For many of us who have long read The Guardian online or, in my case, had the print edition delivered once a week, the Australian edition - launched earlier this week - is disappointing. But there is also a great deal of which the Australian version’s editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner, can be proud.
Viner has pulled together a star-studded lineup of Australia’s journalism elite in her 15-strong local staff. There are few print journalists who are household names in Australia, but The Guardian now boasts two of my favourites in Lenore Taylor and David Marr. Marr’s writing is always a joy, regardless of the subject, and Taylor knows her Canberra patch.
The site’s Australian home page appears to be a roughly 50/50 mix of Australian and international news and doesn’t seem yet to have found its real identity. I have long subscribed to The Guardian for one reason - its international point of difference. The journalists in the UK write articles from outside the Australian political bubble and can see issues with a wider perspective.
The Guardian’s coverage of the Eddie McGuire racism controversy is a good example where I believe the Australian sibling is getting it wrong. The Guardian’s Australia site this week served up what every other news outlet in the country was doing:
Eddie McGuire’s job as Collingwood president is safe after the board offered him its full support in the wake of his remarks suggesting the Swans player Adam Goodes – an Indigenous Australian – could promote the musical King Kong.
That’s not the reportage I expect of The Guardian, and it’s not the kind of reportage that Australians need. The readers already have plenty of that. We need more of the type of journalism provided by the likes of Nick Davies, the author of a book an influential book on “churnalism” and the reporter who broke the phone hacking scandal.
A journalist sitting in London can far better see that the McGuire story isn’t about him but something much deeper in Australian society. Those in the Australian office should remember that point of difference if they wish to be successful. Australian readers need something a little more thoughtful, and a little less headline grabbing, otherwise we’ll continue to stick with what we know.
The Guardian UK has long been a leader in multimedia journalism, interactive works and data visualisation. From day one, The Guardian Australia has been keen to show off its prowess in this area. Winning early praise was Firestorm, an interactive multimedia feature of a family caught up in this year’s bushfires in Tasmania. It deservedly won praise – and a strong click stream - for its moving portrayal of the crisis.
Some of the early news choices have been very deliberately skewed towards the left. Trotting out Robert Manne, however erudite and entertaining, is always going to fire up the right wing and turn some readers away.
This begs the question: does Australia need another paper for the left elite being staffed by journalism refugees from Fairfax and News Limited? Doesn’t the Australian public deserve something better? The man with the money behind The Guardian Australia is wotif founder Graeme Wood, who is also the money behind The Global Mail. For my money – and admittedly at the moment both publications are free – The Global Mail is a better product for Australians.
Will The Guardian replace my morning Age or Herald Sun? I doubt it in the short term. But will its arrival in Australia eventually force the closure of one of our remaining morning papers? Sadly, I think the answer may be yes. There is little doubt it will take further readers, particularly from Fairfax’s diminishing store.