Bartlett's Blog

Andrew Bartlett has been active in politics for over 20 years, including as a Queensland Senator from 1997-2008. This blog started in 2004 and reflects his own views, independent of any political party or organisation.

The new Courier-Mail

I mentioned in a previous item the fact that the Courier-Mail newspaper in my hometown of Brisbane has changed to a tabloid format (although the paper seems to prefer the word “compact” rather than “tabloid”). I wasn’t expecting there to be much difference beyond it being easier to handle and fewer articles on each page. However, I have been surprised by how different I have found the paper, with the change in style greater than I expected.

The newspaper has been around in one form or another since the 19th Century, so some might say it is a historic change and there has certainly been a lot of comment on it. (A random piece of trivia: the man who founded one of the forerunners of the Courier-Mail, James Swan, lived in the 1880s just up the road from where I live now. His old house is still there.)

However one thing which doesn’t seem to have drawn so much attention is the significant redesign of the Courier-Mail website, which I must say I find to be an improvement. One of the new features the website has is a prominent blog section, with a range of items on diverse topics, all allowing open comment threads, similar to this blog. Having a blog as part of a newspaper’s website is not new of course. Overseas papers like The Guardian and the Washington Post have used it to good effect. Indeed The Guardian has just added a new ‘Comment is Free‘ blog which lets the public post blog entries rather than just post comments. Read the article by the journalist who edited the first week of this site to get an idea of how different it is to the traditional producer-consumer approach.

In the paper, you tend to look for the definitive piece on a subject of the day by the best writer. On the site the principle is, the more the merrier.

We were slightly amazed by the sheer number of people who blogged in the first four days: by Friday morning 104 contributors had posted 212 pieces and we had more than 800 comments from readers on the site. So much for our fear before launch that no one would turn up.

It’s easy to dismiss this sort of thing as a gimmick but I think it is a potentially positive initiative and I’m pleased the Courier appears to be giving it more of a go. It can give the newspaper editors and writers ideas about what topics spark interest or divide opinion or are misunderstood or just bore people senseless. It enables the public to read – and respond to – the views of each other, rather than just be stuck with whatever the newspaper’s writers dish up to them.

The range of topics covered on the Courier-Mail blogs range from the political – Graham Lloyd has put up pieces recently on West Papua and the atrocious health inequities endured by many indigenous Australians, and David Costello also has good pieces on West Papua and Iraq – to other topics such as sports, consumer issues, music, technology and more. In an unexpected example of crossover, a comment I posted to Graham Lloyd’s piece on West Papua was then run in the hardcopy version of the newspaper the next day. I found this a bit ironic, given the difficulty I usually have getting much of a run with the traditional media releases and media comments I made.

Rupert Murdoch – whose company News Limited owns the Courier-Mail (and most other sizeable newspapers in Queensland) – has been quoted recently saying that the internet and other so-called ‘new media’ will totally reshape the media landscape in coming years. I’m not sure anyone knows for sure how it will pan out (although I think it’s a fair bet it will still be dominated by a few very large corporations). This piece from The Economist examines how “Traditional media companies are making a huge push onto the internet

However, the dynamic, easily accessible and real-time nature of the internet should hopefully continue to develop in ways which allow more direct and diverse information sharing and communication than was possible in the past.

For people who are interested in politics (which I concede is a minority), I don’t think any mainstream media blogs in Australia have so far matched the pioneer in the genre, former Sydney Morning Herald journo and author Margo Kingston, in her desire to seek opinion and engage with the wider public in exploring and developing ideas. Although she was and remains a favourite target for cheap-shot attacks from right wingers, I always found her more interested in challenging accepted views from across the spectrum than just using her site as a platform to try to force one ideology down the throats of her readers.

She eventually broke away from the paper and went solo and then pulled out of her Webdiary site – although I wouldn’t be surprised if she returns. The site still continues on pursuing its vision, trying new ways of building engagement. It is worth a visit. You can check it out now by clicking here.

Advertisement

9 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. I’m glad that someone has mentioned the new format. I have started to visit it everyday and find it pretty good. It reminds me a bit of the Fairfax sites but is a little more interactive.

    I wonder if this is a trial for the other News Limited newspapers? Maybe The Australian website might be upgraded soon as well?

  2. Paul Walter

    Well done, Andrew, for acknowledging energetic Margo Kingston and her site. I notice you have asssiduously attemptd to cultivate the same atmosphere of open-mindedness here, and that is the best tribute you could have paid her.
    It is sad to see, in contrast as per spirit and deed, Coonan’s GUTLESS move to suppress the position of staff representative on the ABC board, hence a defacto suppression of the ABC itself through an attack on the diversity of representation on that board.
    Hullo, fascism!!
    Finally, the Courier Mail. Coming from another Murdoch one-paper town, Adelaide, this writer can thoroughly sympathise with people from places like Brisbane or Perth, as per diversity or lack thereof of news sources and compromised judgement as to news relevance. That is apart from theabsolute narrowness of Tabloid editorial stances. Coming on-line in the late nineties was Eye opener.
    As for the Adelaide Advertiser;it went tabloid years ago as per size and years before that as per content.
    I had not realised previously just how good newspapers like the Canberra Times, Age and SMH, let alone a braodsheet like the Guardian, could be. Although the above have have all deteriorated recently, particularly the SMH as per content, they still are incrementally superior to the tabloids and their presence has helped ensure that the Murdoch Australian at least tries to maintain a little of what miniscule integrity it still possesses.
    Unfortunately, the latest attack on the ABC is only a symptom of a wider process of dumbing down affecting all broadsheet media. Soon it will be like Stalinist Russia or Nazi Gemany, where only views conforming to those of the particular ruling oligarchy will be permitted expression and facts involving the real, wide, outside world will never see the light of day, to the detriment of all.
    Oh, Brave New Orwellian World.

