50 years of The Australian, but what next?

The Australian online.

Fifty years ago today Rupert Murdoch launched The Australian newspaper.

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

Fifty years ago today Rupert Murdoch launched The Australian newspaper.

But with the proliferation of online news sites, newspapers are facing tough times.

Will we still be able to buy The Australian in paper form 50 years from now?

Christine Heard reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

On July the 15th, 1964, the first edition of The Australian hit the newsstands.

Its front page included a column, written by its proprietor Rupert Murdoch, which read "This paper is tied to no party, to no state, and has no chains of any kind. Its guide is faith in Australia and the country's future."

Today's Editor In Chief, Chris Mitchell, says The Australian has remained true to that mission statement.

"I think The Australian has always had an agenda and I don't think it's sort of ever hidden that. And I think it's always had a clear idea that it sought a more prosperous Australia, a more powerful Australia, an Australia more engaged in the region. It judged events by its own standards."

Critics of The Australian say it's too conservative, too pro-establishment and clearly biased against Labor governments and issues like climate change.

They also say it's just a mouthpiece for Rupert Murdoch's world view - a point Chris Mitchell disputes.

"There'll be times when Rupert is very interested in what's going on in Australia and then at other times he'll be very engaged with what's going on in Britain or elsewhere so you can go months without a phone call and then sometimes get called three or four phone times in a week. Q: But you you don't wake up in the morning and think "what would Rupert think about this?" No I don't, and I don't follow his Twitter feed either. We campaign pretty hard as far as the stories we decide to follow. I mean we don't really see that as anything more than us pursuing an agenda in the same way that most media organisations do. Whether it's a question of bias or not I'd say that's very much in the eye of the beholder."

Some beholders see a lot of bias, but they also acknowledge The Australian's strengths like its large newsroom and its commitment to in depth coverage of national politics and national affairs.

David McKnight, who wrote a book critical on the power Rupert Murdoch wields, says The Australian can often be a serious and comprehensive broadsheet.

"I would rather have The Australian than not have it if only for the fact that there are a lot of good journalists who work for those newspapers. They used to have big newsrooms. They were able to devote big resources to important stories. So the important thing is that as we move into a digital future that we somehow find a way of retaining the good things that newspapers had."

That digital future, where countless websites offer news at a single click and at no charge, is threatening the existence of newspapers.

Even Rupert Murdoch has said he thinks they could be extinct within 20 years.

Chris Mitchell says not quite extinct, but definitely endangered.

"Look I think that we'll probably last longer than most, I would think, because I've got a wealthier and slightly older readership and I would think they are quite comfortable with the print product and will be so for a while. I've heard people pronounce that 2023 will be the last newspaper in Australia. I would think we'd probably have some print products, particularly on weekends, for probably 20 - 25 years."

But in 50 years?

By then, David McKnight predicts, print journalism will be an oddity.

"Most people will be getting their news online, maybe even through forms that we haven't even invented yet. In some form of print may be sustained but it will be a high-end, upmarket product, a bit like an artefact, a beautiful artefact, a magazine."

Others, like Bridget Griffen-Foley, from the Centre for Media History at Macquarie University, say The Australian will use its journalists - like Paul Kelly - on other mediums to help continue its brand.

"News Limited - or News Corp Australia as it now is - does have a relationship with Foxtel and we've seen in the last few years the development of programs on Sky News Australia such as Australian Agenda that have a strong connection, principly through Paul Kelly, to The Australian. So I think there is the potential in the years to come for The Australian as it faces all the challenges of the digital environment to look to brand its content and to brand its key writers, stories, issues in other media outlets in the electronic media."

But predominantly, newspapers are populating the online space.

And the challenge for online news outlets is to make a profit, when online advertising is so cheap.

The Australian currently has 70,000 customers paying to access its content via a pay wall.

To become sustainable, it needs far more, and might have to increase subscription rates.

Professor Griffen-Foley says letting customers choose their content might offset anger at higher rates.

"There could well be the potential to unbundle newspaper content so that individual areas of interest - sport, business, Arts etc. That access to those individual items could be sold so that people don't have to pay a flat subscription fee to get everything when they may not actually want everything."

Already 83 years old, Rupert Murdoch clearly won't be at the helm of The Australian for decades to come.

Commentators say his likely successor, son Lachlan, loves newspapers almost as much as his father.

But though ink may run through both their veins, in fifty years, people will likely be checking a screen, not a newspaper, for their daily news.






Source World News Australia

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