Miranda Divine is the Reason I Unsubscribed from the Sydney Morning Herald

change is inevitableThere are many places where the “future of newspapers” is debated. It happens in the New York Times, on Twitter, on Crikey.com.au and on blogs, broadsheets and in back rooms. For the most part, I stay out of these conversations – clearly the publishing industry is under pressure and undergoing significant structural change (as it has been for well over 20 years), and we all have vested interests somewhere here.

My media consumption these days is mostly digital. This includes a large variety of online sources of news and information – but it also includes the Sydney Morning Herald’s website – where today, I stumbled upon this piece from Miranda Devine.

I was surprised at the tone and at the argument. At a time where the forest fires are still burning in Victoria, and containment lines being threatened, it not only seems too early to begin pointing fingers, it seems astounding that anyone would absolve any arsonist from responsibility. Miranda Devine begins her article, Green ideas must take blame for deaths as follows:

It wasn't climate change which killed as many as 300 people in Victoria last weekend. It wasn't arsonists …

And continues:

So many people need not have died so horribly. The warnings have been there for a decade. If politicians are intent on whipping up a lynch mob to divert attention from their own culpability, it is not arsonists who should be hanging from lamp-posts but greenies.

Kieran Bennett has written a response, that is well worth reading.

Over the years I have enjoyed reading the Sydney Morning Herald, but have watched it become increasingly focused on lifestyle and opinion over the news and reportage that most interests me. I still have the weekend papers delivered to my door but find that I am leaving large sections wholly untouched every weekend. But after this article, I am cancelling my subscription. If this is where the future of newspapers is going, then they can go there without my interest or patronage.

Of course, I may end up being scornfully quoted on the Herald site in response. But by then, I will have been long disconnected from the Sydney Morning Herald and all who write for it.

UPDATE: Frank Sting writes an open letter to the Sydney Morning Herald Editor. You can read it here.

22 thoughts on “Miranda Divine is the Reason I Unsubscribed from the Sydney Morning Herald

  1. Hey Gavin… Unfortunately your reasons for canceling are not unique to your area, and are alive and killing us here in the States as well. Sure, “trends” say that people care about the woman who had the 8 babies, but this is at the expense at what is really going on.
    So if we don’t get news from newspapers, we get it from citizen journalists and blogs. Works for me, as it has been working for me for years.

  2. I think if this were just a member of the public, passionately ranting about how they felt that inaction against a known issue was a reason for the extent of the tragedy, it could be excused.
    However publicly branding greenies murderers and absolving dickhead arsonists is just an inflammatory attempt to cause controversy and sell papers. While in the wake of tragedy we finally see long awaited changes to prevent history repeating itself, this is kind of media beat up that has made me avoid TV and newspapers all week.

  3. Sadly, with newspapers battling in a digital world they are ill-prepared for, we are going to see a lot more of this linkbait writing – designed to provoke a reaction – any reaction – to draw links and eyeballs. The SMH online is definitely more down-market than the print edition, more photos of models, more celeb gossip, and this will only increase as they draw hits.
    Divine will have generated plenty of hits and links to this article by tapping into a particularly hot topic and poking controversy. She isn’t the only one to use this technique – there are certainly online marketers who do this all the time to boost websites. The goal isn’t to be liked but to provoke a response.
    It is despicable, but all too common. Yet, while media scrabbles for eyeballs in both print and online, it will only get worse, not better.

  4. Thanks Mike, this is the democratisation of news in action, I guess. This is pretty personal, actually. I have long been an admirer of the SMH and its history, so taking this step is breaking a loyalty that is quite deep.

  5. Thanks, Mandi. I actually debated with myself about posting this. Normally I would not provide any links etc – but then, I am not kidding myself about how much benefit my post is likely to make on the traffic to a masthead like SMH.

  6. I totally understand the model they are using, which is why I paused before linking/publishing the post.
    The reason that I am both responding (as desired) AND unsubscribing is that it’s both an opinion and and action. I doubt they will miss my $20 a month. It’s my small protest.

  7. I got in and out of there fast!
    There is good reason to link in this case, I’d prefer to know what kind of crap they are trying to pull then be oblivious.

  8. Just like I’m sure Nike have held long, intense meetings about why I haven’t bought anything from their brand in over a decade.

