Don Gordon-Brown co-founded The Independent in 2001 when he returned from sub-editing on various metropolitan mastheads in London only to realise no sensible news organisation here would ever think of giving him a paid job. He co-edits Australia's longest running satire newspaper, The Bug, that would have celebrated its 20th birthday this year if there were only enough advertisers to pay for a hardcopy edition. He was unlawfully victimised for his trade-union beliefs while working at the Courier-Mail in the late 70s and early 80s, which has made him somewhat bitter and twisted in old age, and was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2006 by Jschool for his contribution to independent journalism.
So, another year of fighting the evil Murdoch empire comes to an end .... and probably the biggest publishing event of 2010 in our patch was to see our main competitor City News end its days as a “newsmagazine”.
Yes, after seven odd years, a marketing strategy doomed from the very beginning through poor planning and poorer execution was finally put to rest. And, fittingly, it ended as it began – with broken promises, silly sales spiels and half-baked marketing ideas. At least they’re consistent.
When City News dumped its tabloid format in 2003 for a stitched and trimmed newsmagazine on nice white stock, it brazenly declared that an almost doubled circulation – from 22,000 to 40,000 – would be delivered to readers by a never-done-before way that would have advertisers opening their wallets in uncontrolled gratitude.
For, you see, the paper had targeted a specific demography of choice consumers – in that very desirable youngish, big-spending category that ad people wet themselves over – who each week would get their new magazine by direct mail – that’s right, through Australia Post – right into their letterboxes. It was the greatest thing in marketing since sliced bread, and the Indie’s advertisers were among those hammered with this great new deal.
It was bunkum, of course. It was an idea that we at the Indie believe was never carried through with any conviction. That direct-mail promise was then broken within weeks, in secret, simply to save money. We at the Indie believe City News never, ever told all their advertisers and ad agencies of that complete and utter failure of their core marketing strategy. They should have.
Advertisers had a right to know exactly how City News intended to distribute such a large circulation following the failure of their key marketing plan. It’s a failure, mind, that we at the Indie believe still hounds their circulation efforts – but that’s another story for another day.
Certainly the senior staff at one government agency were visibly shocked when we told them that the strategy lay in ruins.
Now all these years later, City News is at it again, heralding the publication’s return to a tabloid with a series of risible or simply false claims. From all we hear, Quest Newspapers editor in chief Neil Melloy is a very nice person, so he’s probably gone as far as he ever will in the Murdoch empire.
But why he put his name to some of the claims made for the new-look paper beggars belief. Neil’s No 1 point was that City News in reverting to a tabloid had a masthead that was new, brighter and bolder. None of those things is true, but I guess you’ve got to say something when you are plugging a lesser product, right? Neil is a journo, not a printer, so maybe he didn’t twig that there was no way in the world that a tabloid newspaper on standard newsprint was ever going to be brighter and bolder than a magazine on much better quality white stock. The graphic above may not do what I am saying here full justice, but there is no doubt that if you took the final magazine front cover and the first tabloid cover to the institute for the insanely blind, 99 out of 100 inmates would still manage to point more or less in the general direction of the old magazine as being far brighter and bolder. Because it is.
But undoubtedly the most gimmickry of his claims was the introduction of a “two-speed“ paper (see below). True! City News has decided modern life is so hectic that it has introduced a ‘two-speed’ paper so busy people can read a one-sentence summary at the top of the page and move on. Only “some” readers will have the time to read the whole story below. Now that’s pretty insulting to readers when you think about. It’s also bad news for advertisers whose very expensive advertising space is more often than not below that story! So may I now state the bleeding obvious: why advertise with City News when it is going out of its way to help readers avoid seeing what you have to sell? Of course, City News also celebrated its return to being mutton with a very hefty ad increase that they were strangely very silent over – but that’s a story for another day as well.