Fairfax may own The Age but it belongs to Melbourne

I wrote this for The Age in 2008 and the wouldn’t publish it.

Isn’t this newspaper about varied voices, rigorous discussion and dissecting the important issues that affect us all? Isn’t Melbourne the place where we love a chat and are not afraid, indeed we relish a stoush, an argument and a heated discussion about what’s going on in our world no matter how close to home and uncomfortable it may be?

Isn’t Melbourne the culture capital, the coffee capital and the chinwag capital of Australia and weren’t we recently universally recognized as mad for words, bang up for ideas and not afraid of rigorous debate when UNESCO named Melbourne as it’s second city of literature.  Why Melbourne? Because we have more writers living in our town, more bookshops per head and because we devour more books, newspapers and magazines than anywhere else in this sunburnt country. And we’re proud of it.

Aren’t we passionate about bravely nutting out our changing world and isn’t this newspaper a crucial part of that?

The Age newspaper is an enormous part of the heart and soul of Melbourne.  It’s up there with trams, footy, potato cakes, pots of beer, Flinders Street Station, wenchy girls in black with red wine colored lips and blokes who proudly push prams. The Age sponsors, among other things, the Melbourne Comedy Festival and The Melbourne Writers Festival. Places people come for entertainment but often leave saited after being dazzled with ideas and  confronted with uncomfortable truths.

Then hang on here ladies and gents, can anyone explain to me why there have been no opinion articles published about Fairfax media cutting 550 jobs from their media business despite recording a net profit of $386.9 million for 2007-08. And no comment about Sydney Morning Herald’s Mike Carlton being sacked for refusing to cross the picket line and file his weekly column?   Fairfax promises that the cuts won’t undermine the quality of the newpapers and the CEO David Kirk suggest that it’s “mischievous” for outspoken staff to suggest otherwise. Isn’t it great we care? Isn’t that what you would want as an employer?  Employees that give a rats? Staff went on strike on Friday and the good news is that Fairfax Media has reached an agreement with the striking workers. So it’s business as usual.  For now.

Corporate anorexia is rife in these tumultuous times and Fairfax is no different to any other business.  Last year it posted a big fat healthy profit.  The job cuts are part of a predictive damage control initiative to combat the projected effects of the dramatic changes in mainstream media from print to digital. The whole media landscape is changing. We all know that.  The dissemination of information is moving online because that’s where the readers and the advertisers are heading.  But not all of them.  We’re from Melbourne.

Ben Eltham from New Matilda reported that The Age has been one of the very few newspapers anywhere in the western world to increase circulations in the past three years.  Do keep in mind that Melbourne is one of the only places in the world where Starbucks coffee and McDonald have been forced to close stores.  Yep you aren’t from round here are ya?

This paper, our paper was once run by a company with ink in it’s veins, a company passionate about newspapers.  It’s now run by a corporation.  Business people, accountants and lawyers who view news and information as a product. It’s your job, as readers, to keep an eye on them.   A newspaper is not the same as a fruit shop.  When you own a newspaper you have a corporate responsibility to contribute to and encourage national debate and to remember that you provide a community service, not just profits to the shareholders. The content of your newspaper and how it’s communicated effects the fabric of the society we live in and the culture we become. My kids want to eat ice cream for breakfast everyday.  That doesn’t mean I give it to them.

Since I have been writing for The Age I have been astonished and heartwarmed by the level of pride and passion that people have who work for this paper.  And the loyalty of the readers. Readers who are disappointed in the quality or content or feel let down by editorial direction are vocal, noisy and as wounded as a jilted lover.

Sure, Fairfax owns this newspaper.  But it belongs to us.  The readers and the people who make this paper.  Cherish it and protect it because when you start dismantling things nut-by-nut, bolt-by-bolt, screw-by-screw it can be impossible to put it back together again.  Make your voices heard about how you want to digest your news, your culture, your sport and your commentary. Because if you don’t you may end up with a newspaper outsourced to India and delivered by text to your mobile phone.  And then how will you be able to cut a Leunig cartoon out and stick it on your fridge?

This Sunday June 24 Catherine Deveny In Conversation with Stella Young 3pm North Fitzroy Star. BUY TICKETS HERE with QandA, special guest Nelly Thomas, door prizes and a musical act you’ll be talking about for weeks.

Go Back