TheAge Goes Tabloid
The date is Monday 3rd March 2013, another Monday, another newspaper edition, but not quite so..
After 159 years, TheAge is no longer a broadsheet! What rubbish you say? True, we say. Whether you liked it or not, TheAge newspaper is now printed and published in what it likes to call Tabloid format.
Personally, I always preferred TheAge for content, but not format. Sitting (or standing) on a tram in the 60's and 70's and trying to read TheAge was near impossible. I admired the gentlemen who had boarded the 48 tram further up the line and were well seated by the time I got on at East Kew, that had a knack of turning its cumbersome pages, but on arriving at their daily crossword, were able to magically shrink the page down into a useful size without annoying other passengers.
But fear no longer.. the paper that primarily serves Victoria but available in Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory, regions of South Australia and New South Wales is now sold in a compact Tabloid Format.
Andrew Holden, Editor-in-Chief, The Age wrote.. Good morning, and welcome to the first compact edition of The Age. Today is a significant milestone, coming in our 159th year. Not only do we launch a new size for the weekday paper, we are also launching a new homepage and are proud to highlight major improvements to our tablet and mobile products. It is the biggest rejuvenation of our publications ever.
The change to compact is a logical step for The Age. Here in Australia our sister publication, The Australian Financial Review, has already demonstrated that quality journalism works effectively in the smaller format. Major quality broadsheets overseas have also made the change, and readers of The Age have been telling us for some time that the old format doesn't suit the modern workday.
Interestingly, the format only applies to its weekday editions (not weekend), there is also the iPad version although I noticed it had changed appearance as well.
Forget other writers comparisons of this edition with the HeraldSun and The Sydney Morning Herald (Jill, you need to get out more), its about the size today, not a headline that will probably turn out to be another 'darkest day in the sporting history'.
A city's story, told one day at a time
From its earliest days, The Age has been witness to history in the making. By Geoffrey Blainey.
The earliest copies of The Age were sold in Melbourne just when it was passing Sydney to become the biggest city in Australia . The paper cost sixpence - a lot of money in 1854 - and carried so little news that its few pages could be read in an hour.
The first scoop awaiting The Age was the rebellion of goldminers at Ballarat just six weeks later. The Age did not even have a reporter on the goldfields and had to rely on the Geelong Advertiser's reporter for the latest news. More than two days after the rebellion had been crushed, The Age had not learnt about this momentous event.
Would sucha snail of a newspaper survive? In 1856, on the verge of failure, it was bought by recent Scottish immigrants, the Syme brothers, and revived and enlarged. Before long, they made it the cheapest newspaper in Australia.
By 1877, it sold twice as many copies as its nearest Australian rival. By 1890, it sold more copies than any newspaper in the British Isles - except for a few national dailies based in London. Victoria then must have been one of the world's great hubs of newspaper readers for The Age had built up its circulation almost solely within a radius of 300 kilometres from Melbourne.
The Symes' paper was a chronicle of colonial progress even in 1856. Victoria resolved to hold the world's first election under the secret ballot. More than 30 years passed before even one state in the US introduced this democratic reform.
In 1856, most of the building workers in Melbourne and the saddlers and quarrymen too worked only eight hours aday - an item of news which was heard with astonishment when it reached Europe and the US.
Under the tutelage of David Syme, Victoria began to act like a mini-nation , protecting local factories and farms with duties on imports, even those coming from Albury or Adelaide. At home, it declared war on the squatters.
In Spring Street's small Parliament House, which did not yet have grand steps and stone columns, the Berry government in 1877 resolved to levy a special land tax on the owners of big rural estates. Labelled 'communistic' by its critics , and 'liberal' by The Age, it was a herald of today's much-debated mining tax.
The Age urged that new farms on the northern plains be irrigated; and one of its guest writers, the young politician Alfred Deakin, went to India and California to investigate how it could be done. He came home exultant. He thought that 900,000 people could live in the irrigated districts he proposed. One result was Goulburn Weir, the source of the only big irrigation scheme in Australia so far.
Most Age readers, being natives of the British Isles, craved news from home. In 1872, they cheered as the telegraph wires, coming via India and Java and Darwin and Port Augusta, linked London and Melbourne. This was a revolution, a shrinking of the globe more profound than the coming of television to Australia. Tiny morsels of news, fresh from Europe and only 30 or 40 hours old, began to appear in print in Victoria.
The typical paper edited by David Syme was loaded with politics, economics and literary comment. There was no page for women or children, hardly a cartoon to be seen, scant sporting news except on Mondays, no crossword , and almost no social chitchat . Advertisements filled the front page. To the credit of the staff, a spelling mistake or typographical error was a rarity.
To serve rural readers, the Symes published the weekly Leader, which was partly a reprint of recent news in The Age. They boasted that the Leader 'finds its way into the home of every Country Settler' . The phrase 'finds its way' was well chosen. Many farmers did not buy their newspaper , but borrowed it from a neighbour.
Once a year the Symes put together a tabloid. Called The Age Annual, and no larger than the latest iPad, it described happenings of the previous year and set out a calendar of events for the coming year.
You consulted it to learn when the moon would rise on a certain night if you planned a journey in this era before headlamps. This blue-covered book told you the day of the month when a mail steamer would leave Melbourne for Europe - a warning to write all your overseas letters well in advance. It revealed in eye-straining print how every Victorian politicians had voted on every important bill in the previous year.
