In a previous career, not so long ago, I worked in the deep, dark depths of the Death Star canteen as a Dishwasher (Grade 2).
Well, that’s what I told everyone… it was better than admitting I worked as a reporter at Newscorp for the Dark Overlord, Darth Rupert Murdoch.
But, I’d wanted to be a reporter ever since I was a kid, and when the door of opportunity cracked opened, I choked down my loathing for Rupert, and everything he stood for, and teleported aboard (yes, yes, I realise that’s a Star Trek reference… humour me).
The paper was ‘The Gladstone Observer’, our city’s sole surviving newspaper with a history stretching back over a hundred and fifty years.
Like many regional newspapers, it was independently owned and printed, but eventually the corporates moved in and it became part of the APN stable until it was ensnared in the Newscorp Empire’s tractor beam.
Previous employees told me that was the moment the papers’ culture changed for the worst.
Darth Murdoch, they discovered, was not in the business of spreading joy, light and harmony around the galaxy.
The pay was crap, the pressure intense, the hours long and public holiday pay and overtime were viewed by management as mythical beasts they refused to believe in.
I quickly learned to cope with the stomach churning anxiety of never being truly ‘off duty’, because we were always searching for the next story.
Still, I had a lot of fun, picked up plenty of handy skills (except shorthand, I never really nailed that), got an education into the workings of a newsroom and sales team, plus met some amazing people and shared their stories.
Even better, my co-workers were very smart, funny, insightful, extremely dedicated and always prepared to help me… no matter how many times they’d shown me the same things before; bless ‘em!
Sadly, I discovered many new reporters were saddled with student loans for their Journalism degrees, which they could barely afford to repay on the pennies Rupert was slinging them.
Even so, we all toiled like sweating coolies in a boiler room to be the best damn dishwashers on our little section of the Death Star.
Now, I was not our papers best reporter, by a long shot, but I recall the day I saw ‘The Writing On The Wall’.
One of Rupe’s minions arrived to tell us Newscorp would be moving toward a subscription based formula for our writers. Basically, if you didn’t sell subscriptions, you’d be unceremoniously booted off the Death Star and abandoned on the nearest deserted planet.
Up until then, readers were allowed ten free stories per month on the papers’ digital platform.
I thought that was a good idea, as it allowed folk to select the yarns they wanted to read and gave writers a chance to showcase their wares. Much like a well-stocked shop window tantalises customers into the store.
It was a model which worked for people who enjoyed reading the stories I wrote; general and human interest, quirky yarns, historical features, art and music reviews and a couple of humorous weekly columns.
I loved writing that stuff and, as it turned out, so some of my loyal readers loved reading it, because I was the first scribbler in the newsroom to sell a couple of subscriptions under the new model, which shocked a lot of people; chiefly, me.
Pretty soon, the writers covering the court rounds, crime, politics, industry, disasters and other big news yarns were zooming into double figure subscription territory.
These hard news stories were always going to attract clicks. And clicks means bucks for Newscorp and job security for the writer.
My stories were ‘nice’, but they only offered a window into the lives of the people in our community. Stories that weren’t really newsworthy, but would be pinned on fridges, stored in photo albums or collected for nostalgic posterity.
John Williamson once warbled, ‘Good news never made a paper sell,’ and, in the back of my mind, a clock was ticking. My time was running out. I was a dinosaur in a dying industry.
Around this time, I noticed my wife, children and friends had stopped reading the printed daily paper, and were getting all their news off Facebook.
They weren’t alone. Pretty soon, our breaking stories were being copied and pasted and shared on Facebook by people who had found a way under, over or around the paywall.
In the face of this digital onslaught, Rupert declared if the Rebel Scum wanted to read his content then they’d have to pay for it; all of it.
Wildly cheered on by his sycophantic lackeys, he set up a paywall and locked the content behind it.
It didn’t matter if you were living on the other side of the galaxy and only wanted information on a person, relative or feature in Gladstone from a particular story, you had to buy a subscription.
How many good stories went unread as people clicked away from the paywall message I’ll never know. But what I did know was readership numbers began to plummet like a shot-up Millenium Falcon.
The Death Star news service requires funding, just like every other paper does, and I’m certain they would still be a Force if they’d done what other online newspapers did, such as The Guardian, which offer all their content for free, but pepper their stories with little messages i.e.: ‘Good writing costs money, please consider subscribing.’
(Note: I did. I still do. They’re so polite, I find them hard to refuse.)
Meanwhile, in early 2018, sensing the big implosion was coming, I bid a fond farewell to my fellow dishwashers, hopped into an escape pod, blasted off the Death Star and went for a long drive to think about my next career move.
Since then, in spite of being handed millions of taxpayer dollars to keep the doors open (and rather handily preventing Newscorp reporters from asking sticky questions about the LNP’s numerous dodgy deals… prove me wrong somebody!) Rupert stopped printing nearly every regional and rural paper he owned around the country in June 2020.
Newsrooms were merged, then many offices were closed as journos worked from home due to the Corona Virus.
So where are we now?
It turns out that little, or no, news in small and regional communities isn’t actually good news.
In medieval times at least they had town criers to spread the news of the day.
Today, we have social media where The Four Horsemen of the Troll Apocalypse (Gossip, Innuendo, Bullying and Humiliation), terrorise and inflame the unwary, uneducated and easily incensed.
So, with their usual flair for incompetence (not to mention corruption), instead of funding small, independent papers in rural communities, the Federal Government demanded big tech companies sling Rupert more millions to keep his Death Star operational.
At which point Google decided to stop broadcasting Australian news.
Clap. Clap. Clap. Well done gang. Well, bloody, done.
Which is why I’m about to ask you to do something I’ve never asked of any of my readers:
Please consider subscribing to independent newsletters like this one.
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But, best of all, you’ll be able to proudly tell people you’re now part of The Resistance and doing your bit to stick it to The Empire!
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