Newspaper start-ups are hard, even for well-resourced news companies; it is even harder for small independent publishers.
So I have much empathy for Morry Schwartz and his newly-launched weekly, The Saturday Paper – but regrettably I have to declare it to be a disappointment.
The Saturday Paper needed a real point of difference to be able to create a niche in a crowded market. It did not provide one.
In 32-pages, one cannot compete against the scale and quality of the established Saturday products. This is why it had to break news, or at least give a different perspective on stories – but the paper did neither.
The best that can be said is that it was unsurprising. It may sound harsh, but after the best part of a year to find just one story to stop us in our tracks, the splash was a tired dissertation on Manus Island. The rest of it was equally predictable.
It lacked direction, largely focussing on self-righteous discourses aimed at left-leaning inner-city dwellers, missing the gap that has emerged in the market between Fairfax Media’s Sydney and Melbourne dailies and News Corp Australia titles. It also made the mistake of appearing to want to compete with the established literary and leisure sections of both News and Fairfax, making its offering – even with a couple of name writers – look meagre by comparison.
What it needed was the irreverence of Gordon Barton’s Nation Review, a popular weekly that mixed news and satire with attitude that was a must-buy in the 1970s. Barton’s paper didn’t provide a one-dimensional view; it thumbed its nose at everything.
Still it is the first issue and, once born, papers can be an ungrateful progeny as they seek their own identity, often laughing in the face of their creators. Let us hope it is the case here.
Ian Moore was the founding editor of Melbourne’s The Sunday Herald Sun.
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