e know them will effectively cease to exist within a few short years.
Many readers will miss the familiarity and romance of print. But more disturbing is the likelihood that the dignified authority of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age mastheads will be lost when the more ephemeral, entertainment-oriented electronic edition is all we have.
The comparative lightness of the online content is consistent with the increasingly widespread trend to blend news with entertainment in electronic and online media in general. In fact the appeal of this is such that many, perhaps most, Australians have their news delivered to them within a form of popular entertainment rather than ‘serious’ news publications and programs.
It is often breakfast radio presenters such as Kyle and Jackie O who shape young people’s perceptions of the world with their mostly offhand and anti-social jokes about events and issues of national and world significance. Or the more socially responsible but nevertheless trivialising news oriented comedy programs such as Channel Ten’s The Project, as well as short-run series such as last year’s Hamster Wheel from The Chaser and ABC1’s current Friday offering Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell.
These shows are influenced by highly successful and sometimes incisive American news comedies including The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Significantly he is not entirely disturbed by this phenomenon. He argues that it is naïve to assume that Walter Cronkite could be trusted to deliver ‘unvarnished truth’. Moreover he suggests the comedies provide a kind of antidote to the xenophobia and introspective consumerism fostered by network news bulletins.
Mainstream news programs routinely report on the ways in which ‘our way of life’ is being threatened or destroyed and seldom acknowledge that such ways of life are unsustainable or contrary to the public good.
It’s a positive that satire provides much-needed perspective on traditional news, and that it has moved beyond a niche to educate the masses to consume the news more critically. But regrettable that the iconoclastic tone of many of these comedians of the left lacks the values and moral centre needed to counter the xenophobia and play to self-interest of the network bulletins and the right-wing news entertainment programs such as The O’Reilly Factor on FoxNews.
If Fairfax Online remains dominated by an imperative to entertain, we should hope that it finds a way of retaining the sense of values that have long given the printed broadsheets their authority.