Many,
many years ago I achieved a career highlight – getting a non-budget related
front page story in The Age on budget
night. This was almost unknown. Nothing would stop The Age from featuring budget front, middle and back.

(I
can’t claim any credit. I just happened to be in the editor’s office having a
gin and tonic and watching the budget speech when the Australian Cultural
Terrorists rang up to say they had left the Picasso painting they stole from
the National Gallery in the lockers at Spencer Street station. I was sent dashing
across the road before I’d chewed the ice in the G&T.)

But
things have changed, and today all the nation’s newspapers had a tough choice
to make – budget, or Beaconsfield.
Money, or miracles.

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In
what might be seen as a sign of the times The
Age
plumped for miracles with most of the front page devoted to the miners
in the pub, and the budget relegated to below the fold – plus, of course, the
special liftout.

Too
much news is a very good problem for a newspaper to have, but it’s interesting
to see how the different choices were made. The Herald Sun had the miners on the
front, plus 14 pages of coverage. The budget was on page two, and got a special
section to itself, but still took up less space than the miners.

The Sydney Morning Herald went against the trend with the budget as the splash and the
miners as a right-hand single column above the fold and spilling back, accompanied
by a big pic.

The Australian had a budget wrap-around
and a “rescue special” inside. The Daily Telegraph had the miners all over
page one. The budget was a strap across the bottom.

The Mercury, predictably, had a Beaconsfield
wrap-around (16 pages total). Inside, the front page led with the story of the shot policeman. The
budget didn’t get any play until page three. The Advertiser had a picture of the freed miners taking up most
of the front page with a squashed budget story at the bottom.

And
the Financial Review was hardly likely
to squib on its big day of the year with a huge budget liftout containing,
interestingly, lots and lots of feelgood Telstra corporate advertising.

Were
the news choices correct? Hard to say. The Beaconsfield
story really broke at the worst time for newspapers – although The Age brought
out a special 7am edition yesterday which editor Andrew Jaspan boasted was
delivered and being read in the Beaconsfield
pub over the Cascade long before any other paper was
available. Quite an achievement, and in the grand tradition of newsprint and
hot ink and all that stuff.

Circulations
will spike today, that’s for sure, but there is a new element in the mix since
the Australian Cultural Terrorists were around. Budget,
and at least some mine rescue aficionados, will surely have been online until
late in the night. More than ever, people are looking to papers for depth,
rather than news.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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