Never mind the size, feel the quality. With The Courier-Mail becoming a tabloid (the
editor, David Fagan, prefers the word “compact”) on Monday some are asking why
a few broadsheets hold out against the trend.

As of Monday the only
remaining broadsheet metropolitan daily newspapers will be TheSydney
Morning Herald
, The Age, TheCanberra Times and The Australian.
The Sunday Age is the only remaining broadsheet Sunday paper and
Mildura’s Sunraysia Daily is the only broadsheet regional daily.

So why hold out? Victor Isaacs canvasses the reasons in the
latest issue of the University of Queensland’s Australian History Newspaper
Group Newsletter.

He says that for The Age and the Sydney
Morning Herald
the answer is probably pragmatic: even in these days of
internet migration they are so big with classified advertising that they would
be unmanageable as other than broadsheets. “A further minor reason for
broadsheet is that these papers can separate their sections more easily.”

As for the notion that broadsheet means
quality, Isaacs brings an international perspective.

“In Spain, there is no such thing as a
downmarket daily newspaper, and no such thing as a broadsheet newspaper. On the
other hand, in North America, almost all newspapers are broadsheet, and in New Zealand tabloid daily papers are
virtually unknown. In my view, the idea that for a paper to be authoritative
must necessarily be a broadsheet has as much basis in fact as the once
prevalent idea that for a paper to be authoritative it must fill its front page
with classified advertisements. In reality, there are just different
perceptions in different societies.”

Isaac’s gives the history of size changes in
Australian papers right back to the South
Australian Register
– the first to go from broadsheet to tabloid in 1870.
It changed back some years later. Other papers have made the move in the
opposite direction – from tabloid to broadsheet. This includes the Sydney Daily
Telegraph
, which went broadsheet between 1936 and 1942. The only paper to make
the change in this direction long term was the Canberra Times in 1964, when owners Fairfax were fighting off
competition from new kid on the block, The
Australian.

Isaacs concludes that the current tabloid
preference in Australia is “curious – just an unthinking
fashion”.

His history is fascinating, but it is easy to
disagree with his conclusion. The trend in media is towards smaller and more
portable. Soon most of us will get our quick catch-up news and our music and
radio from mobile phones that are also MP3 players. Newspapers will have to
become more like magazines in content – there will be no point in only reporting
the news.

Magazine-like sizes make sense. And when
those classified ads finally disappear, magazine prices may well prevail as
well.

Peter Fray

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