The erosion of The Age is like the erosion of society

Following its new owners excessive devotion to “entertainment news”, The Age has hit on a new recipe: curated stories to feed closed minds.

Just after Victoria’s first lockdown subscribers (like me) received a personal email from the Editor advising of the intention to “rejig the newsroom structure”, focus on “local news”, and “differentiate” from other news outlets.

Frankly, I thought the new ownership had differentiated itself enough already by the excessive devotion to “entertainment news.”

Don’t get me wrong, when it came to the pandemic, The Age’s coverage had been exemplary. I saw the logic that the next big story could be our own recovery. But, I asked, should our current self-absorption with our own lifestyle be indulged at the expense of coverage and discussion of international news and world affairs? I confessed that I do cut out the odd recipe now and then. But, I argued, this is The Age, not the Women’s Weekly.

I thought it was quite good, actually.

I was also concerned after the number of corona virus cases began to spiral upwards and The Age seemed stubbornly committed not to re-introduce the previous practice of summarising the restrictions in force. By now a super quiz had taken its place.

My outrage today is based on another email to subscribers. I am being invited to opt for curated “good news” and “optimistic stories”. These are to be “handpicked” for me.

Perhaps they have me down as grumpy. But it is more likely that this once great newspaper is lamely following the path of Facebook and other social media competitors.

Let me remind you what a newspaper is and still can be. A newspaper is like life. It’s like society itself. You buy it. You sit down with it. You read it from front to back. You read the things that interest you. You see and read things that you did not even know would interest you. The essence of its magic is encounter. Encounter with difference. Encounter with the unexpected. And this requires discipline. Discipline not to skip forward to the Spectrum while you’re still wading through the US or Kurdistan. Discipline to keep giving Amanda Vanstone a go. Tolerance will be lost forever if encounter with difference is made more rare.

So The Age has hit on a new recipe alright. Curated stories to feed closed minds.

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Penny Hawe is a University of Sydney based academic in the field of public health. In 2009, she was asked by the Victorian state government to put together the evidence to inform community recovery planning after the trauma of the Black Saturday bushfires. She is currently working on creating better system-level approaches to the promotion and protection of population-level health.

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