This is a description of Australia’s first ever newspaper the Sydney Gazette 1803-42 was described as being a mixture of “fulsome flattery of Government officials and … inane twaddle on other matters”(Mayer, 1968 p. 10). In 2009 most of the newspapers in that former convict colony are in the process of migrating their masthead content to online platforms. Some critics have suggested that the “inane twaddle” of those Gazette days continues as a dominant theme of current content This paper sets out to explore those Allegations, specifically have been made that Australian online sites have been greatly impacted by the twin forces of cost cutting and a desperate bid for revenue which have resulted in a plunge down market and a consequent “dumbing down” of content. Specifically this has led to a rise in tabloid type content on online sites. If online is now the driver of modern news production, then this paper will explore the implications of a tabloid trend in online content for the broader terrain of news gathering and news production in Australia. This paper is concerned with the initial part of a larger study on this overall concept and is concerned with a purposive sampling of the websites of two conservative broadsheets and two sites associated with more stereotypically tabloid mastheads. the second stage involving interviews with the editors and journalists of these sites .
Given that the purpose of this study is the exploration of any links between content on online news sites and the news values operating in this genre of news production, we have been deliberate in our selection of these four newspaper sites. . Most of these sites are updated constantly throughout the day, however for this survey we looked to each site once a day at differing times. This allowed for a random purposive sample. The first of our sites is the.age.com.au is traditionally a conservative mastehead in print with a daily circulation of 197,000. It’s readership is the state of Victoria but focuses mainly on the capital Melbourne.
The second is also a tradtional conservative broadsheet in print with a daily circulation of 167,000. It is Australia’s only national newspaper and has a readership aross the country.
The third is the NT News a tradtionally tabloid print newspaper with a daily circulation of 21,000. It’s readership is the state of Northern Territory
The final site is that of traditional tabloid newspaper the Cairns Post which has a daily circulation of 27,000. It’s readership is mainly the northern Queensland town of Cairns but also covers the regional areas of northern queensland. It should really be noted here that Australia has one of the most Australian journalistic context of course has explicit implications for the nature of journalism produced in this country. It could be said that the convict press has replaced it colonial and political chains with the new and more resilient restraints of ownership and commercialism. Simons sums it up, “As the dominant player in newspapers, News Limited incorporates some of the best and worst of Australian journalism.” (2007, p.336) Three of the mastheads in this study, that is, The Australian , the Northern Territory News and The Cairns Post are owned by Murdoch’s News Corporation.
My colleague and I who wrote this paper are based in Melbourne Australia and this research gave us the opportunity to sruvey content from NT News and Cairns Post which would have to be based in some of the most unique country culturally. Let me now just share with you some of our favourite stories if for nothing else than to explain the title of our paper Britney ate my crocodile. Cucumber truck hits buff near jumping crocs” which is followed up with the intro – “A truck driver had a lucky escape when his cucumber laden rig rolled near a crocodile infested river after hitting a buffalo yesterday.” This story was however surpassed the next day when tabloid heaven happened and crocodiles and blonde bombshells collided with the winner of a headline “5m croc goes the chomp on Miss Universe” ( The Northern Territory News 31/7/2009). MISS Universe Australia Rachael Finch met some crocodiles during her Territory visit yesterday... and had to run for her life when a 5m croc named Eric lunged at her. Buffed, bronzed bloke boasts bulging biceps - army artilleryman that has 41 cm biceps Like Britney peep-show video victim harassed by media” story turns out to be a story about a celebrity reporter who had been secretly filmed naked in her hotel room saying she felt like Britney Spears!
average sized screen of 800 x 600 pixels of resolution or a 15-inch monitor NB: Multiple stories on the same issue were not counted as individual stories. This accounted for some of the fluctuation in total story count. What is interesting to notice is that of websites surveyed The Australian does not include as many stories classed as tabloid. However, it should be noted that The Australian does not update its website with purpose-made online copy. In other words it places copy which has appeared in the newspaper directly online with very little adaptation. If we delve further into our sample we can get an understanding of the tabloid subject matter which is focused on by each website.
When stories are classed by subject matter it is interesting to note that the two websites of the traditionally ‘quality’ broadsheets, The Age and The Australian , have higher counts of stories on sport and celebrity / entertainment than the websites of the traditionally tabloid newspapers. The Northern Territory News and The Cairns Post tended to focus more on crime and novelty when tackling stories classed as tabloid. Clearly from the above tables it is relatively easy to apply the label of tabloid to the nature of stories presented on these sites, but it is not enough to say that because all sites appear for example to focus on crime stories that this is clear evidence of tabloid tendencies. It is not just a case of what stories are put up on the sites, but how the stories are presented.
