Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Age of Opportunity

THERE is much to like about Keith Dunstan, despite several grave deficiencies of character. Those who lived in Melbourne during the Seventies, when the city still had large, wide, multi-lane roadways, may recall the many columns he penned for the Sun News Pictorial about the joy to be experienced upon a bicycle and how nice it would be if the Queen of the Yarra were to be carved up by bike paths. His wish came to pass and while he is probably too old these days to pump the pedals, his heirs now oblige motorists to observe their Lycra’d bottoms on roads reduced to perpetual one-lane traffic jams. Moreover, as cyclists are slow and prone to falls, their presence on our roads has been one of the many thin excuses for covering the landscape thickly with the revenue cameras that are said to secure their safety. Dunstan also displayed an open disdain for the footy, Melbourne’s great game and, unless someone in Jolimont cures cancer, quite likely to remain the Southern City’s greatest contribution to the sum of human achievement.

 Keith Dunstan massages the prostate.

That said,  Dunstan retains the power to make the gentle, salient point , which he has done this morning with a lament that so many people are announcing the apparent passing of newspapers. He maintains the Age will survive, also the hope at the Billabong, where one of the interesting things about Dunstan’s column is that it does not appear in his old paper, now called the Herald Sun.

Some years ago, for reasons best known to itself, the Herald Sun decided its future was in celebrity gossip, sport and pictures of adorable animals and babies.  Dumbing down the paper appears to have been a conscious and quite deliberate policy, as that is the only thing to explain why even the formerly robust finance section is worth reading only for Terry McCrann. So Dunstan has migrated his occasional pieces to the Age, where the dominant inanity is, for the moment, of a different variety.

But still, it should give hope to those who believe a city of 4 million people deserves at least one, semi-decent newspaper. The Herald Sun underwent a transformation – for the worse, but that is beside the point – and so can the Age, perhaps for the better, with Mrs Rinehart at the helm. Indeed, a board not half so infected with Roger Corbett’s fatalism might even see Melbourne as an opportunity. As a commenter at Mumbrella observed, the city still buys 600,000 papers every day. Even allowing that a reformed Age will not attract too many young and thoroughly wired readers, it does not require too much optimism to see it taking away 100,000 sales from the Herald Sun on the strength of a more convenient format and improved content, especially the latter.

It would seem that, at this stage, all Fairfax’s announced plans for transforming itself are moot. Within weeks, Mrs Rinehart will be in control and, one way or another, in a position to determine how the corporate and editorial re-sculpting is implemented.  With any luck she will be aided by a spate of aggrieved resignations, as embarrassments like Ross “I’m no plagiarist” Gittins and David Marr decamp to academia and the solace of Mark Scott’s comfy lap. Without wishing to tell her how to run a business, the very first thing she should do is speed up the Age’s move to tabloid format. The current management has announced that the Great Shrinking will not take place until March next year, which demonstrates, if further proof be needed, that imbecility is the prime qualification for a seat on the current Fairfax board. How many businesses not only alert competitors to their next strategic moves but also grant them nine months’ grace to prepare countermeasures?

Of course, if the current crew of hacks regurgitating Earth Hour press releases remains intact, it won’t matter what size the Age comes in. To paraphrase Gough Whitlam, it’s what it puts in its guts that’s stuffed it. So, new editors, a new shape and an old-fashioned return to covering the city where its erstwhile readers reside.

Why, Gina could have a winner!

FOOTNOTE: On page 26 of Wednesday’s Herald Sun the following caption appeared beneath a picture of some sheep. “Theft: Sheep, similar to those that were stolen.”
Herald Sun editors apparently believe their readers need to be told what sheep look like. If that doesn’t encourage Mrs Rinehart to start a newspaper war and have a red-hot go, nothing can.      


  1. Steady on bunyip! "even the formerly robust finance section (of the Herald Sun) is worth reading only for Terry McCrann" could be a slight overtatement.

    I do a monthly column which is sometimes worth a glance!

