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.