The Australian newspaper in the last few weeks seems to be waging a personal War on Twitter, if not the internet in general. Recently the newspaper named an anonymous public servant behind a politics blog, in an apparent attempt to make the man uncomfortable in his job [read about it here].
What struck me most about the coverage of this in the pages of The Australian was the sheer amount of column inches devoted to it. I counted close to 20 pieces in The Oz, all full of self-justification over their treatment of a blogger whose readership probably amounted to a few hundred. How interesting was this to the average reader? It was barely interesting to me! Since then the paper has been embroiled in arguments with government politicians like Senator Bob Brown and Stephen Conroy, and taken to regularly and loudly defending itself from criticism.
Most recently The Oz has extended their war on the internet with the Editor-In-Chief Chris Mitchell suing a Tweeter @julieposetti for defamation, merely for transcribing via Twitter the words of someone else during a conference [read the story here]. (That’s right – not for defamatory statements made by Posetti herself, but for quoting/paraphrasing things said by someone else! The sheer brass neck is incredible – that a Chief Editor of a newspaper would misuse defamation laws in such a ridiculous vanity suit is just … anyway.)
The chart above shows the decline in the Australian’s readership over the past 4 years. The paper is now read by 432,000 people (Mon-Fri), placing it a sorry 8th in Australia’s major metro daily market. That’s a pretty serious indication of a lack of relevance to readers. It’s read by less people than such august periodicals as Gardening Australia and Zoo Weekly.
So I’m baffled as to why the leadership believe that constantly talking about themselves will increase their relevance and grow their readership? It’s one of the strange things I’ve observed about newspapers that as their readerships get smaller, they become shoutier – have a look at the Independent in the UK, which in the last few years began loudly editorialising on its front page(and didn’t arrest it’s circulation decline). Being chippy, defensive and self-regarding is not a good strategy to win friends. If you’re at a party and people are drifting away from you in boredom, don’t start shouting at them – think about what you’re saying, and how you’re saying it, and change it.