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.