In the first teaser from KYD issue 26, Hugh Jones reflects on a career tied inextricably to the rise of Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire and the effect of digitisation on the industry.
Few people watch the Academy Award-winning movie Spotlight without a feeling of moral injustice, rage even. The tale of how sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy in Boston was systematically covered up is hard for anyone to stomach.
In this movie it is the journalists from the Boston Globe newspaper who are the heroes, relentlessly chasing leads and building irrefutable evidence that those in charge of the church were negligent and complicit. Without their work this story would not have been told; the team won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003, the most prestigious available for US journalists.
But even that success couldn’t prevent readers abandoning the newspaper.
Average daily sales of the Globe were above 450,000 in 2003, but three years later had slipped well below 400,000. Today its average weekday sales are fewer than 250,000.
The Globe has been sold since the Spotlight story, dozens of its journalists have been laid off and its future, like newspapers across the English-speaking world, is dubious.
So journalists like me who watch the movie do so with a sense of melancholy; we fear we’re watching a documentary of a dying industry.
One day, not so long ago, it was my turn to be deemed redundant.
I’m part of a dying breed; a journalist squeezed out of work as the demand for traditional news sources contracts. Like chimney sweeps, rat catchers and switchboard operators, the humble newspaperman is becoming obsolete.
For more than 25 years I had made a small but useful contribution to what may be the world’s most influential media conglomerate, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
It felt good to be part of such a big, healthy news organisation.
I respected Murdoch for what he had done to build and nurture newspapers, both in Australia and around the world. He launched the Australian here in 1964, then bought Britain’s moribund Sunday newspaper, News of the World, in 1969. Soon afterwards he bought the low-circulating Sun newspaper, turned it into a tabloid, and within 10 years it was the highest-selling daily in the United Kingdom.
According to Larry Lamb, who edited the relaunched Sun, Murdoch dumbfounded his sceptical printers by first finding the stored-away crusher bars that would enable the presses to alter output size from broadsheet (News of the World) to tabloid (Sun), then showing them how to install them. How many newspaper proprietors would have known that?
When Murdoch moved into US newspapers in the early 1970s, then into movies and television with the purchase of 20th Century Fox in the mid-1980s, I admired him as an Australian taking on the wider world. It helped that he took many Australian executives and journalists with him to make his foreign ventures successful.
Thirty years ago when I got my first job as a cadet journalist, newspapers were still the primary source of news and information. Readers then may have seen the news on television the night before, or heard it on the radio, but reading it over breakfast made it real.
Hard copy was exactly that.