The Godfather: Peter Corris on the demise of newspapers
My local corner shop has informed me that as a ‘small business’, it will no longer have the Sydney Morning Herald delivered. This, along with the SMH going tabloid and its shrinking size, appears to portend the demise of the daily newspaper. Some experts believe daily papers will soon disappear, with only the weekend editions surviving.
The reason is clear – competition from other (reluctant though I am to use the word) platforms and declining advertising revenue.
Newspapers, until my failing eyesight recently prevented me from reading them, have been very important in my life. I worked for one (the National Times), published reviews and articles in them and eagerly awaited their reviews of my books. I bought at least one every day and, complemented by ABC radio, they were my main source of world and domestic information.
My father bought the Melbourne Argus on his way to work every morning and the Herald on his way home. Travelling by tram and train, he read the papers from cover to cover and did the crosswords, which, I seem to recollect, he mostly completed. My mother read the Herald in the evening at the end of her day’s work. When the Argus ceased publication in 1957, my father switched to the Sun – its competition, the Age, was for the middle and upper classes.
The exception to this was the Friday Age, bought so that my sister could enter the various competitions and submit drawings and short opinion pieces to the children’s section. From an early age she had supplemented her meagre pocket money by winning modest sums (paid in postal notes) at first from the Argus and later, alerted by a schoolmate, the Age.
The Age paid better than the Argus, perhaps a reflection of its healthier financial condition, but my sister recalls being paid a guinea from the Argus for a drawing. She bought the first volume of Somerset Maugham’s short stories with the money. I read the book and thus began my lifelong admiration of Maugham’s work. Guineas and postal notes – the world we have lost.
An uncle who lived only two doors away used to pass on the pink-paged Sporting Globe to me. It might have been through him that I occasionally, covertly, saw Truth, a paper my puritanical mother disapproved of for its coverage of sex, sin and scandal – with photos. That the paper also reported on social and political matters other papers were chary of would not have redeemed it in her eyes.
If there were Sunday newspapers in Melbourne in the late 1940s and 1950s I wasn’t aware of them.
Pre-adolescence, I was mostly interested in the sports news and the comics. Certain headlines, like that on the 1952 death in a truck accident of boxer Dave Sands, whom I idolised, made an impact. I wept. Fittingly, given my later career, one of the first newspaper stories I remember reading thoroughly and following, concerned the fatal shooting of a policeman by William John O’Meally, also in 1952. It has stuck in my mind ever since that a taxi driver had paid closer attention than usual to O’Meally, and was able to identify him, because in his nervousness leaving the scene of the shooting he had lit a cork-tipped cigarette at the wrong end. I should have used that.
Mindful of the demise of earlier newspapers, when the Australian began publication in 1964 I bought and preserved the first issue for some time, thinking that, if the paper closed, it might be a curiosity. Over half a century later it is still with us in all its truculent conservatism.
I’m sure that, despite their inaccessibility to me, there are still intelligent journalism, investigative and critical reporting and witty columns in the various media outlets available today. But for me nothing will ever equal the cheeky brio of Nation Review, the intellectual, literate clout of the National Times or, in earlier days, the football writing of Alf Brown in the Melbourne Herald and the ongoing adventures of Brick Bradford, Juliet Jones and Rip Kirby, the romance of Prince Valiant and the ocker fun of Bluey and Curly.