The Sydney Morning Herald
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The Managing Director of the ABC, Mark Scott, recently gave a speech to the Melbourne Press Club in which he outlined his visions for ‘Aunty’ in the years to come.

There were anumber of interesting takes on major themes in journalism – the need to keep investigative journalism strong, using social-networks for promotional causes (‘reaching audiences’ etc), and the tabloidisation of trusted brands in the online space.

“I wonder sometimes if the instant metrics generated in the online world are increasing the temptation to be tabloid in choosing news, pictures and headlines – to draw the eyeballs and the click-through – just as a tabloid designs page one to drive response from the newsstand”, Scott said.

Coming from several years back in the UK, it’s fair to say that the leading broadsheets on the left and right, The Guardian and The Telegraph, have done reasonably well in avoiding this dumbing down. I carried out a dissertation for a masters around 18 months ago, and found despite the fact articles about popstars and football rated very well indeed – usually at the top – online editors still resisted putting them in the most prominent positions, more often than not. Search engines, in-bound links and general curiosity brought people to them. Leaving aside tabloids proper, the same could not be said of ‘midrange’ papers, namely the Daily Mail, which pursue far more celebrity based ‘news’ online than it does in print – and does well in the ratings because of it.

“There is nothing wrong with tabloids”, Scott went on. “I hasten to add, nodding in the direction of journalistic colleagues from the Herald Sun. But in great newspaper markets – like New York and London, Melbourne and Sydney – the tabs and the broadsheets have operated side by side, offering different content to different segments of the market. They expressed themselves differently in many ways.

“In the online space, however, that distinction blurs – tabloids and broadsheets tend to behave the same way, as if the online audience’s primary need is to be entertained. The result is the kind of editorial thinking that means we get far more coverage – as has been noted – of Paris Hilton than Paris, France. More Angelina and Brad than Angola and Chad.”

There’s a lot in this, especially, at first glance, in Australia. You only have to look at the Sydney Morning Herald and the distinctions one can draw between the broadsheet and smh.com.au. The paper has fallen a long way with Fairfax’s financial issues arguably at the core, but as for the online offering, it’s getting harder to brand the smh.com.au website a ‘serious’ news site. Visit the site every day for a week, and judging by the homepage, it would near impossible not to call it a tabloid.

As for Australia’s public service broadcasters, the ABC and the SBS, it will be an interesting challenge in the coming months and years to ensure the online offerings do not stray too far from what viewers and listeners honed on what can arguably called ‘broadsheet’ principles come to expect – the ABC and SBS do not create tabloid TV – even if online metrics are telling us to do something else.

After all, this is what state-funded journalism and ‘news’ is all about.

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Comments
  1. billcode says:

    commenting on my own piece as now the http://www.smh.com.au website has really souped it up with some site changes. arguably more tabloid? world news even further off the pace…

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