Who do you trust to talk straight on the future fortunes of Australian newspapers? The corporate spinners from News — robust! — or Fairfax — defying global trends! — no, maybe not. We prefer to go to the horse’s mouth, to hear the prognosis direct from the man himself, from Rupert Murdoch in a teleconference this morning advising the market of News International’s disappointing first quarter performance:  

The Australian newspaper group reported lower first quarter operating income in local currency terms versus the first quarter of fiscal 2008 primarily due to lower classified advertising revenues resulting from declines in the employment and auto sectors. Additionally, circulation revenues decreased slightly during the quarter mainly from lower sales volume.

Heads will probably roll! But beyond the intriguing internal dynamic at Rupert’s Australian mastheads, things for newspapers more broadly are getting to a point where spin can’t cover a slow, sad demise. There’s a poignant irony in this news at this moment, Murdoch’s sobering report coming on a day when newspapers in the US report record daily sales on the back of the Obama victory. It seems beyond the imagination or technical capacity of the internet to provide concrete momentos of world shaping events … no amount of online video galleries and chatrooms compensate for a yellowed broadsheet stuffed in a box and kept for the grandkids. Which is not something you can say, sadly about classified advertising or the run-of-the-mill in daily news and comment.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey