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Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Is There a Newspaper in the House?

James Morrow says:

...for as long as I've been reading [the Sydney Morning Herald] on a daily basis (about a year or so), it has reminded me of nothing more than a second-rate American college daily that's been hijacked by a bunch of lefty kids with bad facial hair.

I think Morrow's being generous.

The SMH writers always reminded me of the high school debate champs from some cow-intensive state. Having gained the state championship, they are bussed to DC for the nationals, where they are desperately, hopelessly outclassed by the teams from richer and more populous states, and they know it. But they don't let it show. Instead, they do their best to act just as polished and sophisticated and cosmopolitan as the more fortunate kids, and as we all know, more sophisticated means more outrageous. So they stand around at various functions, confidently braying startling opinions, all the while nervously looking around to make sure their opinions are not the most startling in the room. That might upset someone.

Ever since this image first struck me, I've been trying to polish it into succintness. Needs more polishing. To call the SMH "sophomoric" doesn't quite capture the air of brash insecurity that wafts from it.

Meanwhile, a half a world away from Sydney, Ken Layne is fed up with dead-trees media, and is cancelling his LA Times subscription.

One of the (many, many) things I missed while living in Sydney was newspapers. We had 'em, of course: the SMH, the tabloid Daily Telegraph, The Australian, and on Sunday, The Age of Melbourne. Not only did they all stink in their own special ways, they were expensive. I think the SMH was something like $1.25 per day, more than three times the cost of my previous paper, the San Jose Mercury News.

I gave up reading the newspaper on a daily basis. Now, I'm not a news junkie (no, really, I can quit anytime), but with only these crummy papers, and the abbreviated Australian TV news (if there were good news programs on in the early evening, I missed them, because I was at work), I began to feel very isolated.

So when I came back to the US I was very glad to be getting back to Real Newspapers again. But I found that things had changed. Maybe the newspapers actually had changed. Maybe I had. For one thing, the Houston Chronicle editorial page seems awfully liberal, being about three parts lefty to one part righty (and two parts centrist). Niles think they only print the goofiest opinions of both right and left to discredit both and stir controversy, but I know (as he does not) how mainstream (in the left) those goofy left opinions are.

But more importantly, I no longer look forward to reading the newspaper. In fact, I look at it as a chore. Most of the time, even trolling the editorial page for blogfodder is fruitless. Very often Niles will say something like, "Huh, such-and-such has happened." and I'll say, "Yeah, I know. The blogs told me yesterday." (Kinda like the voices in my head.)

I've enjoyed reading the newspaper ever since I was a teenager reading the rightish St. Louis Globe Democrat (now defunct) in the morning and the left-centerish Post-Dispatch after school. But If I were living on my own, I might well decide to forego a newspaper subscription.

(Of course, blogs would have a hard time surviving without newspapers to actually send someone out to gather news and write stupid editorials for bloggers to chew on.)

By the way, Iain Murray today has the lowdown on circulation numbers for large British and American papers. Seems those lefty papersthe Guardian and the Independent don't stack up against some others.

Here are the figures for Australian papers:

SMH circulation: M - F: 229,000 Sat: 400,000 (there's no Sunday edition)
Daily Telegraph: M - F: 406,220 Sat: 335,438 Sunday Telegraph: 727,036
The Age: M - F: 196,000 Sat: 313,000 Sun: 196,500
The Australian: M - F: 135,000 Weekend: 304,000
Canberra Times: M - F: 124,000 Sat: 184,000 Sun: 112,000

Bear in mind that in Australia, this is pretty much all you have in the way of newspapers. I include the Canberra paper just because I figured the major daily in the capital city ought to be included; I never laid my eyes on a copy while in Sydney.

Australia: 19.5 million
Sydney: 4 million
Melbourne: 3.4 million
Canberra: 309,000

For those who can't get enough, here are the figures for not only the big-city papers but the regional ones as well. (Sadly neither the Coonabarabran Times nor the Bush Telegraph are listed there.)