Even if you live nowhere near Sydney — or would rather be caught with your pants down than reading a Murdoch tabloid — there’s simply no avoiding The Daily Telegraph. It doesn’t sell as many copies as its southern sibling, the Herald Sun, but when it comes to generating outrage and kick-starting debate, The Tele can’t be topped.
From declaring war on Twitter trolls to photoshopping a rat’s tail onto a front page photo of the parliamentary speaker, it’s the paper that goes where others daren’t.
Within the harbour city itself, its dominance is undeniable: with a daily circulation of 350,000, it reaches the most readers and reaches them where it matters — in the marginal seats of western Sydney. Just as importantly, its impact is magnified through the city’s influential shock jocks, who feed off the paper for talkback fodder.
As a former NSW premier told The Power Index last year: “A bad relationship with The Telegraph sees you get a hiding every day. Their issues, not yours, dominate the political agenda, and you’re forced to talk to them or compromise.”
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“Do you, as a minister, care more about what The Tele says than the Herald? Absolutely,” says another.
The man driving The Tele train is Paul Whittaker, who took over in May 2011 after four years editing The Australian. As Paul Barry explained last year, Whittaker is pugnacious, proud and confident — famous for his endless energy and willingness to back his reporters. Known universally within News Limited as Boris because of his likeness to a certain German tennis star, the paper’s a far more aggressive beast under his watch than predecessors Garry Linnell and David Penberthy.
Two weeks after taking over, he faced a challenge: how to cover a relatively ho-hum budget, framed around greater spending on skills training, for a mass audience? The answer: unleash a debate about whether families earning $150,000 a year are rich. Never mind that such families earn well over the median household income, or that no benefits for such families were cut in the budget.
The government’s “class warfare” dominated discussion for days — and it was just the start in the testy relationship between the government and The Tele, which has ran harder on concerns the carbon tax and boat arrivals than any other paper. Within weeks, Stephen Conroy was fulminating that The Tele was running a “campaign on regime change” against the government.
To be fair to Whittaker, he’s given the NSW Coalition government a fair whack too; last year The Tele renamed the Premier “Barrier O’Farrell” in a brutal front-page headline.
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore has also come in for a bollocking for her love of bike lanes. In June, the Press Council pinged The Tele for its CloMo coverage, deciding the use of headlines such as “Moore wanted feedback on her bike paths disaster — we can tell her now: TEAR THEM UP” inappropriately blurred fact and opinion. So did the use of phrases such as “crazy council policies” and “diva-like list of demands” in a news story.