It is not just a case of what stories are put up on the sites, but how the stories are presented. With the crimes stories on these sites our analysis found that crime quickly moved to top of the screen in terms of placement on the both the more conservative broadsheet sites, as well as the more conventionally tabloid masthead sites. With the more conventionally tabloid mastheads it was notable that wherever possible accident stories were accompanied by relatively large pictures of mangled car wreckage. Also notable in the treatment of crime stories was the way in which the nature of the coverage stripped back the story to the impact on the ordinary person or the victim. Headlines were also a very important indicator of the tabloid treatment of crime stories with the wording chosen seemingly capable of simultaneously sensationalising and trivializing the story. Some examples included the headings “Kicked to death for phone” ( The Age 29/7/09) which was a story about a violent street assault “Gran murder” ( The Cairns Post 30/7/09) a story about the brutal rape and murder of an 81 year old woman and “Mum-to-be’s train attack” ( The Age 30/7/09) which was a story about a sexual assault on a pregnant woman on a city train. It was also noted that The Age carried daily reports of the “buck’s rape case”, a story about the alleged rape of a man at a buck’s party by a stripper using a sex toy. The Age’s preoccupation with crime may be attributed to the Melbourne context, with the city now known as the home of Australia’s most notorious gangland wars. These wars were written about in a series entitled Underbelly by two of the newspaper’s most respected crime and investigative journalists. The book was then turned into a major award winning and top rating television drama series. This could be seen as a clear example of a conservative masthead’s news values merging with the media organisation’s commercial values and the wider popular culture context. The Age did try to include stories that would be classed as 'quality' or non-tabloid, politics and political analysis, but these positioned alongside visuals representing celebrity and entertainment stories
( The Age 31/7/09) or “Steak sanger sackings ( The Age 29/7/09). This is story is also an example of how tabloid type stories work best when there is strong identification from the audience with some aspects of their lived experience. This story also demonstrates how this form of tabloid treatment can work to assist in the construction of aspects of the public sphere within people’s ordinary lives. The story is about two council workers sacked after it was revealed that they had used some left over pot hole mix to fix holes in a local sports club. The workers had then accepted a steak sandwich lunch as a “thank you” from the club. Family values and their obvious link to the everyday lived experience are often invoked in stories as demonstrated in the example “QC’s son sent to jail ” (The Northern Territory News 31/7/09). A picture do-up in The Age with the headline “2 Dads, 2 Bubs” was used to transform a potentially controversial story about gay marriage rights story to a “feel good” family story. ( The Age 31/7/09) Another example of any animal will do picture do up was the “Frog eats bird ” caption only and picture which ran on The Cairns Post site on 29/7/09. “ Frog eats bird ” caption only and picture which ran on The Cairns Post site on 29/7/09. The focus on celebrity was used creatively across a number of sites with a running story about a “Junior Jacko” a talented young Michael Jackson look-a-like on The Cairns Post site throughout the monitored week. A story with the headline, “Swim star torpedoes camp takeover plan” (The Northern Territory News 31/7/09) making using of the tabloid technique of punning on a story about swimming star Ian Thorpe whose nickname is Torpedo and “Lisa McCune sails north again” ( The Cairns Post 31/7/09), a story about an actor currently starring in a television drama series about the Australian navy.
Fiske (2000) states that tabloid news makes no attempt to finalise the story, as does ‘quality’ news, instead the tabloid story provokes a conversation in which the people construct aspects of the public sphere within their own lives. At the core of online media is its ability to offer readers an immediate forum for discussion – therefore availing itself more to tabloid news values. Within Fiske’s argument it follows then that popular taste requires information to have relevance and use. Relevant information to an individual’s social situation can rarely be produced in the top-down model of ‘quality’ news. This is because an individual is rarely able to exert influence over the system that produces the social conditions under which they live, but they do strive to control their own immediate conditions of existence. One way the tabloid news is able to use relevance of content is to rely on the experience of ordinary people as evidenced in the examples highlighted from the four sites monitored for this preliminary research. The Australian’s lower count of tabloid stories could therefore be accounted for not as a deliberate editorial decision, but rather the result of a lack adaptation for the online medium. While the easy conclusion is to see these online sites as examples of journalists and their product being “dumbed down”, we argue that these sites can also be seen as demonstrating some positive indicators for the future of journalistic practice. These sites could be looked at in terms of a development which is forcing journalists to focus on the wants and needs of those who consume their news selections. Ultimately, we argue, that news production may no longer be confined to an internal, newsroom, dialogue about what should be “above the fold” and further that journalistic or editorial judgement may no longer be the sole determinant of news values. This could be seen in one sense as a rebirth of an old news culture of the afternoon dailies which ceased production in Australia at the beginning of the 1980s. It could also be argued that constraints of space and speed and the 24/7 news cycle could lead to a sharpening of journalistic news gathering and news processing skills as these online news sites expand and develop. Indeed these developments could be seen as Deuze argues as a form of truly “dialogical journalism” (2003, p. 207). That ribald and bloody convict press may indeed be undergoing a rebirth, but just as the early popular press was literally in physical contact with its audience, maybe the new online tabloid can be seen as a reconnection between content and community.
FOJ09 talk: Tabloidisation of Australian online news media
Future of Journalism Conference 09 Britney Spears ate my crocodile: An analysis of content down under Mandy Oakham and Renee Barnes
<ul><li>“fulsome flattery of Government officials and … inane twaddle on other matters.” </li></ul>
<ul><li>“ Cucumber truck hits buff near jumping crocs.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ 5m croc goes the chomp on Miss Universe.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Buffed, bronzed bloke boasts bulging biceps” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Like Britney peep-show video victim harassed by media.” </li></ul>
Results <ul><li>Crime stories moved quickly to top of screen on both broadsheet and tabloid sites </li></ul><ul><li>Treatment of crime stories focused on the individual or the ‘ordinary’. </li></ul><ul><li>Headlines sensationalising and trivialising the story </li></ul><ul><li>Stories classed as ‘non-tabloid positioned alongside visuals representing entertainment stories </li></ul>
Results <ul><li>Focus on the ‘ordinary’ or domestic issues </li></ul><ul><li>Focus on ‘family values’ and the link to everyday lived experience </li></ul><ul><li>Picture do-ups </li></ul><ul><li>Celebrities linkages </li></ul>
Conclusions <ul><li>Online media offers an immediate forum for discussion – therefore availing itself more to tabloid news values. </li></ul><ul><li>Rebirth of an old new culture of the afternoon tabloid dailies of the ‘80s </li></ul><ul><li>Reconnection between content and community </li></ul>