Syme was a prodder and persuader of politicians, and also an intellectual. He wrote more learned books than the typical fulltime Australian professor wrote in the course of his whole career.
About six feet tall, bearded, slim and shy when young, he did not often smile. To refrain from smiling was to be respectable in 1900. The modern photographers and their incessant demand that their captives should always smile were not yet born.
Artists' drawings depicted some stories, but for decades photographs were shunned because they looked blurred and fuzzy on ordinary paper. Eventually the photographs were clear and even works of art. Who would forget the dramatic picture by Neville Bowler after a cloudburst flood raced down Elizabeth Street one afternoon in the early 1970s and cascaded over the top of parked cars as if they were boulders in a creek?
Some of these photographs remind us that we are a nation of slow learners, and that each new generation has to learn afresh how merciless and treacherous are bushfires . It was on January 9, 1969, that John Messer went boldly down the main Melbourne-Geelong road, not yet a freeway, to photograph burnt cars, their doors open. Some of the passengers had fled , only to be incinerated .
The Age brought news of wars to letterboxes and front verandahs. The Boer War and the First World War were delivered each morning mostly bya newsboy who rode a bike from house to house. Owing to the official censors, news of the Gallipoli landing in 1915 was late in arriving. Almost a fortnight passed before the first list of the dead and wounded was published.
In 1917 in Russia, the Bolsheviks won a victory that was almost unimaginable a few years previously . Age readers were introduced formally to Lenin at breakfast on November 10. They learnt, between sips of tea, that his '' ideas were few and violent' ' but he was an honest fanatic. In many workplaces in Australia and elsewhere it was confidently expected he would introduce a new utopia.
The Great War ended one year later. On the last days of the war, crowds of Age readers had gathered on the footpath in Collins Street, just outside the office and printery, hoping for that longawaited telegram from Europe to be posted on the wall, announcing peace at last.
Whereas the welcome news of the end of the First World War in 1918 arrived in the newspaper, the sobering news of the Second World War in 1939 was mostly to arrive the radio.
In most decades the weather peppered The Age's pages. Parttime reporters in the country frequently reported dust storms in their district. It is little known that by far the longest dry period in Victoria's recorded history extended from the mid-1890 s to the late 1940s. On the border of NSW and Victoria, the building of the Hume Weir, then the biggest reservoir in the continent, cost more than the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
At the weir's official opening in November 1936, The Age reported and applauded the opening speech by the governor-general , Lord Gowrie. He said its '' constant' ' flow of water would make '' the thirsty land of three states' ' secure from drought. His prediction was not fulfilled .
After the Second World War, The Age told of the second golden age reaching Victoria. European migrants poured onto Port Melbourne's piers. The price of wool soared, and Brownlow medallists played their last seasons in rural teams for unbelievable salaries. A procession of new Holdens filled narrow roads once crowded with pushbikes.
House builders enjoyed such a boom that when The Age invited Robin Boyd the architect to be a Monday columnist,a host of readers turned first to his page. One telling phrase he coined was 'the sweet-sherry belt' ,a ring of suburbs of which Camberwell was the epicentre. Fearlessly, he dismissed many of the church buildings that sprang up near North Balwyn or Preston as, architecturally, 'holy terrors' .
In this transforming era, some changes, long expected , were actually stretched over afull century. Thus in 1883, the Victorian Miss Bella Guerin had been the first woman to graduate from an Australian university.
It was 107 years later than Joan Kirner became the first female premier of Victoria. Her spotted polka-dot blouse- she rarely wore it - could be seen again and again in Age cartoons, occupying the space once crowded with Henry Bolte's ears.
As the average Victorian lived longer with the aid of discoveries in medicine and hygiene, The Age editor requested permission to peep inside the closed doors of an operating theatre. At 8.30 one morning in 1975, Graham Perkin turned up at The Alfred hospital to witness an operation probing a suspected hole in the heart. He reported the various surgical activities until 12.05pm when the patient, suddenly awake, fluttered her eyelids.
Perkin concluded with one of those sentences which unknowingly pinpointed later swings in public taste: 'Outside, the surgeons sat and talked and drank cups of tea and smoked a cigarette .' A quarter of a century later, coffee would be in the cups, and the cigarette smokers would be expelled to the footpath
Those who once read Robin Boyd on Mondays will recall that Australians clamoured, above all else, to own their own suburban home with their own backyard. Ownership of sucha house is , he wrote in 1952, 'as unquestionable a goal of the average Australian as marriage' . He would have to rewrite that sentence today.
Even Ned Kelly swam with the tides of fashion. Early this year, his reburial in holy ground near Wangaratta gave rise to solemn reports. Now he was widely, but not universally, greeted as the kind of guest whom every family with Australian blood in their veins would welcome to Christmas dinner.
In 1879, The Age, however, had awarded no bon-bons to Ned and his gang. It denounced his 'weakminded and misguided' sympathisers and expressed alarm and indignation that four murderers should defy the police 'in a civilised society like this' .
What is civilisation? We realise that it is apermanent but everchanging goal when we turn the pages of a thousand Ages . Ironically , in 2013 we agree less than ever before on what Western civilisation is.
Geoffrey Blainey has written histories of Victoria, Australia and the world.
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