    Alan Moran

    1. Alan, my apologies, which should also be extended to Andrew Bolt. The Herald Sun is read so seldom at the Billabong these days, I entirely overlooked your contribution. I think you, and Melbourne, would be better served if your column appeared, and more often, in a revamped Age -- less competition from those chocolate box illustrations of puppies stuffed in football socks which now dominate the Herald Sun's news pages.

    2. Hey, enough rubbishing of puppies in socks! If a photo like that can get one more person to raise a puppy for Guide Dogs or Seeing Eye Dogs, more power to the Herald Sun.

  2. A belated welcome back. Almost afraid to check your column in case you've departed again.

    This whole media thingie has whipped the ABC and associated acolytes into a bit of a frenzy. Tricky one for the Labor pollies to address, after all thus far no seats on the board, no influence exists. And ownership concentration OK whilst the bulk of Fairfax was in the hands of 'friends'...

    Would any Bunyip readers care to weigh in on this debate over at:

    Hand-wring greenish/leftish gaining in influence business blog (an oxymoron I know). I cut a rather solitary figure of 'right'.

  3. I remember the experts of the 60s and 70s assuring the world that TV would kill motion pictures - they were wrong. Likewise, I don't believe the internet will kill newspapers that provide news rather than propaganda.

    I've just backed my belief with the purchase of some Fairfax shares. So long Roger, go for it Gina!

  4. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.June 21, 2012 at 10:07 AM

    I too hope that The Age and the SMH survive, Professor. How pleasing if they were to return to being papers that I might want again to purchase either online or off, perhaps still enjoying the smell of newsprint in the morning as I once did in a far off time before they produced merely sludge. But, being a bellweather as of course I am, and as I (and the world) have changed since that far off time (ten years has it been?), so should they. A return to the past is not what is needed in format or thinking. A vision of an Australian future, including a mining future, with options varied and well-discussed, with differing opinions on how to develop (as is inevitable) this land and its peoples, might get my dollars for them once more. Especially if it had a decent international commentary and was salted with cultural commentary that was not straight out of some banal writers' festival chanting green wisdoms. To cap it all off, there could be profile stories about significant people that in the current Fairfax iteration are mostly unsung or sung off-note.

    Taking an expansive and generous turn this winter's morn, I submit that even among the Lycra crowd, Boy-on-a-Bike shows that some of them are worthy persons. As you note too for Keith (The Pedal) Dunstan. They just need to be removed from roads, the natural and heritage-ambit habitat of what were once termed motorised vehicles, now generally known as cars (forget the trucks).

  5. I'm glad you corrected yourself about the few bits of worthwhile content in the Hun,dear Prof.

    Speaking personally, the times I buy it in Woolies it is to read Andrew Bolt(won't register or pay on line ) and If Terry is included along with the puzzle pages I almost get my $2 worth.
    Five years ago I had it delivered daily- not any more,as I see the editor being deliberately anti conservative governments(yes Ted is almost useless at the hoped for derailment of greeny madness Labor left behind , but they have chased his character into back alleys from say one) .
    Similarly the Australian has lost me though I never could stomach the nroadsheet size--the Age was the first one I ditched, it's a festering nest of leftist Greeny tosh,and if it doesn't change I shall cheer loudly when it dies its final throes!

  6. Melbourne's like that because of push bike lanes? Is that true?

  7. "the very first thing she should do is speed up the Age’s move to tabloid format"

    I disagree Professor. The very first thing she should do is hand Ben Cubby an empty cardboard box and invite Lord Monckton to take over the environment reporting desk.

  8. Chris Uhlmann tweeting today:

    Chris Uhlmann ‏@CUhlmann
    In a typically brilliant piece of Fairfax management The Canberra Times editor is yet to be told that his Parliamentary bureau is to close.

    Chris Uhlmann ‏@CUhlmann
    Given The Canberra Times is the ONLY paper in the Fairfax stable making money the decision to close its bureau is utterly daft.

    Chris Uhlmann ‏@CUhlmann
    I worked in CT bureau 20 years ago. The paper needs it because ... note to Fairfax managers... Parliament House is IN Canberra!

  9. I am amazed that after all this time Keith Dunstan still wants A Place In The Sun!!!