Readers looking up coverage of the race that stops the nation won’t, this year, be directed to theage.com.au.
Fairfax staff were told Thursday morning that the decision had been made to direct readers searching for news on the Melbourne Cup to The Sydney Morning Herald’s website instead of The Age’s. What this means is that those who look up the race via Google will be directed to the top-ranking smh.com.au. The “purely commercial” decision has been made to keep the SMH near the top of the digital rankings — it’s locked in fierce competition with market leader news.com.au, owned by News Corp.
Currently, traffic from Google searches for everything except the AFL or specifically Victorian coverage is directed to the SMH. The exception in previous years also covered the Melbourne Cup. But that’s not the case anymore, staff were told.
In an email to Age staff, the paper’s digital editor Michael Schlechta said the decision was made “well above my pay scale”:
“This week many people have been outraged by the demolition of a Carlton pub. That pub was built in 1857, three years after The Age started. What I think has most startled people is the complete disregard the owners of the pub had for its heritage. For Melbourne’s heritage.
“Maybe I am being a bit melodramatic, but I feel that same sense today about the heritage of The Age. For the first time in our very long and proud history, The Age’s connection with the race that stops the nation has been broken.”
But that kind of thing wasn’t a priority right now, he said:
“Last year hundreds of thousands of people came to The Age via Google to read about the Cup, amounting to more people than would have read all our other platforms combined.
“That is no longer the case. The decision has been described as ‘purely commerical’, in that Fairfax’s main priority this year is to ensure that the SMH stays close to the top of the charts in a digital sense. So issues of brand and heritage are no longer even a factor.”
Age staff are often fearful of how Sydney-centric Fairfax is becoming, undermining what they see as the tradition of a proud local icon in The Age. As one Age scribe put it to Crikey: “It’s so typical — they always try to take the best things from Melbourne.”
The paper turned 162 this week. It covered the first Melbourne Cup, which took place seven years after the paper’s founding. — Myriam Robin