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Friday, 15 July 2016

Jasper Writes The Times' Advance Obituary

When I did my cadet journalist training, more than half a century ago, I was told that when a newspaper went from broadsheet to tabloid, it was taking its last step before oblivion. The example offered back then was the London Sun, not long previously taken over by Rupert Murdoch, and in its case this proved not to be true. However, with the Canberra Times, which goes tabloid tomorrow, the change quite clearly represents that brief pause before its inevitable leap off the cliff. One of this newspaper's less informed columnists, Ian Warden, wrote, "Like Lewis Carroll's Alice in Alice In Wonderland your Canberra Times keeps changing size and shape, while, like darling Alice, staying the same delightful character we admire and love." As is usually true of Warden, the opposite applies: The Times has come to be widely despised in this city - as a Monday to Friday circulation which has dropped from the mid-50,000s to under 18,000 since my time there would make abundantly obvious to even Blind Freddy, let alone Blind Ian. (The Saturday circulation has gone from the high 70,000s to 25,000. Meanwhile, this blog passed 2.4 million pages views this morning.) The Times as become a distinctly unappealing product, full of literals, exceedingly bad writing and utterly uninteresting content. As the last of its fully trained and experienced journalists prepare to leave the newspaper in the coming months, its days are patently numbered.
How ironic that among the people asked to write "farewell to the broadsheet" pieces for the Times yesterday was none other than our fellow Canberra Typospherian Jasper Lindell. The Times' belated wisdom in this reflects the poor managerial judgement which has brought the newspaper to its knees. A year or so ago the Times was so blinkered to Jasper's very apparent potential that it didn't even bother to reply to his request for an internship - this was while he was visiting Typospherian Georg Sommeregger in Switzerland. Another, far superior Fairfax daily, The Sydney Morning Herald, saw in Jasper what the Canberra Times hadn't bothered to even look for, and our young friend blossomed as a budding journalist with the opportunity he was given in The Big Smoke. With that experience under his belt, Jasper has been able to break the mould, as it were, for the last broadsheet edition of the Times and contribute to it something that is well written, thoughtful and readable. Here it is:
Breaking the broadsheet habit
By Jasper Lindell
It's November 1998, I'm barely seven months old. I'm propped up in bed with mum as the Saturday Canberra Times is spread around, the pages as big as bed sheets.
The photograph reveals the densely packed columns of classified advertising. I'm distracted by the lurid colours of the catalogues.
It's a picture of the past – a place where, from now, they do things really differently.
I should be too young to give a toss about the passing of the broadsheet era, but for some reason the sound, the bend in the centre fold, the way the expansive columns of justified type sit starkly on the fibrous sheets is still the way I want to read a newspaper.
The advancement of any origami skills I can lay claim to rests solely in my ability, refined over a number of years, reading the broadsheet Times on buses. The new compact edition will be easier to manage on a northbound 300 service, but the self satisfaction from turning the newsprint acreages into readable allotments without driving whoever was sitting next to you raving mad will be sorely missed.
Not that this is the first time Canberra has had to experience the shock of its newspaper shrinking (in size, but not in scope). It was a tabloid during the `50s and `60s, before returning to the grand broadsheet to take on The Australian when it set up shop down the road on Mort Street, Braddon.
Those days, along with the Olivetti typewriters that documented them, are gone. They were over well before I was born. But the broadsheet tradition persisted.
On Saturday mornings, the Hatches, Matches & Dispatches would be perused and the highlights read over breakfast. The big wad of paper would be split into sections and kept us enthralled. I graduated from comics to the front section and world news, while Panorama was reserved first for mum, and dad scanned whatever he found interesting that week.
Then the iPad arrived and no longer could the sections be divvied up. At first I was enthusiastic about this digital future, but then I realised that Saturday mornings couldn't be spent harmoniously, absorbed in words miraculously printed overnight and distributed by morning. Now they were spent with a frustrated itching to get our hands on the digital version.
So my seemingly incurable broadsheet habit had to go underground – and into the week.
I would linger wherever I could acquire a broadsheet Canberra Times. The school library was done with their copy for the day? Certainly, I'll look after it. This cafe was about to chuck theirs out? I'll make sure it goes to a good home. And, even with these tricks, I can say that, as a year 12 student, my biggest expenditure throughout high school has been on newspapers.
Do I have any regrets about sinking cash into a product that has a shorter shelf life than a carton of milk and the resale value of a used cotton bud? None at all. It's a small price to pay to hold your city and the world in your hands every day.
Perhaps I mourn prematurely. The presses won't fall silent. The stock of newsprint hasn't been pulped. The ink hasn't evaporated. There will still be front pages to hold and sections to peruse.
But there won't be the chance to drive people mad on an overcrowded bus when the fine art of broadsheet origami is foiled by a misbehaving fold in the world news page. There'll just be the odd looks afforded a young man such as myself clinging to his reimagined Times: "You know you can read that on your phone, right?"
No, it's just not the same.
Jasper Lindell is a Canberra year 12 student