  9. Hi Gavin – your post inspired me to write a calm and less “rabid” email to smh than I was able to yesterday.
    Like you I am also personally upset that I won’t be reading SMH anymore. But I felt I had to take a stand. The Devine article was just the tipping point – I’m upset and dismayed at the way the paper has slowly dropped in quality (and don’t even get me started about the website).
    I was fascinated at a recent conference when David Higgins (news ltd) said print media was in decline because it focussed too much on “harder news” – politics, the economy etc and not enough on “lifestyle”. I wonder if the decline in print is actually driven by a lack of quality instead, but “lack of relevance” is rolled out to justify why quality doesn’t have to be maintained – they claim people just aren’t interested, so why do they need to invest in it?
    So instead, the people looking for quality (and you would hypothosise there is a sizeable and attractive group of those people) seek it elsewhere. In blogs, from overseas on-line editions, from new sources they’ve never considered. I am really enjoying a subscription to the London Review of Books that a friend gave me. I always thought it was, well a book review journal, but it’s fantastic – well thought out articles, incredible writing, relevant topics, challenging thinking. All the stuff I’d love in a daily paper, but are starved for.
    I am sad that SMH uses someone like Devine to fan the flames of controversy – that it feels it needs to do that. I have such an emotional attachment to the paper – but it’s lost it’s magic. And it was that Devine op ed that really lost it for me.

  10. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I go to the SMH online every day. Mainly out of habit. I scan down the page and 9 times out of 10 find nothing interesting. Every now and then I find a story and then find it’s nothing but an AAP feed. They recently had the Wichery scam (pre the exposure) on the home page as the lead story. Regardless of what we now know why is a woman trying to find a bloke news.
    Anyway I think it’s all been dumbed down to the point it’s lost it’s way. It’s not the Telegraph at least they have lot’s of pictures and it’s not a serious paper. It’s more than a debate about new media vs old. I just think it’s a bigger issue who is the SMH audience.
    There are so many issues around now that are only really covered by bloggers and the ABC. Want to read about the filtering trials beyond the “kiddy porn” debate you have to go to the ABC or blogs, want to read personal accounts of the fires in Victoria same thing, have an opinion about the $42 billion same again. There was a time when David Higgins had 4 or 5 pages about new media in the SMH. If you want the same news now you have to go to blogs or the ABC.
    I think the new media has sparked these issues but they are as much about finding a voice and an audience as they are about technology.

  11. When I was talking about the shift away from serious news towards the “lifestyle” type content – that was where I was heading.
    Interestingly, media used to be able to control the focus and attention of the audience. They “made” the news – and the shift towards a lifestyle focus no doubt was incredibly lucrative for the papers, and attractive to advertisers of such products.
    But things have now changed. The audience can now choose what they are interested in and rather than being simply carried along, funnelled into a cycle of awareness->desire->preference->purchase, advertisers have to work much harder.
    Interesting times ahead!

  12. Hi Gavin,
    In time, the market will decide for Miranda Devine. Whether in print or online, editors use columnists who generate the most debate. The attitude is often that so long as a reader is coming back to see what the idiot columnist has written thsi week, then they’re doing their job. They don;t need to be right.
    But the best columnists, and the best papers, are in tune with their readers, and in time, those that are not, lost their shock value.
    Once that happens, they are no longer valuable to the paper and out they go…
    Tim – Mumbrella

  13. Excellent point. For me, the SMH seems to have lost its way. I am out of sync with their brand and their positioning. Perhaps that means I am no longer in their target audience. However, I feel that there has been a slow erosion happening here — and while their efforts are conscious, mind have not been – until now.
    Like you I used to check the SMH website. Several times a day I would visit to scan the stories. Increasingly there has been little for me to read or click on. Breaking this habit will be a challenge, but one I am determined to carry through. Did someone say “crikey”?

  14. There is an interesting play-off here between the masthead brand and the personal brand. Or perhaps, the masthead has shifted further than I thought. Whichever way, the SMH have made conscious decisions to embrace this style of writing. My conscious decision is to choose an alternative.
    It’s a shame (for them), because my SMH reading behaviour is deeply ingrained. It will take effort to change it.

  15. @servantofchaos … I literally walk into the shop, go straight to the sport and if “set by Carlos” (the Sports crossword) isn’t in the SMH then I put it back on the shelf.
    (sorry, I usually don’t leave comments without contributing to the conversation but Sat mornings are ruined if set by Carlos isn’t in there and I want others to share the joy 🙂

  16. For the lamp post comment I think someone should charge her for attempting to incite violence… She has gone too far. I can’t believe they published it.
    Good on you, I also submitted a rather harsh comment to their website, and the online article was pulled within the hour. (Although I’m sure mediawatch had something to do with that – where I heard about, and discovered, the disgraceful article online)

  17. I agree with you that the slide away from quality journalism and commentary is dangerous.
    I know a few people at SMH and they think the same as you and find MD to be a constant source of embarrassment.
    My understanding is that lots of editors and journalists at Fairfax have taken note of feedback like yours, so good on you!

  18. I have been a SMH seven-day subscriber since the month I arrived in this country. The very same column by Miranda Devine caused me to end my subscription as well. I have also let Fairfax know this.
    Not sure how many new loyal subscribers the wicked witch’s columns net the Herald, but I would put my money on there being a net loss.

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