As you know, the Spectator Australia Social Research Unit, operating behind heavily fortified premises in Canberra, has long been involved in research into some of the more challenging and stickier social issues of our time. We had been hoping to do more clinical trials before releasing the results of our current research, but the exigencies of the times, now that we know the ghastly coronavirus will be with us for some months, has encouraged us to roll out our first batch of results today, the emphasis being on the word ‘roll’. Our inquiry was initially into what had caused the mad rush to buy toilet paper, hoard it and, worst of all, for fat women in turquoise tracksuit pants to engage in unseemly fights in the aisles of supermarkets to claim possession of the limited number of toilet rolls available for purchase. And what did they do with it all? But another and more challenging issue soon arose, namely what would the people use when there was simply no more toilet paper to be bought? The scholars who first tackled this delicate subject at the Australia Institute came to the conclusion that the only practical alternative was the newspaper, as they would, being intellectuals. But here at our Unit, we could tell immediately that our research should try to get to the bottom of a much deeper issue, namely: what would be the best newspaper to get your hands on for this delicate work? Were they all of the same quality or were some better than others? What was to be done with people who did not know what a newspaper was, which might be most of the population. Was there an online equivalent? Had the digital revolution at last come into its own? And what would happen if a download were bigger than an upload or you only had time to do an instagram? Fortunately, we were able to get our hands on some left-over funding from the Malcolm Turnbull Agility and Innovation Fund for our research and here is our assessment of the comparative qualities of the likely newspaper candidates.
The Age. Its main shortcoming is that it is too thin. Certainly not your first choice for solid material. Most of the so-called analysis is so transparent that you can see right through it and the arguments it advances rarely hold water. Its exclusives are really leaks with no substance. May have been of some value when it was a broadsheet, but not now. Appeals to the left side of things, but useless for all-over coverage. Not recommended.
The Guardian. Not available on paper, but only online, which is useful if you need it in a hurry. It can be bought, however, in a printed weekly edition for those who can wait a few days longer. What the reader is to do in the meantime is uncertain, but it advises them that ‘cookies improve your experience on our site’. Some of the articles are so confused that it is obvious the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. It may, however, encourage regularity, as it produces an email which subscribers receive every day at 7AM.
The Saturday Paper. On the one hand, this publication has some good points. Its stiff paper gives it an air of substance and it is certainly a product you can take hold of, but its substance soon evaporates and you are not left with much. Takes a generally soft position on most issues. It has a major problem which limits it usefulness: the pages are stapled together and we think that its readers may be unduly irritated by this uncomfortable feature.
The Australian. If you are going to take a newspaper you should look for one you can get your hands around and this may be it. A good solid product that will stand by you. Has a lot of appeal because it opens out to a full spread and the vast reaches of the Murdoch Empire ensure that you will never run out of raw material. One reason we like this newspaper is that it appeals to all shapes and sizes and gives you the rough and the smooth. Some articles require an extra effort to get through, but they generally leave you with a feeling of relief and a sense of achievement.
The Herald-Sun. A good firm, quality product that appeals to a broad market. Being the peoples’ paper, readers are cheek by jowl with footballers, celebrities, gangsters, politicians and Instagram influencers. Picks up titbits from everywhere and definitely leaves its mark on a lot of developing movements. Keeps its finger on the holy trinity for newspapers: softness, strength and the ability to absorb whatever is swirling around it.
The Australian Financial Review. As its name implies, this paper is concerned with money and deeper business issues. Has a lot of solid content which is sometimes hard to digest. Good for those with a nose for business and valuable if you are interested in start-ups but find it hard to get moving. Some of its columnists are somewhat on the nose. But, all round, a good place for getting into business without getting your hands dirty.
The China Daily. Likely to upset you while you are attending to the business at hand. This is mainly because of its strange theories, of which our favourite is that coronavirus did not originate in Wuhan or, in fact, anywhere in China, but is really a CIA plot. But these theories can give you some much-needed relief.
Finally, we must report that of all the publications we reviewed, we found only one that is so perfect in every way that it would be a sacrilege to desecrate it: The Spectator Australia. With civilisation at the crossroads, it must be preserved and cherished.
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