Guardian Australia not the droid you’re looking for

The Guardian masthead: click for media releaseThere’s something weird and creepy about the way journalists and other media tragics have been fawning gape-jawed over this morning’s official announcement that The Guardian is launching an Australian edition. Mummy England will save us from the evil Mr Murdoch!

What, like some weird hybrid lefty combat nanny droid, constructed in the UK’s finest media laboratories out of the Queen, Sigourney Weaver (as Ripley) and Brooke Vandenberg, strapping itself into the drop ship to bring quality journalism back to the colony planet?

I even saw one highly-experienced media professional say it was great to see people trying new things. “New”? Which bit about this is “new”, exactly? Words and a few pictures on a website, written by the same kinds of people that have always written them?

It’s all being spun as a positive thing, of course, and the reporting so far seems to be swallowing the party line. The Guardian expands, challenges existing operators, media diversity quality journalism democracy commitment innovation groundbreaking unique take blah blah effing blah fuck it kill me now.

Knowing nothing more than what’s in the media release, let’s do a bit of old-fashioned follow-the-money…

“Graeme Wood, the entrepreneur founder of travel website wotif and chair of the news and features website The Global Mail, will be a founding investor,” is says.

So another way to spin this is that Wood, having pissed off everyone at The Global Mail, as m’colleagues at Crikey and elsewhere have reported, is now putting his money into a brand with better street cred, and a better chance of giving him the influence he’s presumably wanting to buy.

Put that way, it really doesn’t sound a whole lot different from the way Mr Murdoch operates his media empire. Wood, despite his philanthropy to various fashionable left-wing causes, isn’t Mother Teresa — though there’s obviously a belief by some that a Teresa-like saviour figure has strapped herself into the drop ship too.

When I expressed these… doubts on Twitter today, the response was sad and predictable.

“Providing non-Liberal Party dictated news? Well overdue,” was how one pseudonymous political tweeter explained the perceived advantages of our new Brit-Oz masthead. Yes, because until now there’s been nothing in the Australian media that isn’t a Liberal Party media release. Obviously.

(I think I’ll skip my usual rant directed at the arsehats who still imagine that everything is explained by dividing the world into two pre-defined political tribes.)

“It is the coverage of politics that is the problem. Bring on The Guardian for some much-needed progressive perspective,” tweeted another. And I suppose they’re right, given the serried ranks of media investors already quick-marching to Australia to satisfy this vast untapped demand for media written from a progressive perspective. Oh wait.

Look, it’s great that someone is investing money in Australian journalism during a time of doubt and uncertainty. And the gods know someone needs to pick up the ball that Fairfax has dropped so many times.

But really, there’s only so much that Australian audiences and advertisers will spend on media, and Guardian Australia will have the burden of having to ship a good proportion of its profits back to the motherland. I’m happy to be proven wrong. I’d love to be proven wrong. But I really don’t think this is the droid you’re looking for.

[Update 1815 AEDT: If you're here for the first time, welcome. Feel free to look around at what else I do, including written work elsewhere, radio and TV spots, and indeed stuff I've written about journalism. If you've got time for a long read, well, I just rediscovered my Sunday Thoughts about Journalism from 2008. Or you can just keep selecting random stuff from the "Random Flashbacks" thingo in the left-hand sidebar. Please also comment. Enjoy.]

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  1. glengyron’s avatar

    So far Graeme Wood has been far more meddlesome in his media stakes than Gina Rinehart.

    Reply

  2. Sathias’s avatar

    I think you are right that some of the “Guardian as our incoming media saviour” stuff is a little overdone right at this point in time.

    But anything that diversifies our media landscape from being so NewsLtd-heavy is obviously a good thing. Both for readers, and hopefully also for journos to have another possible outlet for their product, with the seemingly increasing decline of Fairfax, and the ongoing transformation of NewsLtd into a full-blown propaganda unit for the LNP.

    Currently, my daily news read consists of Fairfax, the ABC and Crikey, I’m hoping that The Guardian Australia will be a worthy addition to that list.

    Reply

  3. InSilence’s avatar

    Gee, the chip on shoulder attitude Aussies have towards the ‘Motherland’ is growing exponentially after this announcement.

    Reply

  4. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @glengyron: Wood has certainly fiddled with staffing at The Global Mail. Have there been reports of him fiddling with editorial?

    Though that said, it’s his money so I reckon he can do what he likes. “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.

    @InSilence: It would be a very big mistake indeed to imagine I speak for Australia or somehow represent typical Australian views. It’s also not so much a chip on the shoulder but my rebellion against the cultural cringe.

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  5. BernieTB’s avatar

    I still want to know what Gerard Henderson will refer to The Age as if there starts being an actual Guardian on the Yarra.

    Still, I’m not sure what exactly having another medium sized outlet with a small overall audience is actually going to change about the general media landscape in this country.

    If I asked a random people on the street if they knew what The Guardian was, I wonder what results I’d get? I suspect that this is going to end up just being another little outlet churning out content that it’s small, like-minded group of readers agree with.

    Maybe it’ll succeed, maybe it will disappear into obscurity – like the Global Mail pretty much has – after the initial hype dies down.

    But I’m generally agreed, this is not the droid you’re looking for.

    Reply

  6. Duncan Riley’s avatar

    Have these people never read The Age or the SMH?

    Reply

  7. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @BernieTB: Ah yes, asking “random people on the street”… what in the media business is known as the vox pop, from the Latin vox populi or “voice of the people”…

    During one of the years when I was working for what is now ABC 891 Adelaide, I did a vox pop every weekday, usually recorded in Adelaide’s King William Street or Rundle Mall as people were arriving for work, and broadcast straight after the 1100 news. It was usually about one of the day’s news topics — something people would have heard on the radio that morning, or read on the front page of the newspaper.

    What struck me almost every single day was that the views of these random people on the street were usually very different from those who phoned into the talkback — even given ABC Radio’s less-toxic talkback style than commercial radio’s — and that it was often rather different from the media’a chosen narrative.

    I’ve often thought that I should resurrect that little media object…

    Reply

  8. glengyron’s avatar

    @stilgherrian I agree with you on the owners having the right to do what they want. I was criticising the perspective that “everything Rinehart does is bad, because right-wing, and everything Wood does is good, because left-wing”. That sort of politicsball attitude is completely facile.

    Reply

  9. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @glengyron: Ah! Yeah it might have worked better if you’d made that connection explicit. :) I can be remarkably dumb at times.

    Reply

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