Thursday, June 17, 2004

Visiting the shrink

On the Testy Copy Editors board this week, someone asks: "Can anyone speculate as to why a paper would go from broadsheet to tab? I don't know the economics involved, but from a PR standpoint ("bigger is better") it seems backwards to me."
It's a current trend around the world, but one that also has history...
Many Australian papers went tabloid in the early 1900s to be competitive with popular entertainment, such as cinema. And during World War II, there were more basic, practical reasons. Newsprint was rationed and the shift to the smaller size seemed logical. Ezra Norton, whose Daily Mirror had controversially launched after rationing began, pushed for a uniform size for all Australian newspapers; he enlisted support from the Department of Trade and Customs, but Fairfax's Rupert Henderson objected directly to the Prime Minister: "A reduction of all newspapers to a flat level of so many pages per week would necessarily eliminate [differences in the style and function of the papers], and bring all papers to a dead level of type and function -- one which would necessarily be the more popular, more rigidly compressed, and the more heavily displayed type of newspaper. This, we submit, would not only be against the public interest, but would be unfair to those papers which over a period of many years have succeeded in building up their appeal, character and service to the public, along certain lines."
A newsprint pool was formed and the issue of size left to the individual papers. Many, including Sydney's Daily Telegraph, went tabloid; the Tele never returned to its broadsheet format. But the SMH and other papers chose to retain their broadsheet formats while reducing the number of pages and restricting circulation.
Source: Souter, Gavin, A Company of Heralds, MUP, 1981

The Sydney Morning Herald put news on its front page for the first time on April 15, 1944. It was the second-last Australian metropolitan newspaper to do so (the last was The West Australian). The last newspaper in the country to shift the ads inside and put news on the front was the Bombala Times, NSW, on February 14, 1985.


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