Sydney Morning Herald leaves me behind

heraldApparently I am no longer the Sydney Morning Herald’s target market; I apparently prefer ‘highbrow’ content.

I was going to write a piece about all my issues with the Herald online. Issues ranging from their incessant tabloid approach to the click-bait headlines; from the slipping sub-editing to relentlessly copy and pasting articles from papers that still have journalists; from terrible subscription policies to continual technical problems with the apps and websites. My list goes on and I could quite easily have done a Herald and produced a list of ten things masquerading as an article.

Then I came across this article from the New York Times which analyses where the Herald finds itself and in doing so explains much of what I have been complaining about. Most of the issues I am complaining about are not simply the product of declining standards and poor decisions – they are deliberate choices.

The strategy has been to deliberately move to more lightweight articles about “Kylie Jenner’s Vogue cover and the abs of Justin Trudeau” because…

…meatier topics may play well to the newspaper audience, generally an older crowd. But Mr. Hywood, the Fairfax chief, said that online readers, who skew younger, want a broader mix.

Apparently the strategy is working because the Herald is the “nation’s leading website by number of paying subscribers”. The NYT article goes on to say:

“That can be criticized by people who prefer highbrow content,” said Megan Brownlow, an executive director in the Sydney offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the consulting firm. “But when you’re in a numbers game like internet advertising, highbrow content is hard to monetize.”

So I stick my hand up. I’m clearly in the ‘people who prefer highbrow content’ basket and so the Herald is leaving me behind.

Looking at the history of the Herald, and at the current market, it’s not hard to understand the fixation on advertising revenue. But I struggle to believe that there’s no place left for quality journalism. I would quite happily pay just to get access to Ross Gittins, Kate McClymont, and Mark Kenny – in fact I do, because that’s the only reason I subscribe to the Herald now. I’d pay more if I could get the quality journalism without the dross and the incessant advertising and the technical problems. But my willingness to wade through the other stuff and deal with the Herald’s other issues is eroding fast; and I don’t believe I’m alone in that.

The sad part about all of this is not only that we’re losing a source of news and an important part of a vibrant democracy, but that, if the Herald’s analysis of the market is right, the younger generation are not interested in substantive journalism. I’m not at all sure that that analysis is correct: But if it is, it  it’s a sad day for us as a society. That NYT article, slightly patronisingly, points out that traditionally “Australians consider themselves a highly informed and highly educated society, despite their geographic isolation.” That’s not going to be the case if all we do is read tabloid articles blindly copy and pasted from the American press.

There has to be a place for serious journalism, serious analysis in the Australian news market. I can’t believe that someone cannot make a subscription model work, perhaps in parallel with an advertising model. I’d pay more to access a Herald shorn of dumb advertising and relentless articles that are nothing more than Twitter quotes, articles with informative headlines and deep analysis. Surely I am not alone?

One thought on “Sydney Morning Herald leaves me behind

  • August 19, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    As always, a well thought-out article and insight into bigger issues. Of course you are not alone. These days I go straight to the Letters page where intelligent people are writing about the real issues.
    Why Fairfax is not trying to get more readers with money to support its still-great-but-declining journalism beats me.


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