Kookaburra with meat

Kookaburra with meat
photo by Lander 777

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

International opportunity opens from the demise of the SMH

Yesterday's announcements (1, 2,3)  about the Sydney Morning Herald show its death is not far off.  It's been on the cards for years. Once a must read - the daily agenda setter for the news cycle - it has dwindled into a cheap parochial pamphlet, little better than the free suburban throwaways.

If the decline wasn't yet terminal, Gina Rinehart's muscling into a controlling position on the Fairfax Board will cement it. In the absence of any public explanation from her, it is impossible to imagine that her motive is not to make Fairfax into a conservative organ to match her politics. This will, of course, kill the SMH; probably her intention. Will the inevitable drop in share price give her pause? I doubt it.

(Both sides of Federal politics correctly call on her to subscribe to the Fairfax charter of independence, to no avail. Once again, Malcolm Turnbull shows how easy it would be to support the Federal Liberals if he were still leader).

The idea that changing to a tabloid format will save the SMH is absurd. If this has worked for The Times and The Independent, surely this is because of a daily commuter market 3 times that of Sydney. The UK and the US have always had the population levels to sustain a range of quality end newspapers, whereas there are only two cities in Australia that have (until their decline in recent years) sustained a quality daily each.

Newspapers are in decline all around the world. ABC chief, Mark Scott (@abcmarkscott), gives a good run down about the inevitable forces for this here.  Only those news organisations that can maintain a global readership will survive, if by "survive" we mean "continue to offer quality, editorially-checked, truth-based journalism".    Two plausible candidates for survival are The Guardian and The New York Times. (Or there are quality conservative competitors that could do likewise). 

No doubt contributing to the SMH's decline, I have found that I now read those sources more often than the Herald, relying on Twitter or email for local parochial stories.

So there is an opportunity for international intelligent news organisations to fill the gap that the SMH will be leaving.  If The Guardian or New York Times opened a Sydney Bureau - with, say, 10 journalists - they could easily capture the Sydney readership that has and will continue to abandon the Herald.   There must be 10s of thousands of daily readers who would subscribe to a Guardian- Sydney or NYT-OZ with a mixture of quality fact-checked international news gathering, and spattering of parochial daily Sydney stuff just to keep us in touch.

So there's an opportunity. There's money in it for the first international quality masthead to pick it up.

[Update - January 16 2013]  So it has taken The Guardian less than 6 months to pick up my suggestion. Today they announced they would publish an online Australian edition to pick up on their existing Australian readership, and engage with the Asian region. Its editor, Alan Rushberger, described it as the "natural next step" for the publication".

Lovely that The Guardian is reading my blog and taking my advice to heart.

Time for the New York Times to follow suit. 

Both of these papers should pick up some of the quality journalists that used to work for the SMH.

If it does so, it will be the end of the SMH, I have no doubt. It has only gone down hill further in the 6 months since the first post.

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