The return of the combined masthead?

     CANBERRA, October 14. – Sixty-nine years ago this week Sydney was in the midst of a large newspaper strike. Four Sydney dailies – The Sydney Morning Herald, The Daily Telegraph, The Sun and The Daily Mirror – printed combined issues as printers and journalists went on strike, demanding better pay and four weeks annual holiday.

The eleven newspapers, apart from the highly unusual feature of  four mastheads on the front page, rely mainly on copy taken straight from the wires, most the Australian Associated Press; they were produced with few people, little resources and appear to be assembled to a simple, repetitive formula.


The reasons for the strike are no longer relevant – the disputes have been settled and they bear little relevance to what is happening in journalism and the media today. However, the newspapers produced during the strike bear a strong resemblance to newspapers today and show an insight into the direction of the Press and the media at large.

Today, there are fewer journalists working on newspapers. Australia’s two main media companies, Fairfax Media and News Corp Australia, continue to amalgamate divisions and units, while they shed jobs in the process.

This month Fairfax announced it was shedding 45 jobs across its publishing units. Journalism is getting leaner, directed in Australia largely by two companies. But the demand for content remains; the amount of content demanded for individual papers now has to come from somewhere else – either the wires or other newspapers in the company’s stable.

Stories billed as “exclusive” in The Sydney Morning Herald are hardly ever completely exclusive; they almost always appear in The Canberra Times by page five. Even the layout of the pages of the metropolitan daily Fairfax papers are almost the same – the fonts are shared between them, and the page layouts give readers déjà vu as they flick between multiple papers on any given day.

We now have newspapers whose only major differences are the title and the location of publication.

It is almost at the stage where it wouldn’t be noticed if a company’s newspapers were amalgamated into a single edition with four or more mastheads; a dramatic and decisive act that would reflect the perceived death throes the Press is said to be experiencing.

This is a dire picture for the future of newspapers, reflective of the media at large, perhaps, but it is one that will prevail if there aren’t enough journalists in enough places left to produce “content” – quality journalism – for a readership that is increasing. The readership, though, is increasing online, which, sadly, is a medium that tends not to be able to pay the journalists’ wages or the bills.

It is unlikely we’ll be reading the Canberra and Sydney Age[d] Morning Herald-Times any time soon, nor will we be reading the Australian Sun Daily Courier[ed] Telegraph-Herald, but perhaps we’ve already seen the beginning of combined mastheads. The appearance of “Independent. Always.” at the top of Fairfax titles is almost comic – surely they can’t all be independent as individual newspapers when they’re all connected to each other.

Australian mastheads will continue to become even more of a personable front for the company that owns the newspaper than an assurance of solidarity and independence.

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