24 Mar


Some people say I pick on the Herald-Sun a lot, and I do, and today is no different. Today I’ll be picking on the Herald-Sun. But today is different because I’m going to try to be ‘balanced’ and ‘objective’. I’m going to pick on the Sydney Morning Herald as well. Thing is this will be impossible. I will still hate the Herald-Sun more. I have my reasons and expect to list them during what follows. Some are personal, some more generally relevant. If we can’t be objective, I think we can at least sort out our prejudices.


These two images of the cover are uploaded from the net. I picked them quickly. Looking at them I think they get to the heart of my prejudice. The cover of the Sydney Morning Herald seems more like a newspaper; the headline expresses something I need to know. The cover the Herald-Sun contrawise is a real life soap opera. I need know nothing about the love life of a footballer but, as most people want to know about that, that’s what we get.

This is not an anomaly. Looking at this week’s Herald-Sun we see a catalog of three-word headlines all fundamentally emotive: All Fired Up (football); Will Power (spruiking monarchy); Snap! You’re Busted (crime); Nowhere To Hide – Gadaffi, the Libyan bombings.

Monday’s editions of the leading Fairfax and News Ltd express best for me the difference in the style of the papers. It is style I’m concerned with today. Neither editorially disagrees with the commencement of military action by NATO forces to stop the government forces of Muhamer Gaddafi slaughtering his rebellious people. Moreover there’s nothing explicitly right or left-wing about the postures of the publications on this issue. Fairfax preaches caution; News Ltd says that it’s the right thing to do, end of. We appear to have a choice between the paleoconservative (realist) and neo-conservative (benevolent imperialist) schools of geopolitics. The old-school conservative position is adopted by Fairfax.

The Herald-Sun‘s headline is, as said, Nowhere To Hide. There’s a huge photograph of a Tomahawk Cruise Missile launching from an aircraft carrier and an overset photo of Gaddafi looking decrepit and corrupt. The SMH edition carries a 7 column reportage from a correspondent in the region, the photo, also of a missile launch, is small. The article breaks down the various positions and statements of the agents in this arena. Those, I should say, relevant to Australia (I most sincerely doubt the utterings of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were featured in the New York Times.) The Herald-Sun does the same thing inside.

Both papers feature an internal double spread on the campaign. In both there’s a map, a photo or two of a symbol of Western military power. The SMH’s report has already featured reportage on the cover so there’s an editorialization from the chief correspondent which urges caution lest Libya become another Afghanistan. News Ltd tells us that ‘World leaders have vowed to end Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi’s brutal rule with a series of missile and sir strikes’. Fact is that world leaders vowed nothing of the sort. But underneath the nuanced bullshit of their DiploBot speak that’s what they mean. News Ltd is straight-talking see. Not like the wishy-washy shifty liberals at Fairfax.

There’s the obligatory Fairfax expert analysis. This comes from a neo-Wilsonian admirer of Bill Clinton (the advocate of “the most robust liberal internationalism” so he tells us). But, he toes the Fairfax line: caution. As he says the elimination of Col Gaddafi is far from assured and the UN resolution only allows an objective that will “stop the slaughter of Libyan civilians, overthrowing the regime is up to the Libyans”. There’s caution all thru the Sydney Morning Herald. In the Herald-Sun there’s no such thing: Libyan strikes were justified, no question. “Muhamar Gaddafi is a tyrannical and bloody dictator who has lost the plot”.

Now I support the stance of the Herald Sun but I find the illustration of complexities and nuances offered by the Fairfax paper more useful and interesting. There’s a column of quotes by Obama, Gaddafi, Rudd, Sarkosky, Cameron and the Chinese government. There’s a separate article on the US emphasis that this is a NATO exercise led by France and the UK. There’s a piece on the children Gadaffi has been using as human shields. In the Herald-Sun there’s two pieces and an editorial that says it’s the right thing to do. This last is over-dominated by Alan Howe’s column: a letter to comatose Israeli statesman Ariel Sharon explaining what’s happened while he’s been asleep and why most of it is Obama’s fault.

In the Sydney Morning Herald our neo-Wilsonian praises Obama’s adoption of Bill Clinton’s pragmatism-idealism balance. I most sincerely hope that this doesn’t include Clinton’s media cowardice, his fumbling over the Balkans or his carpet bombing of Iraq to distract the American people from certain under-the-desk oral recreations. The Fairfax chief correspondent contemplates George W Bush’s sad humour and nausea as he sees Obama wander into the same hopeless miasma he did haplessly (so the writer implies and believes) ten years ago. Caution: the firm agreement with Obama’s revival of realism as the principle attitude in geopolitical endeavor. Because of the Neo-cons, the Left has become Eisenhowerish. Funny isn’t it?

