Extinction Event: Long Live the Fourth Estate

Has there ever been an act so simultaneously tragic and morbidly satisfying as witnessing dinosaurs cannibalise each other before your mildly disbelieving eyes?

We’re on the ground at Fairfax’s Media House, that mausoleum-like slab, to scope four of The Age’s Old Guard justifying their hefty packets and dwindling relevance to an audience most kindly described as ‘pensionable’.

It’s delightful.

Strip after parched, sinewy strip, separated from brittle bone in a desperate bid to be the last fossil standing.

Nominally, the discussion is: Long Form Journalism in the Digital Age.

‘EIC’, ‘Assoc. Ed., Features’, ‘Online Content Ed.’ and ‘The Woman They Occasionally Patronise’ all squirm and prevaricate on the stand, vacillating between excruciating ‘in my day’ hot metal and bromide reminiscences, stewing in the flop sweat of numbered days and baffled obsolescence.

It quickly becomes clear that we’re here to sell The Age’s online presence as some sort of viable news alternative to a once respectable broadsheet, and its community newspaper offspring — lofty notions of Values, The Venerable, Trustworthy Brand and The Masthead quickly jettisoned in favour of ‘voiceys’, ‘demos’, ‘aggregrators’ and clicks through.

Brief lip service is paid to the romance of print and the craft of long form journalism. Lamentations of the days when ‘real journalism’ was funded by respectable stuff like classifieds and hostage to the whims of bored shits at work trawling Pavlovian click-bait for kicks.

Our crowd (shall we perhaps deploy the polite signifier of ‘recent Facebook adopters’ for dignity’s sake?), duped into the notion of a rousing Wednesday evening celebration of inky fingered Saturdays and journalism with ideals, are instead ambushed by an increasingly desperate seminar on the economics of keeping a listing news business afloat in 2015, why flogging Kardashian and diet stories is paramount, and just how engorged that 18–24 femme dem can potentially get your bottom line.

Truth be told?

The Brand has long since been torched, pissed all over and stomped into ashes.

The Site is little more than junk echo chamber journalism from Press Gallery hacks and hysterical, desperate crap like reports of one of their very own being nipped by a dog at the site of the Bali Nine executions.

The Print Edition is a mere ghost of itself, a desperate life support system for Leunig’s inane whimsy (and a telly guide).

And we all know who watches terrestrial telly, right, gang?

When cagily admitting you can’t compete in a global news market, and that your strength is ‘local’, well, sunshine, I’d be inclined to mop that flop sweat, grit those pricey orthodontics and flog the foyer furniture and art collection, stat.

Squeal ‘diminishing revenue’ and spout fluffy platitudes about ‘community’ all you want, but at the end of the day there’s a phalanx of passionate (oft-derided) citizen journos (no less, and in many cases far more, talented) out there doing it for nowt, tenaciously and bereft of profit-driven Groupthink.

There are many, many ways to flay a dinosaur, and when four on the same team are on hand (and at increasingly contradictory purposes) to do the honours, it’s even more delicious.

The extinction event can’t come soon enough.

Relish it.

(Now, don’t even get me started on The Australian.)

Originally published at www.hopscotchfriday.com.