Why booklovers need newspapers

The SMH replica app allows a tablet user to see the newspaper as it appears in print.
After 14 years in newspapers of which 11 were with Fairfax titles, and seven were online, I have some pretty strong views about recent events in that great newspaper company.

As an avid reader and book lover so should you. Newspapers have long encouraged and supported their journalists as they add the writing of books to their creative output. Without their newspaper jobs, these journalists simply wouldn’t have been able to afford to devote their time to the writing of books.

There are too many current or past Fairfax journalists and columnists who have become authors to mention here, but some names that spring to mind are Maggie Alderson, Mia Freedman, Peter Fitzsimons, David Marr, Chris Womersley, Annabel Crabb, Roy Masters and Kirsty Needham.

I’m most concerned for those friends and former colleagues who have already lost their jobs, or may do so in coming months.

I’m also worried about how those who keep their jobs will cope with all the uncertainty and change.

I’m devastated about the impact cuts have already had and will continue to have on the quality of the content coming from the SMH, Age and Canberra Times.

I’ve also always been a passionate reader of Fairfax content, whether it’s in newspaper form (rarely these days), on the web on my computer, on my iPad via an app or on the iPhone as a mobile optimized version of the websites, and whether it’s content I’ve found by flipping or scrolling through Fairfax’s own pages or via a recommendation from a Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn contact.

However we find or read the content, it’s a huge enrichment for our lives.

As a journalist who was lucky to be poached from Fairfax by a small start-up publisher a year ago, before the outsourcing of sub-editors started the current doom and gloom, I have mostly happy memories of my time there. Fairfax is a great company. Its people are exceptional as writers, editors and mentors to those building media careers.

A little part of me is angry about some management decisions made over the years, particularly the ones that involved head-in-the-sand statements like, “No, you can’t publish that online, it’s a print exclusive” and “No, we can’t publish a replica app because it might impact on print sales”.

The latter particularly frustrated me because replica versions (like those found on Zinio or PressReader) seemed like such a simple and cheap way to get Fairfax content onto tablets for readers interstate and overseas, or for those who had an allergy to newsprint, and who thus couldn’t access the print edition.

I replaced my print delivery of the SMH with a replica app subscription in 2010 and haven’t looked back. I’d do the same for The Canberra Times today if they offered one.

I’ve always believed that if your readers want to receive your goods in a particular way, and you can provide the goods to them in that way relatively cheaply and easily, then you should do so.

Print has been over for a long time, and the direction CEO Greg Hywood has finally shifted the business in is the right one.

A digital first policy and the appointment of social media editors for each title are necessary steps forward. A little late, maybe, but better late than never.

As for Gina Rinehart, well, wouldn’t it be great if everyone who felt strongly about keeping her off the board invested in a few Fairfax shares themselves. Don’t hold your breath.

What do you think the future holds for newspapers?

Do you, like me, believe Fairfax should pull back further on printed editions to save on printing and distribution costs and provide print subscribers with tablets and app subscriptions?

I reckon that will happen in time.

I also think they should look to charge for longer form journalism, focusing on depth and expertise rather than trying to compete on breaking news, though this will only work if they expand still further on their social media plans to ensure their content is discovered.

As for how you can help to support Fairfax’s great journalists, the most important way is to pay for their content. Subscribe to an app or paid website. Buy a print edition (if only to show your grandchildren so they know what a newspaper used to look like). Buy some shares. Or join the Get up! Campaign to promote its editorial independence.

SMH joins longform journalism ebook push

Fairfax Media has published Australia’s first newspaper-driven longform journalism ebook.

Framed, by Sydney Morning Herald Asia-Pacific editor Hamish McDonald, is available to Kindle and Kindle app users via the Amazon website, and is priced at $1.99.

It’s a hard-hitting piece of investigative journalism, examining a shocking incident in Australia’s history deemed the equivalent to Britain’s Guildford Four and Birmingham Six cases (in which ten individuals were wrongly convicted over IRA terrorism bombings – remember Daniel Day-Lewis in In the Name of the Father)?

According to McDonald, Australia’s criminal justice system bears similar guilt, for locking up the so-called Croatian Six more than 30 years ago. The young Croatian-Australians were convicted of plotting to plant bombs around Sydney, and each served time in prison. McDonald has found evidence to suggest the men were set up by the intelligence service of the then Communist Yugoslav state.

He tells of the involvement of unwitting police officers (Roger Rogerson was among those who carried out the arrests) who may have acted inappropriately, of a judicial system turning a blind eye to flaws in evidence, and to Canberra officials covering up knowledge of the Yugoslav role.

He speaks to some of the men, and to members of their families. It’s a riveting read – I finished it in 45 minutes.

The 10,000-word title will be promoted via a 2000-word extract published in the print edition of today’s Sydney Morning Herald, on smh.com.au and in the SMH iPad app.

Sydney Morning Herald tablet editor Stephen Hutcheon has managed the project. He told uBookish in an exclusive interview yesterday that the publication came about because the newspaper was unable to publish such a lengthy work in its own pages, either in print, online or via the app.

“It wouldn’t have looked as good as a big block of text online or in an app,” he said, adding that longer pieces like these need extra formatting and breaking up into smaller chunks to work in those formats.

Hutcheon, who has been following developments in ebooks and longform journalism for some time, proposed the long work be published as a Kindle ebook, and having received clearance from the newspaper’s editor and editor-in-chief, went ahead and did just that this week.

“This is a very low key thing,” he said.

“Everyone is just happy to give it a go.

“We’re just seeing whether we can do it, and what the reaction is – whether there is room for longform journalism.”

Initially, Hutcheon submitted the work to Amazon’s Kindle Singles program, but it was rejected – probably because Amazon’s publishing program is, like most of its activities, heavily US-centric. The email he received suggested Fairfax publish the work directly for Kindle themselves.

Hutcheon, who as a former SMH website editor is experienced with html coding, did the file conversion himself once the book was edited in house. He then spent a fitful night hoping the advertised 12-hour turnaround before the ebook would be live in the Kindle store would be accurate. It was, and you can download the book here.

Hutcheon chose the Kindle format because it allowed him to reach a wide audience via the Kindle apps for smartphones and tablets as well as the Kindle device itself. However, he did not rule out making the work available through other channels.

“We haven’t signed away exclusive rights to Kindle,” he said.

McDonald is the author of four previously published books, including Mahabharata in Polyester (2010, University of NSW Press) and Death in Balibo, Lies in Canberra (co-authored, 2000, Allen & Unwin).

A former Fairfax journalist, Charlotte Harper worked as a web producer on smh.com.au from 1997 to 2001.