Andrew Jaspan: Tabloid SMH and Age will merge and go mid-market

The relaunch of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald as tabloids will effectively see them merged and repositioned for the midmarket, former Age editor Andrew Jaspan has predicted.

Jaspan was editor-in-chief of The Age and The Sunday Age from 2004 to 2008. Fairfax Media has announced March 4 as the date the papers will change format from broadsheet to tabloid size.

Writing in The Conversation’s daily newsletter today, Jaspan said:

“It won’t just be a change of format, but a merging of the two. There will be some regional differences; footy codes, property and restaurants. But much more will be the same.

“The two papers will also switch their editorial positioning away from the high ground occupied in the past by Fairfax’s metro mastheads and towards what is referred internally as ‘Middle Australia’. That means more mid-market fare: sport, showbiz, gossip, and fast news.

“The plan appears to involve aping the UK’s successful Daily Mail, which is strange as the Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph already own the rights to run Daily Mail copy. That middle market is also in fast decline: it’s like two bald men fighting over a comb. Can’t we do better in Australia, particularly given our relative lack of diversity?”

Jaspan told Mumbrella: “In Australia, there have been three big upmarket, serious newspapers, The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and what you essentially have now is The Australian and Fairfax,” he said.

“Fundamentally you now have two voices instead of three serious voices.”

Jaspan points out readers are already seeing elements of the merger: “Fundamentally, they have decided there will have merging of the teams… where you have people writing across both papers and so now in both papers you see the phrase ‘has told Fairfax’ rather than just ‘has told The Age’ or ‘has told The Herald’.”

Much of the project to create more common editorial content is being led by editorial director Garry Linnell.

Jaspan claimed that strategically a shift mid-market could be a mistake.

“The view at the highest levels of the company is that it has to reposition itself away from the sort of high-minded and more serious agenda of the past, towards a much more popular approach to the news,” he said.

“I’m not sure they have really thought this through because if I was News Limited, the repositioning of the Fairfax mastheads will force me to respond and respond vigorously.”

Jaspan said the change would weaken media diversity in Australia in the short term but could also open the door to new challengers to Fairfax.

“The lack of diversity is the real concern for me and of course there will be new entrants in the marketplace, we’ve already seen is The Guardian and I’m sure we’ll see others,” he said.

Fairfax Media have this afternoon responded to Jaspan’s remarks describing them as “complete fiction”. (Click here to read the full Fairfax response.)

Nic Christensen


  1. just saying
    29 Jan 13
    1:16 pm

  2. Not sure why mumbrella is making headlines from anything jaspan says. As a failed editor of the age his job now is…… what exactly. i believe he is refered to by folks at news and fairfax as mr unemployable. He did not manage to sell any papers during his brief tenure as an editor, so why is he a credible commentator now. come on mumbrella – find us something worth reading….

  3. Philjo
    29 Jan 13
    1:31 pm

  4. wow – way to write their own death…Good news for the Australian…A shame for journalism and most importantly the readers.

  5. Lindsay.
    29 Jan 13
    1:33 pm

  6. Given Linnell’s history with the Daily Telegraph where things did not go well, readers of the SMH and The Age would soon be left with nothing to read if the newspapers were redirected to compete with the lower end of the market.

  7. Curious
    29 Jan 13
    1:44 pm

  8. Any word on when paywalls / meters will go up on Fairfax sites? I thought it was slated for Dec 12 / Jan 13.

  9. Darcey
    29 Jan 13
    1:49 pm

  10. I!ve already noticed that SMH has merged many of its sections and I’m not impressed.Most of it seems to emanate from Melbourne,which is not much use if you’re searching for details about Sydney entertainment,for example.

  11. erk
    29 Jan 13
    2:01 pm

  12. The Age has not been a really good upmarket paper for 25 years. And Jaspan certainly contributed nothing to its reputation for quality. But it is certainly true that Fairfax has given up on distinction. The survivors at the SMH (such as those carrying on the ICAC story) are like heroic survivors of a shipwreck. Hanging on, hoping for an island to come into view.

  13. peterbayley
    29 Jan 13
    2:03 pm

  14. Who on earth cares any more about these organisations? Sure they’ll bumble on for a few more years – but the mystic veils from behind which they defined and described the world to us have, Oz-like, fallen away. SIngle-point news sources are being quietly bypassed and made irrelevant by alternative, inclusive, many-to-many technologies allowing relationships between source, interpreter and consumer to be complex, dynamic, ever-changing. The clever, articulate and interesting people who currently write for these organisations will eventually realise they can write from anywhere is the new reality and abandon these organisations. These changes are just the scraping of chairs being re-arranged.

  15. Yesterday's News
    29 Jan 13
    2:11 pm

  16. I beg to differ – he scooped a coveted PANPA and did all the hard work no one at Fairfax was prepared to do. Circulation, readership and online figures all increased during his tenure – give the guy his due, he’s no slouch.

  17. Jimbo
    29 Jan 13
    3:16 pm

  18. I don’t think Jaspan was as bad an editor as some would have you believe, but does he seriously think Fairfax will take its cues from the Daily Mail? Have you seen The Daily Mail? It makes the Herald Sun look like the New York Times.

    As for the ‘merging’ of the SMH and Age. This has already happened as part of the Linnell’s restructure and been widely reported. Sure it may have ‘weakened diversity’, but if the alternative is no Fairfax voice at all, then surely that’s worse?

  19. zumabeach
    29 Jan 13
    3:18 pm

  20. @peterbayley
    Those of us who like to read care about these organisations because they still manage to offer coherent writing on a wide variety of subjects – and that’s despite their managements doing their best to bugger it up by firing their best writers and offshoring their subbing to save every cent they can. This is unlike the web which offers convulted prose such as yours – too many tortured images and over-worked adjectives in search of a good sub.

  21. Lindsay.
    29 Jan 13
    6:44 pm

  22. Spot on zumabeach, but as Fairfax have decide newspapers do not need sub editors there is little chance of you reading a well produced newspaper agin.

  23. H B Bear
    29 Jan 13
    6:47 pm

  24. Andrew Jaspan giving advice on how to run a newspaper is like John Hewson giving advice on politics. Hasn’t stopped either of them – but it should.