  3. Paul. It aleardy is. Try getting a story out about the cruelty of live exports with Murdoch being a major live exporter. Try writing to the minister of Comunications about the conflict of interest. Shes too busy patting sheep and getting her photo taken. Gee I wonder if it was one of Ruperts just before he sent it to die slowly of heat stress or have its eyes pulled out while still alive with human thumbs. I will tell you what would be a better improvment to the papers would be. If people like him were not allowed to have such a glaring conflict of interest. We are living in R . you just dont know it.

  4. Paul Walter

    Hey Wendy.
    The big mystery would then be how they didn’t confuse Coonan with one of her woolly patsies and have her sent on a mid east mutton-cruise herself, instead. She sure fits the bill. I watched her on Lateline tonight and wondered how anything so intestinally-deficient could be part of our government, until I realised she’s probably the rule rather than the exception.
    You look at the news and watch how millions of people in Pakistan, Africa, Iraq etc end up; what hope a poor sheep?
    Even in our own supposedly civilised country this very day there were stories about a woman gang-raped and killed after being doped and a baby dying in agony in a domestic abuse situation.
    Then there was another bizarre story involving grossly insensitive treatment of one “Mr T”, detained for ages under circumstances similar to that of Alvarez and Rau. That’s apart from all the lies, arrogance, deceit and greed surfacing with AWB ( no wonder the polis want THAT censored ).
    I am probably going to regret asking, but what was this gruesome story you were relating concerning a sheep having its eyes tugged out while still alive?

  5. It’s good to see the Government finally acting to curb the rampant bias of the ABC.

    There should not be a staff-elected director at all — it is not the job of the staff to determine the ABC’s priorities. It’s their job to serve the stated function of the ABC: “to ensure that the gathering and presentation by the Corporation of news and information is accurate and impartial according to the recognized standards of objective journalism”.

    This the ABC conspicuously and deliberately fails to do, due to its rampant bias. I’d like the whole useless corporation to be abandoned, but since that is unlikely, enforcing some standards of public accountability on it would be the next best thing.

    As for the SMH and its ilk, the rapidly declining audience of these moonbat broadsheeets reflects their appeal to a diminishing minority of leftists. Meanwhile, successful and growing papers like the Courier-Mail and the Herald Sun continue to reflect the concerns of the majority of Australians, and so they continue to outperform the leftist rags.

    Eventually the Internet will swallow up all of these, and the left-wing loonies of Fairfax, the ABC and SBS will become even less relevant. What a fine day that will be.

  6. It’s interesting that they seem to be discouraging the use of the word “tabloid”…

    I used to work for a News subsidiary (one that didn’t involve paper size at all) where we were told by the editors that they were proud to be labelled a tabloid publication, on the grounds that tabloids tend to be more terse and jump straight to the relevant facts – thus allowing people to get to the core of the story faster.

  7. Geoff

    Yes it’s a form of elitist snobbery referring to tabloids in the derogative.

    The advantage a “tabloid” has over a broadsheet is that they are easier to handle and therefore read. One would think this is a primary requisite for a newspaper.

    I find “The Age” probably the best paper we have in Australia. The SMH have recently tried to reform their obvious political bias by allowing a few so-called right-wing journalists to be published in it.

    Over all… having read all the Fairfax and News Ltd papers in Australia and most of them on a daily basis. I find they all cover events fairly well, with notable journalistic exceptions, usually in the Op-ed pieces. Ramsey’s rants, Carlton’s crap, etc, etc, etc….

    EPs point re the ABc is totally correct, how it came about that they developed such a PC LW bias is beyond me. Yet it does exist.

  8. John Barry

    The lyrics should be changed to

    Yeh the courier mail just became a tabloid la la la lalala

    As if it wasn’t shit enough already tra la la lalala

  9. Shannon Kincade

    My thoughts when I found out that the Courier Mail was going tabloid were quite negative – besides the positive effect of being easier to read on public transport, tabloid journalism worries me as I come from a place where a tabloid rules the roost – Cairns with The Cairns Post.

    The advertising campaign was huge and I often wonder if their sales have gone up or stayed the same?

    It is a worry, a capital city newspaper partnering with tabloid style – can you imagine the headline hunting?!

