Full disclosure :: I subscribe to the digital edition of The Australian newspaper :: published by News LTD. This may seem at odds with my pre-disposed suspicion of a far-right Murdoch press hell-bent on pulling apart the last threads of our flaky democracy BUT there is some cold logic at work here: Keep the enemy close - understand their politics and make sure you can spot that wolf a mile off. But more practically, they cover rugby league with some dilligence, the arts section in the weekend edition is semi-noteworthy, they actually report - or mostly syndicate - stories from beyond these shores, they have the best cricket writer in Gideon Haigh - and when he gets going, Peter Lalor isn’t half bad either - and besides, it sure beats the hell out of the Townsville Bulletin.
So, as a subscriber to an ever evolving concept such as a digital subscription I am occasionally notified of an update to my user agreement and, when one has been hanging about dutifully paying my annual fee as long as I have, you sometimes benefit from the odd embellishment to the service; in this case “an exciting new world” called News+.
And what might a hip new initiative offered by a networked news service with all the trappings of a media empire which spans four corners of the globe with aspirations for my digital wallet such as News+ look like?
A giddy little kid with a birthday hat, dinosaur pajamas and dinosaur wallpaper. Isn’t that just a little bit of a weird approach to marketing the news?
Besides the obvious visual disconnect of this image with the reality that the news is often confronting, troubling and a bit nasty the symbolism of the art direction also seems to be a peculiar choice. Hasn’t the ongoing critique of the slow to evolve print media industry centered around the fact that they are like… uhm - dinosaurs?
Scroll down further and it gets even weirder. Above the slogan of “More of what you love” is a series of jack-in-the-box images of stuff that I - a loyal Australian newspaper subscriber - apparently love: a generic (is that Shane Watson?) Australian Test cricketer (c. 2012-2013) nearly getting his head knocked off by a brute of a ball: two painfully thin racetrack hussies in funny hats with eyes for anyone but me; some bloke who’s dinner has just blown up in his face; and a generic middle aged gentlemen playing with his daughter - something I can certainly identify with but not exactly compatible with reading newspapers.
But there it is, between the promises of “news on another level” and “access to more than 3000,000 articles” and “unrivaled coverage from our leading journalists”, the guts of the sales pitch: “trusted mastheads” The Daily Telegraph and The Herald Sun.
And that’s when it clicked. Me the loyal subscriber to Australia’s only national broadsheet The Australian was not being offered access to a deep rich incisive and internationally rich database of News LTD journalism. This was not, as I had hoped, the gateway to the type of useful and practical information source I could make good use of and what I had mistakenly believed to be the essence of this new fab thing called News+.
Instead, what I was being peddled was the fun safe happy version of this merry little harmless place we call Middle Australia. No refugees, rising sea levels, pro-democracy rallies or demented mass killings to be found here. This was a new super safe happy universe of birthday hats and printed designer pajamas. This is plush toy territory, this is Fox Sports, Taste, GQ, Andrew Bolt and Body & Soul nirvana:
“With news+ you can browse the best in fashion, food, beauty and travel, without leaving the comfortable dent in your couch. So put your feet up, and relax in style.”
This is news without the news. But it also comes in hard copy too. True to form your subscription can include a printed version delivered with a friendly - but none too offensive - “thump” on your driveway and dutifully delivered to your sofa by your pure bread designer puppy, just like an episode of Father Knows Best.
Once a dinosaur always a dinosaur.
Don’t have an Australian digital subscription? No fear, you can join the circus here: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/subscribe/learnmore/1/