Just a fortnight after News Ltd launched opinion site The Punch, Fairfax has revealed it is to aggregate its opinion content under its long defunct National Times masthead.
However, while The Punch has been attempting to find new voices as well as News Ltd old stagers, it appears that the National Times – due to launch in August – will be mainly using comment created by other Fairfax titles.
Announcing what Fairfax described as “a significant expansion of journalism by the company,” CEO Brian McCarthy said: “The best of our opinion writing, commentary and analysis will be aggregated on the site and I believe it will be a beacon for all those people with an interest in politics, policy and current affairs.”
The National Times was a weekly Fairfax title from 1971 to 1986.
However, it is unclear whether the National Times will be a genuine standalone site or a rebranded section within the Farifax Digital Media network. The company announcement said: ” The nationaltimes.com.au will be published on Fairfax’s leading news sites smh.com.au, theage.com.au, brisbanetimes.com.au and watoday.com.au.”
The launch of the National Times marks the latest of a rush into the Australian comment sphere. For at least a couple of years ABC Unleashed was virtually the only wide ranging, large audience discussion site.
Last month Crikey – known mainly for its daily subscription-based email – upgraded its website, offering aggreagation of its own and external content. Then at the beginning of this month The Punch joined the fray.
Early data suggests that The Punch is already gaining ground on Crikey, although after an initial surge in interest, users appear to have fallen away somewhat.
Meanwhile, Fairfax’s motivations have already drawn cynicism, with blogger Young and Grumpy suggesting:
“I wonder how well they will be able to pick up the ball after The Punch has a well established brand. And given their choice of opinion columns to date in the SMH and The Age, it remains to be seen if this will be a serious website, or one that will pander to specific political interests. My money’s on The Punch.”