    I must say that so far, I am neither that impressed or that disappointed.
    I’d much rather read a paper that focuses on local news and I feel sorry for Brisbane that they don’t really have that (besides Quest of course – which is kind of lame most of the time)…

Mini Posts

  • Rhetoric vs reality

    I’ve had a break from writing for a variety of reasons, but the reckless approach the new Queensland government is taking to their spending decisions – and the straightout nonsensicality of some of their claims – roused me enough to pen a piece for New Matilda. Time will tell whether the Newman government will start trying to ensure their statements have some connection with reality – I suggest the way they respond next year to the findings of the inquiry into child safety which they’ve established will be a significant test.

    (2)
  • End of LP the end of a blogging era

    Back in October, I wrote here about the decline or re-defining of blogs, at least in the Australian political arena.  The relatively few posts I’ve done on this blog since then shows how much less useful I find it to do my own blog than I used to, and as I mentioned back then, a big reason why I don’t read many of the blogs I used to is because the valuable links to many interesting stories, ideas and pieces of information can be found more easily through Twitter or Facebook, sometimes with comment threads which are also at least as good. The recent announcement by the Larvatus Prodeo blog that they are ceasing to operate is quite a significant one.

    More... (7)
  • A final comment on Labor's leadership laments

    Fundamentally, I don’t greatly care about the outcome of Labor’s leadership travails. As my previous post indicates, the bigger issue is that the ALP is being fundamentally damaged by the toxicity of this brawl, and the fact that the brawl is happening in this way is a sign of some much greater problems within Labor. Whatever the immediate outcome, I think those problems are likely to continue.  The outcome of the leadership contest (including the size of what will surely be a Gillard victory) will shape how those problems play out, but they will still be there. Not surprisingly, I see this as presenting an opportunity for the Greens to build some support, but more importantly it presets extra responsibility and obligation for the Greens to be a stronger counter to what is a seriously reactionary Coalition. But seeing we’re all pundits now, and despite having little inside knowledge, my prediction is that there will be no ‘third candidate’ in tomorrow’s leadership ballot.  Julia Gillard will win comfortably. The instability will not disappear. It’s quite possible there will be another leadership ballot before the election but Kevin Rudd will not become leader then either. No matter how good Kevin Rudd looks in the polls, that polling lead would disappear very quickly if he was back in the PM’s job.

    (29)
  • A long time between hits

    In amongst all the politics and policy stuff, I try to make time to do some things that are completely disconnected from that*.  One thing I’ve found myself doing recently is doing a bit of practicing with a band, which has led to me doing a live performance for the first time in a long time.  Readers of this blog with a very long memory for minor matters may recall that I played keyboards in a couple of mini-performances with a band as part of promoting the Rock Against Howard compilation CD prior to the 2004 election.  However, drumming is what I’m better at – although I’m still a long way short of being able to say I’m good at it – which is what I am doing in the band I’m currently doing stuff with.  They’re doing their first full live Brisbane show tonight – which I think will be the first time since 1988 I’ve played drums in a live show.  It’s all nice and low-key, and for peoples’ enjoyment rather with an eye to making money out of it, so will make a nice change. *Actually, I don’t think anything is completely disconnected from politics. By coincidence, today also happens to be National SLAM Day – Save Live Australian Music.  As their website shows,

    More... (0)
  • The Ups & Downs of Ups & Downs - interview with Greg Atkinson

    I’ve mentioned before my liking for the 80s Brisbane band Ups and Downs. I got a chance to interview their lead singer Greg Atkinson on 4ZzZ FM a few weeks ago. They’ve released a compilation CD of 20 of their best tunes and played a gig in Brisbane earlier this month to promote and celebrate it. It was a fairly long interview, but I found it very interesting to hear the views of someone who has been active in the independent sphere of the music industry for so long about what has changed and what is the same. You can listen to the interview at this link.

    (0)
  • Speeches to refugee rally + SIEV-X exhibition

    A local activist helpfully recorded speeches given by myself and by Julian Burnside at a refugee rights rally held in Brisbane last Saturday.  You can listen to them here and here. The rally was held to mark the tenth anniversary of the sinking of the SIEV-X.  353 refugees drowned when that refugee boat sank on the way to Australia on 19 October 2001.  There is a beautiful exhibition at The Studio on the ground level at the State Library of Qld this week, commemorating that anniversary. It finishes this weekend – I strongly recommend you try to get along for a look if you have a chance. The Library also has a screening of the documentary Hope on Friday October 28 – this film tell the story of Amal Basry, one of the few survivors of that tragedy.

    (0)
  • Stuff from my 4ZZZ shift this week

    Every Monday morning I do a shift on radio 4ZzZ FM102.1 – Brisbane’s longest serving community radio station (36 years old this year). And almost every week I talk with social media expert and lawyer Peter Black about some current political and other issues. You can listen to our talk this week by clicking on this link (it goes for over 30 minutes and has the occasional sweary word, so probably best just for dedicated fans). You can see the songlist I played this week – as usual featuring a sizable number of local artists – at this link, which in most cases also contains further links to other videos, information or photos of the artists.

    (3)