Aug 082012

The writer and art critic was one of the great ex-patriots of Australia and he put our country on the map.”

One typo illustrates all that is wrong with Australia’s two oldest newspapers, The Age and The Sydney Morning, who are both part of the Fairfax stable.

It’s particularly disappointing that one of the leading newspapers in the city of Hughes’ birth could have such a dumb typo, but adding to the insult is the paper’s underwhelming and disappointing coverage as compared to the New York Times, the paper of his adopted home town.

Hughes was one of many in his generation left Australia because of the lack of opportunity. Fellow expatriate (note the spelling) Clive James said he could have never have developed his writing skills without the sharp editing his copy was subjected to at London’s newspapers. That is as true today as it was in 1960.

Poor editing lies at the core of Fairfax’s problems, not just in silly typos but also with inappropriate stories like leading with a shop assistant’s Facebook profile or the hysterical regurgitation of spin doctor’s talking points.

This isn’t to pick on Roy Masters and Asher Moses, both are capable of great work — Asher’s Digital Dreamers series profiling Australian technology expatriates (that word again) was excellent work and when Roy doesn’t get sucked into the petty ego wars that dominate Sydney’s Rugby League community his sports writing can match the world’s best.

Both Roy and Asher, along with every other journalist at Fairfax, are let down by poor editors who don’t have the balls to tell them when work isn’t up to standard, let alone pick up dumb typos.

If Fairfax is to survive, it requires strong and good editors that are prepared to hold their writers accountable and back them when the going gets tough. Right now Fairfax lacks those leaders.

That lack of leadership extends throughout the organisation’s management and board. Fairfax’s management lacks people committed to delivering a great product or capable of grappling with the challenges of making online journalism pay.

Making online journalism pay is more than just having one-way Twitter accounts, plastering your site with ads or irritating your users with auto playing video clips. Web strategist Jim Stewart dissects how these tactics aren’t working for Fairfax.

Whoever figures out how to make money from online journalism will be the Randolph Hearst of the 21st Century, currently it’s safe to say there are no budding Hearsts or Murdochs among the comfortable ranks of Fairfax’s management.

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