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The new, improved Sydney Morning Herald?

By Peter West - posted Friday, 22 March 2013


Life has changed for thoughtful newspaper readers in the Emerald City. We are all learning to live with the new Herald. For readers not in Sydney, some of the biggest changes are:

  • The Herald has gone to a tabloid format. Thus it looks much more like the Daily Telegraph and the Herald-Sun than it did before. However, for some reason, Saturday's Herald is in the old broadsheet format.
  • Many of the familiar features have gone: the lead stories on page one followed by various news pages. Then a full double page of opinion pieces, an editorial, and the letters page. And then some arts and a sports section. There were various weekly sections.
  • Now we get a small number of lead news stories. A double page of opinion pieces cartoon and letters. And new sections on a weekly basis, plus sports.

At the time of writing, many of us are finding it difficult to USE the paper. Where are the letters? Where's the arts coverage? And so on. For some of us, this is harder online. Where ARE the confounded letters? Or the crossword?

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Some of the well-known Herald writers have gone. The exits of one or two were featured on the ABC, but most seem gone and (probably) forgotten. Some of the people whose work I grumbled about are gone, and they are being missed. Instead, we have tons of writers I've never heard of. None of them are notable for their depth, their experience, or their grammatical excellence. Fortunately, we have not had the uniformity of some of the Murdoch press – in which there is a consistent line followed throughout most of the paper, especially hostile to the Labor Party.

So we have had some dramatic changes in format and authorship. But some things haven't changed. In particular, the coverage of what is known as 'gender issues'. So to celebrate International Womens Day in mid-March, the Herald and other media had a sustained effort congratulating women on their achievements. There are other regular sections in the Herald with a heavy emphasis on women. Any coverage of the following issues usually emphasizes women's concerns and is written by women: health, nutrition, relationships, fitness, well-being. Even fatherhood is commonly discussed by women, although it would be ludicrous for any man to write seriously about motherhood, unless he was some kind of specialized doctor with impeccable credentials.

Then there was a double page on 11th March, supposedly about men and the men's movement. It had a far sharper edge than the coverage about women has had to date. In it, Guy Mosel decided that men are "sorrowful" and "sad" .A tragic groups of guys post-divorce was wrinkled out. And thus, a doubtful ragbag of evidence was found to "prove" the questionable conclusion. The only men depicted in the article (except for Greg Andresen) matched the predetermined conclusion : men are sad.

Where were the voices of the thousands of women who love and support men? Where were the men happily working as volunteers? Or in the Men's Sheds Movement, from the Prime Minister's partner down to ordinary guys? This is consistent with most media coverage on anything that might fit under the umbrella of men's concerns. It's the same old stuff the media have been saying about men for the last fifteen years. This is shown in Jim Macnamara's doctoral thesis and book Media and Male Identity. Women can tell their story without contradiction. But if anything is said about a men's movement we have to hear 'contrary' views to give some ludicrous sense of balance. Thus we hear - at length - from male and female feminists who don't have many positive ideas about men. Apart from this, there's nothing much in the Australian media about men's issues except trivial stuff about footballers and similar. Or another media creation, the so-called metrosexual. Some American journalist gives it a name, and so it must be true.

I see a different reality. Australian males are growing and adapting to new realities. Aussie boys are learning and playing with Korean, Chinese and African kids. Every day I see dads carrying their kids and talking to them with obvious enjoyment. Some gay men (including Ricky Martin) are happily discovering fatherhood. And some of us are just loving being with our fantastic grandkids. The men I know are too busy working and playing sport to indulge in recreational weeping.

Why can't the Herald, Sydney's only paper for intelligent people, reflect some of these simple truths?

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There is a new section on Thursdays called "Pulse". It says it's about (I quote the banner underneath the title) " Health/ Science/ Medicine/ Fitness." Alas, the section's cover on the first week of issue, 14th March, gives the game away. Here we have a tape measure splashed across the page. And the headlines : WEIGHT LOSS… TRUE DIET STORIES..CANCER CLUSTERS..COLD COMFORT show us the kind of depth we have to expect. Stories are mainly by Lissa Christopher, with the help of Amy Corderoy and Sue Williams. Men get scant attention, while the bulk of the stories are by women, for women, and about women. How many men are interested in mascara smudges? Or pampered poodles? Accordingly, the pictures are of women, with one man and a dog the only apparent exceptions.

This is the kind of depth we get to expect from the Sunday supplements, or the silliest women's magazines, so-called. Diet, weight loss, beauty, make-up and such, with a heavy emphasis on women. Men seem expected to be content with intense discussion of various kinds of football, business, and suchlike. But in the Herald we should expect more depth, more subtlety and nuances. Where are the discussions of suicide among older men and younger men, too? What about serious discussions of young people wrestling with the consequences of bullying? Or acne , or using knives on the street? Job flexibility for men over sixty? And so on, and on.

I have looked at the Herald with an emphasis on issues of concern to men and to women. Women may have a different opinion. But if this is Sydney's paper for intelligent people, God help us.

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known expert on men and boys. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, University of Technology, Sydney.

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