In neither paper is there anything that significantly deviates from the line deployed at editorial level. What reason for the line? Well that’s some other speculation but each firm has its own. News Ltd says Good. Fairfax says: Good.. but careful. Each says it for its target market. Each has its justifications. And finally neither is superior. I prefer Fairfax generally for the same reason I preferred their coverage of the Libyan bombings. And like same I may not agree with the line but you get more concrete information about important matters. That is to say I prefer it because I’m an upper middle-class art wanker.

Milan Kundera writes that the spirit of the Media Age converges us to a point of universal global culture in which, camouflaged by political diversity (duopoly actually), we are exposed only to the same contents, the same headlines, the same view of life. This is the opposite of the spirit of the novel which tells you that things are not as simple as you think, that shows you some hereto unexposed aspect of life. In the media world everything is exposed, everything is simplified and made easier for consumption; homogeneous, manufactured according to the same formula packaged in at least two brands and, for reasons that can only be expressed in economic jargon, preferably only in two. The same paste in a different colour plastic box.

Are we there yet? No. Melbourne’s tabloid and Sydney’s broadsheet are two clearly discernible publications. They do not have the same headlines. But we are heading there. We are going that way so fast that the past and the future drop off. We are stuck in the eternal now; an endless moment of perpetual and distracting blur.


7 Responses to “A TALE OF TWO HERALDS”

  1. Peter Patton March 26, 2011 at 3:53 am #

    I very rarely read newspapers at all any more. But I have to say, I have always had a soft-spot for the tabloids. I have always been flummoxed by this attitude that distinguishes between human interest/entertainment/gossip/celebrities, and “real news”, which, growing up, always struck me as meaning “the Palestinians”. I can’t see why anybody should feel obligated to throw all their media consumption into far-flung dramas, rather than 17 year old girls uploading photos of AFL player’s dicks.

  2. AC Stewart March 26, 2011 at 11:56 pm #

    I can’t see why anybody should feel obligated to throw all their media consumption into far-flung dramas, rather than 17 year old girls uploading photos of AFL player’s dicks.

    N’uk 🙂

    Thing is I was raised in a place where things were serious and newsreading was a duty. I don’t really hate or despise the tabloids but I wish there was just one real newspaper in Australia. And there isn’t. This goes for the Luvvie Press as well, which is pretty much typified by Mark Banisch’s bit on how the Libyan thingie boils down to ideological disputes amongst the Left.

    And one thing I give the Hun over Th’age is they tend to do the corruption bit a lot better.

    • Peter Patton March 27, 2011 at 2:03 am #

      Adrien, yeah I understand the pall of kids from educated middle class homes having that drummed into them at the breakfast table. I didn’t experience that. In fact, I had never even read, let alone bought, a broadsheet until the summer between high school and university. I recall the frustration of trying to read the SMH on the train. You probably are not aware that mastering the broadsheet is a greater challenge than learning to ride a bike, gallop on a horse, or parallel ski! 🙂

  3. AC Stewart March 27, 2011 at 3:36 am #

    Adrien, yeah I understand the pall of kids from educated middle class homes having that drummed into them at the breakfast table. I

    It’s what makes the middle-class, middle-class. Teach your kids to read before they get to school. To become middle-class requires more moxy. It’s the basis of the Darwinian Class system.

    You probably are not aware that mastering the broadsheet is a greater challenge than learning to ride a bike, gallop on a horse, or parallel ski!

    I wasn’t for a long while. Then I thought about it. Why the difference? The difference is that one reads a broadsheet differently when one rides to work in a private horse drawn carriage. You have the seat to yourself. In a tram, one does not have the room.

    And then there’s the body technique of ‘mastering’ the broadsheet. Also having it folded elegantly under the arm as one strides into Planetary Masters Inc.

  4. Peter Patton March 29, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    Adrien, given your natural wordsmithiness, former employment in the ‘less is more’ words sector, and of course, your Media Studies degree, I will personally pay you a large sum of money to edit every piece that this verbal dribbler threatens to publish. I reckon if I paid you $1 for every adjective dispatched, you will have a Ferrari parked in your Toorak garage before the next NSW Labor government is sworn-in.

    Imagine what a Herald-Sun subeditor could do with all that space. 😉

  5. Peter Patton March 29, 2011 at 8:48 am #

    Oops, wrong link. Go here instead, or as well.

  6. AC Stewart March 29, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    Politics and human rights are inseparably linked ‘ey? Really? Wonder what Hu Jintao thinks about that?

    You could give me a million Maseratis (Ferraris are tacky) and wouldn’t.

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