7 comments:

ZetiX said...

Go Jasper!

Indeed reading the broadsheet newspapers was a totally different experience. You devoted a certain chunk of time purely for that activity. Like when opening the sheer real estate of an ink-stained tree pulp with both hands stretched you were telling the whole outside world: please - go and... take care of yourself for the next hour without me - I am READING now! Any ads that intertwined the articles and stories remained dormant and benign expecting you to notice them and take active and conscious decision to investigate them further at your leisure. Whereas in the digital domain you can be certain these will be aggressively fighting for your attention with movement jumping at you from every angle, hoping that in "just-a-click-away" manner you would spend your hard earned money on things you don't even need. All the bells and whistles of constant reminders and digests of things your friends and acquaintances chose to share with others will add to the distracting noise steering you away from the "newspaper and me" time. Realising all that you start to wonder if "short attention span" should now be classified as a 21st century plague...

Richard P said...

For a REALLY broad sheet, visit this video and start at 4:09.

Richard P said...

Jasper's and ZetiX's comments are on target.

The miserable Cincinnati Enquirer is now also a slim tabloid. The reason is, of course, to save precious pennies by using less newsprint. I'm afraid many papers are doomed.

Here in England, papers seem to be somewhat healthier. The Evening Standard tabloid is a not-terrible paper that's given away free (I suppose all its profits come from advertising) and many people read it on the tube. However, they are outnumbered by people silently swiping at their little glass rectangles.

Robert Messenger said...

Now THAT'S a newspaper!!!

Jasper Lindell said...

Robert, you're too kind!

ZetiX - yes, that's it! Reading a broadsheet meant business; it sure was a poignant experience doing it for the last time on the bus today. I'm nostalgic already, and it's only been a day... anyone caught reading over my shoulder would be given a piece of my mind. Few did it more than once!

Richard - Buster Keaton's on the money! I've always liked this video too, from Sydney-based comedy troupe, The Chaser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENoBcueMMiE

Australia's free evening newspaper, Mx (Sydney and Melbourne only), closed earlier this year, but, unlike the Evening Standard, was a decidedly tabloid affair. It was a digital product on a dead tree - it just couldn't compete in the market it was after. But I'm convinced that there's a market for a free, advertising-powered evening newspaper in Australia with witty and insightful writing, high quality reporting and with a bit of character... a newspaper has only got a future if it can get a whole city talking. Or I'm just an incurable print romantic.

Robert Messenger said...

1. Jasper, never too kind when it comes to paying due respect to your initiative, intuition, intelligence, inquisitiveness and insight, a combination so rare in one so young.
2. Tabloids, in a case such as this (rather than, say, shortages of newsprint) have always been the bottom line in the false economies of desperate, stupid bean-counters. They conveniently forget advertising revenue is proportionately reduced by the size of the adverts. This was the counter when reducing the CT to tabloid size was raised almost 20 years ago. In reality, it has little to do with the supposed convenience of the size of the paper. Very few people read on public transport any longer - the reason used for many evening newspapers going tabloid. The freebies discussed here, as in Sydney, are usually handed out at railway stations.
3. What is overlooked is that the advance of ad blocker apps and an adversion to paying subscriptions are going to kill off online newspapers anyway, so this entire drive to take money, staff and concentration away from print media has been a massive mistake and doomed from the very start. See Paul Barry's Media Watch discussion with Eric Beecham, Alan Kohler etc - they give it two years.

Robert Messenger said...

By the way, Jasper, your article led me to actually handing over hard cash to buy a copy of the CT in perhaps the first time in 20 years. So you've achieved at least that much.