The 80/20 View: In the middle of a campaign celebrating facts and truth, why is The Age giving Clive Palmer its front page?

In his regular column for Mumbrella, media analyst Ben Shepherd discusses the curious placement of UAP advertising amid COVID restrictions.

I’m a fan of the latest campaign from BMF for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald (part of Nine Entertainment Co). It speaks to the end of ‘Closed Minds’, and promotes the fact-based journalism of the mastheads writers and contributors. ‘Minds Wide Open’, according to Kristen Turner who heads up subscriptions, is about “assert(ing) our role in provoking the conversations Australia needs to progress, beyond the relentless news cycle.”

In the middle of country wide lockdowns and huge political division it’s a pretty timely message. As we race towards vaccination and see unprecedented political and societal debate around everything from mask wearing to the brand of a vaccine, newspapers and the news media have a huge responsibility to report honestly and factually. What we read and see in these media outlets matters.

Which is why, as a loyal The Age reader, I was puzzled to see that the masthead had taken advertising for Clive Palmer today (the ad also appeared on front cover of News Corp’s The Australian today).

The front page of The Age 4 August 2021

‘LOCKDOWNS DESTROY JOBS’ screams the copy, in bright yellow on the front page of what is likely the most cherished front page in the nation. ‘We can never trust the Liberal and Labour Parties Again.’

Above the advertisement is an article outlining how Melbourne’s West, a traditionally lower socio-economic area, is lagging behind the rest of the city in vaccination rates.

I wanted to process this ad placement by thinking of the decision-making process behind it running in the first place.

One. The statement seems false and completely ignores the purpose of lockdown to save lives and prevent the spread of COVID. Any Melbourne resident will know, especially on a day like today with zero local cases, that the recent lockdowns have avoided a huge economic disaster of a sustained, months long lockdown.

Two. The advertisement seems so at odds with the current advertising campaign for The Age and SMH. A campaign all about the end of ‘closed minds’, a campaign that champions facts and progressive conversation and debate. A campaign that clearly acknowledges the role these mastheads play around societal discourse.’

Running an ad like this is akin to a business claiming you have environmental credentials but then actively supporting the coal lobby. It’s completely incongruent with what you claim to be all about.

‘Minds wide open’ is not about running a factually incorrect, partisan and divisive paid advertisement on your front page. This is not the promise of the brand.

And for what? A few thousand dollars in an advertising market we’re all being told is flying financially. I wouldn’t assume the revenue for this is the difference between hitting your numbers and missing them.

As an Age reader this feels so off brand it’s jarring. And no, it’s not going to make me stop reading it every day, or sending excellent Age and SMH journalism to my friends to read, or think differently around the quality of the product.

But it does make me question the gap between what ‘Minds Wide Open’ is saying externally, and some of the decision making internally. It’s more ‘Minds Wide Open’ but sometimes we’ll take closed minds messaging if they have the money to pay for it.

The Age Tweet for Wednesday August 4 – with Palmer’s ad cut off

It’s unfortunate that a campaign that likely has cost a few million to produce, place and execute, could be let down by a short-term decision to take an ad for a ‘political grifter’ that will likely generate around 1% of the cost of the campaign in revenue. The masthead has given its most valuable, most premium, most coveted real estate to a guy charged with fraud, corporate misconduct and dishonestly gaining benefit or advantage. Quite the CV, and definitely a profile that seems at odds with the journalism quality at The Age and SMH.

Editorial note: Currently, there is no legal requirement for the content of political advertising to be factually correct. Complainants are advised to raise their concerns with the advertiser directly and/or with their local member of parliament.

Ben Shepherd is a media analyst. The 80/20 View is a regular column on Mumbrella.


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