Dear Fairfax Media,
Oh, what has come of this new Age?
Today marks The Age’s first edition in a new ‘compact’ format. But, unfortunately the paper I opened this morning seems to have been filled with more advertising than quality journalism one would expect from such a longstanding source of professional news reporting. I appreciate the arduous process you’ve gone through to establish, edit and produce this new Age, but the result is something much more like those trashy tabloids it sits next to in Victoria’s news agencies. The font, the increased type, the colour-coding system… they’re all lost on me, I’m afraid. And despite your claim that this evolution will make the paper ‘Easier to pick up, [and] harder to put down’, my personal track record is telling otherwise.
Maybe it was just the kind of day I’ve had: first day back at university for the year, new subjects, new people, early morning trains to catch, no seat to sit on on a peak hour train, conversations to be had, internet to distract me and breakfast to be eaten. But as I’ve mentioned I’m a loyal, daily reader of the printed news. And this paper is far from welcoming.
You say you ‘Got the answer, no questions asked’, but maybe you should have asked some questions. You used experts (tick) to monitor readers (tick) using neurological technologies (tick) to gain insight into their unconscious (tick). It sounds impressive when you put it like that, I’ll admit. But consider this sentence – page 20, teal coloured News section of today’s edition – ‘More than 100 readers of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald were asked to read both broadsheet and compact versions of the newspapers in real-life conditions…’. More than 100 readers of two major newspapers? That’s all you could manage? And real-life conditions? Shit, that must’ve been hard to emulate! Now tell me, Fairfax, what was the demographic of the sample you ‘asked’ to participate in your ‘research’? Were they representative of your current readership? The readership you’d like to gain? Or maybe those you’d like to lose? And you say results found compacts were ‘considerably more engaging…”obviously [with] great results for our advertisers too”‘. Well from what I can tell, the greatest advertising source in today’s paper is you, yourselves. Yes, you must have some kind of explanation as to why you’ve made this terrible decision to move to a more ‘engaging’ format but I highly doubt it warrants five pages of advertising within the first 21 pages of space used for NEWS reporting. Is this really the biggest news of the day? And if it’s not news, then your colour-coding is lying to me. On day one!
Additionally, instead of having maybe, six or seven articles to a page, we now have one, and that one report takes up half the space while the other 50% is filled with advertising (and as we established, mostly yours). Your paper is now more ads than news, and the funny thing is, on pages 20 and 21, you’re advertising your new format to those who’ve already made it that far into the paper. Chances are they’re wanting more real news and less ads at this point, yet the surprises today just keep on coming. You explain Matt Martel “spent a couple of hundred dollars buying up French newspapers, Spanish newspapers, Dutch newspapers…” to see what ‘worked’ and what didn’t. But maybe that money could have been better spent interviewing Australians, your primary readers, and you could have applied those findings to your investigation.
And the thing is, it’s not the compact format I am against. I am a frequent user of Melbourne’s public transport system. I like to read my news, in the morning, in print. The broadsheet was awkward to hold and its pages were messy to turn in such close proximity to other commuters. But what I am challenging here, is the content. The way it is presented. The news to advertising ratio. The commercial look. The cheesy use of colour. The font that reminds me of comic sans even though it’s not. The weather page is hard to understand. The ‘cheap factor’ has increased and the aesthetic appeal has been washed away with last week’s rain. And now a footy fanatic must wait until their spouse/friend/family member has finished reading about global politics before they can analyse their team’s victory from Sunday’s twilight match. Or vise-versa. And clealry, that is about as far from Melbournian as it comes.
So, Greg Hywood (CEO and MD), David Housego (CFO) and the Board of Fairfax Media, I ask you, what would the late David Syme, founder and cultivator of your fruits, say about this new Age? Or maybe you could just ask some of your loyal readers, that might be easier.
I want to coin #bringbackbroadsheet and set it off on Twitter. I want you to know how I feel, and how I’ve no doubt, many of your thousands of readers feel. Because today is no doubt, one of the Darkest Days in Australian Media. Stuff sport, politics and the ‘big banks’ lies’ you speak of. You’ve topped the lot. And prepare for the onslaught and retaliation you’ve sparked. Because you can’t change a Melbourne institution without hearing from the people. So hear you will.