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Words by Nathan Fioritti

‘Drop everything. We must supersede all front-page content with this now empty story after the Supreme Court’s outrageous straight-up denial of truth!’ This is probably not at all what the editors of the Herald Sun said to themselves on a Tuesday night a few weeks ago when the Supreme Court ‘silenced’ the following morning’s front-page story. It is, however, what they did, scrapping all other front-page stories on their 2 April edition, leaving only the mysterious Lawyer X. The story essentially stretched out little more than what was said in these two sentences: “We can’t tell you what the story was about. But we will fight for your right to know the truth”.

Restrictions like this are nothing new. In Australia we do not have a free press, and the Herald Sun would be well aware of this. The media are regulated through censorship laws that can be adjusted fairly easily by our state and federal governments. There are without doubt other things which the Herald Sun, and newspapers alike, are not permitted to report. So why then would they go to this extreme?

This is the Herald Sun saying, with few crumbs from their disposed news-filled mouths falling onto their later pages, ‘we’re for the people, and we’re fighting to tell you what you need to know’. Although, in reality, they are compromising the actual news they are delivering to do this. By stretching out their lack of useable information and dismissing more important content, the Lawyer X story becomes an object for which they can give themselves an indulgent pat on the back.

Sure, Lawyer X is an individual who is of importance, as editor Damon Johnston, said: “The police last night moved to prevent us from publishing important details that go to the heart of the public interest”. The thing is that if nothing can really be said yet, then a full front page is not warranted. There were other stories out there which could have replaced that regurgitated text, or filled those sinister voids of black ink. While some may be more pertinent for the public interest than others (you decide), here they are:

  • The $100 million growth fund to assist the car manufacturing in South Australia and Victoria has been delayed. Tony Abbott may have promised to deliver the amount, and set a deadline which passed over a month ago, but as of 2 April only $72 million had been raised by the federal government.
  • Privacy questions were raised after the AFP publically admitted to using drones in Australia. They said the drones were for crime scene investigations only but we all know it is only a matter of time before the things are ruling our skies, and as all science fiction suggests, developing sentience and enslaving the entire human race. As an expert said in a great little segment from ABC News, if you do happen to run into one “don’t try to grab it. They are basically flying lawnmowers so they will cut you up pretty bad”.
  • A man tried to kick himself out of a body bag at a funeral parlour in the U.S. state of Mississippi, after being falsely pronounced dead. The story, in a way, has rationalised the fear expressed by the narrator of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Premature Burial. Scary stuff.

Words by Nathan Fioritti

Print is not dead yet, and nobody is really authorised to break the bad news to print media. It’s lying there, certainly not in the same shape as it used to be— pages ruffled, spine weakened, ink fading— but still hanging in there. If you ignore these paradoxical pixels and hunt down the latest edition of Farrago, you will find that, with proof in hands, it is still possible to rejoice in the name of print media.

This column is about a specific segment of print media that is still kicking— newspapers, and what they are doing with the influence they still hold. It will hopefully assure you that you are not alone at times when you are so baffled by headlines that you question the very notion of news. Perhaps you too have watched every episode of The Newsroom, engaging in countless mental fist pumps while thinking— ‘News! Real news! You tell ‘em news team.’ Each of these columns will look at a particularly severe case of headline crime and offer a selection of more ‘newsworthy’ stories, ranging from plain outrageous to (occasionally) more serious.

I’d like to start by looking at the 28 January 2014 issue of the Herald Sun*. In this particular issue the headline ‘HIPSTERS CUT RAZOR PROFIT’, in stark bold caps, graced the top left of the front page. The story was about the impact of bearded hipsters on the profits of shaving companies, namely Gillette. Although it may seem like the kind of story Today Tonight could have run (had the show not been axed this February, a small victory for news in general), things could have been worse.

At the top of page nine of the same edition appears the headline ‘CARPARK PRISON’ and its subheading ‘No escape as families trapped for two hours after Docklands fireworks’. Meanwhile, Australia is still sending asylum seekers, who are exercising their human right to seek refuge, off to detention centres in Indonesia. Never mind that though; families were imprisoned in a car park for two whole hours, those poor souls. Thankfully, the story did not make the front page, but unfortunately it was still somehow passed off as news in lieu of the humanitarian issues on our doorstep.

So what important news was there to report? Oh, only corruption. On the very same day, a number of other news outlets were reporting that influential Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union officials in both NSW and Victoria had accepted bribes and other inducements by companies who are associated with bikies and organised crime figures. Surely that is more significant than system-defying bearded hipsters.

So, in light of this madness, here are a few more ‘newsworthy’ stories, aside from one on construction industry corruption, which could have run in place of the headline:

  • A collaboration of international scientists, including some from The University of Sydney, discovered which bacteria were responsible for the Black Death and the Plague of Justinian. Their findings also indicated that new plagues could emerge among humans in the future. ‘BACTERIA REVEAL POTENTIAL FOR FUTURE PLAGUES’?
  • It has been 15 years since a man who went by the name of John Titor claimed to have travelled back in time from 2036 using a device first installed in a ‘67 Chevrolet Corvette. Despite the many flaws in his story, for a bit of shock value we could even find one of his predictions that semi-came true and run a story suggesting that he may have come from an alternate reality. Perhaps one where the media landscape does not favour stories about minor profit cuts due to bearded hipsters, over ones of much more significance.

*As Murdoch’s News Corp. accounts for 59% of all daily newspaper sales in Australia, it is more than probable that a proportionate amount of time in this column will be dedicated to News Corp. publications.