation like this before you can actually say that journalists are allowed to break the law.

I think journalists often would like to think they’re above the law but they’re not. Journalists must abide by the laws of the land and for anybody to take the law into their own hands and argue that they have a right to break a particular law, you have to have a very good case, you have to have a very strong public interest argument that it’s desrirable to break the law. I don’t think the original public interest on this story was high enough to warrant breaking the law – if that’s what’s happened.

There is a shield law to allow journalists to protect sources, found in the Evidence Act. Should that shield law be applicable in this case?

It seems to me that the most interesting aspect of this case is in fact that that new section of the Evidence Act can be brought into bear here, and may be used as a defence. I don’t think this law has been used before – it was only passed into legislation earlier this year – so it has not yet been tested. Now having looked at section 126h of the Evidence Act, or the amendments to the act that were passed this year, it does make it quite clear that a journalist is within their rights to refuse to give up the name of a source if they have offered that source some form of identity protection, so in this case it could very well be used as a defence. It seems to me that we’re likely to see the first legal test of this if it does ever get to court.