I still read The Age, even though it’s but a fraction of the newspaper it used to be. Maybe it’s habit – there have been very few days in last 25 years when I haven’t at least skimmed through The Age, either online or in print form.
There’s a good chance it’s because there’s no real alternative – newspapers in Australia today are almost universally shithouse. There’s a bunch of tabloid newspapers, light on for anything meaty, and mostly with a political bias (especially if News Limited). The only other real ‘quality’ newspaper on Oz now is The Australian, made virtually unreadable thanks to the toxic polotics of it’s proprietor, Rupert, and his lickspittle editorial staff. What’s left? Well, I might occasionally read the AFR with some interest, and the newly published The Saturday Paper is promising, though niche, and marks me out as a bleeding heart liberal.
So we come back to The Age. Once upon a time it was one of the very best newspapers in the world, and I’m not kidding. Imagine that. It was a true broadsheet then, with an independent attitude, and back in the hey day I recall – eighties into early nineties – some great writers on staff.
This was the era of Peter Smark, Robert Haupt, Peter Cole-Adams, Peter McFarline, and many other fine commentators and journalists. Some of their stuff was for the ages – I used to snip out articles regularly.
The Age has been in decline for a long time now, largely in parallel with the incompetent shenanigans of the Fairfax company. Last year they went from broadsheet sized to tabloid, and in large part their reporting has followed suit.
The Age has shed many excellent journalist over the last few years. Few now remain. It’s clear that Fairfax have little interest in maintaining quality, especially when it costs. I might be becoming curmudgeonly in my old age, but I find the decline in standards and ambition stark and tragic.
Unfortunately it’s now a newspaper with agendas. I wrote something on twitter the other day about how I missed the time when the press reported the news without seeking to have a stake in it. The Age has failed that test miserably, the most stark example being of how it has reported the Essendon/ASADA fracas. They have nailed their position to the mast, with the often hysterical Caroline Wilson leading the lynch mob, rather than reporting on it. It obviously has editorial support, presumably because it sells papers. What it means is that it will bury, or ignore altogether, the stories and analysis that actually contradict the line they’re peddling. They are anything but impartial.
Across the board the standards of reporting, analysis, and basic writing, has declined terribly. Sub-editing is a shocker, particularly on the online edition where misspellings and transpositions are a daily occurrence. There remain perhaps 6 journalists I retain any great interest in reading – Greg Baum, Emma Quayle, Martin Flanagan, Michael Gordon, and perhaps Rohan Connolly. Peter Martin is a recent good edition, and Mark Kenny reasonable. There might be one or two others.
Which brings me to the reason for this piece – I came not to bury after all, but praise.
Tony Wright is an excellent columnist. His writing used to be more political, and I note now that he is the National Affairs commentator for the paper, whatever that means.
Over the last 12 months I’ve noticed a change in his writing. It’s become more ruminative, more reflective of the journey he has taken from rural Victoria where he earned his stripes, to the national capital where he made his name. Perhaps I enjoy his writing so much now because I am in the middle of my own journey, and can reflect in not dissimilar ways.
Wright is an old school, old fashioned journo, he’s done laps around the traps. He knows his stuff. The result sometimes is writing that is a true pleasure to read. This is no different – beautifully written, beautifully considered, and, in its way, wise. Please read.
There’s still good stuff, and it sands out like jewels in the muck.