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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

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