Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Bob Burton

The Mercury goes shopping at the Boxing Day sales

“Retail frenzy: Tasmanians set for $52m Boxing Day blast,” screamed the front-page of the Boxing Day edition of the Mercury, a headline which would have delighted the major retailers whose advertisements accounted for over one-third of the newspaper’s pages that day.

The Mercury’s front-page article centred on a sales estimate from the Australian Retailers Association, the peak lobby group for major retailers, and included a passing comment from the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry on how the sales would be good for small retailers too.

To round the report out there were enthusiastic quotes from Peter Monachetti, Myer’s Hobart store manager and Gerry Harvey, the CEO of the retail giant Harvey Norman. “We have a lot of specials in big-ticket items including TVs, washing machines and refrigerators at prices we haven’t been able to get to before,” Harvey Norman CEO Gerry Harvey stated. “The retail giant is rolling out fridges that normally retail for more than $1000 for less than $800 and a variety of washing machines for less than $500,” the Mercury reported.

For the Mercury there was strong commercial logic in splashing big on the Boxing Day sales.

With Christmas falling on a Sunday there was no edition of the Sunday Tasmanian. With Sundays being one of the two biggest circulation and advertising sales days of the week, the Mercury had lost financial ground to make up.

The ailing financial position of regional newspapers such as the Mercury has in large part been driven by the collapse in both classified and display advertising and more recently the migration of online advertising to digital rivals such as Google and Facebook.

While a normal Monday edition of the Mercury would languish at just 40 pages, the Boxing Day edition was bumped up to 56 pages.

Beyond the front page news splash was a blizzard of ads from retail giants promoting their end-of-year sales. All up over 20 pages of the edition were filled with Boxing Day sale ads from the likes of Woolworths, the Chemist Warehouse, Spotlight, Harvey Norman, the Good Guys and a smattering of other major retailers.

If all the ads in the Mercury’s Boxing Day edition were sold at full rate the News Corporation Australia masthead would have pulled in over $155,000 from ads alone. However, the Mercury would have received far less as major advertisers get discounted rates.

In its guide for advertisers the Mercury boasts “a large portion of Australian households don’t want unsolicited mail and have a ‘no junk mail’ sticker on their mailbox. By inserting your brochure or catalogue in the Mercury/Sunday Tasmanian, you get around the no-junk-mail sticker …”

In addition to the ads for the Boxing Day sales the paper reaped more income from advertising inserts from major retailers including Rivers, Myer, K & D Warehouse, BigW, Harvey Norman and home furnishings retailer Bed, Bath ‘N Table and others.

The $52 million retail splash hyped by the retail lobby groups and embraced by the Mercury didn’t eventuate. The following day the masthead reported estimated sales on the day of $40 million, almost one-quarter lower than touted the day before.

If the retailers were disappointed they didn’t say, with Myer’s store manager, Peter Monachetti, telling the Mercury they had a “great day.”

The blurry line between news and advertising

While the retailers expressed satisfaction with the yield from the Boxing Day sales, the prominent coverage raises questions about the increasingly blurry boundary line between the interests of advertisers and readers.

In its marketing pitch to potential advertisers the Mercury states “regional newspapers provide a level of trust that no other media can match, which carries over to trust in the advertising.”

However, the corollary is that ‘before-the-event’ news which appears to be little more than a repackaged pitch for advertisers is likely to diminish trust in the newspaper at the very time it needs it most for its financial survival.

Even without a front-page news splash readers of the Boxing Day edition of the Mercury couldn’t have failed to notice the annual sales were on – given over one-third of the newspaper’s pages were devoted to ads promoting them, not to mention the torrent of inserts.

Even if the Boxing Day sales warranted news coverage in advance of the actual event, the selection of it as single most important news story of the day stretches credibility even further. The $52 million figure was speculative at best with the rest of the article reading as little more than a sales pitch for the big retailers.

Assuming the front-page splash was not influenced by the impending torrent of Boxing Day sales advertising, it is still hardly a good look for a publication seeking to entice readers to take out a digital subscription in order to access to original Tasmanian news. (After the initial half-cost discount expires, the price of the digital-only subscription to the Mercury is over $360 a year with a digital plus home delivery package costing as much as $672 a year.)

The prominent coverage of a retail event also comes at a time of staffing cuts at the Mercury, including of some of its most experienced journalists.

The Mercury wasn’t alone giving advance coverage to the Boxing Day sales, with News Corporation Australia’s national masthead the Australian and even the ABC in Tasmania in Tasmania and elsewhere joining the fray too.

Out of all of the reporting effort what did we learn? Shops opened, customers went in, spent money and came out with items, just like most other days of the year. The only difference was that many items were cheaper and there were more people than normal.

In the world of corporate public relations and marketing a perennial challenge is in repackaging commercial events up to be sufficiently newsworthy in order to garner sales-boosting free media coverage.

If the coverage of the Boxing Day sales is anything to go by, PR is winning over journalism big time as narrow corporate financial self-interest is conflated with the public interest.

EARLIER on Tasmanian Times

Can Spiderman save the Mercury from oblivion?

“The growing financial crisis in Tasmania’s newspaper industry

Will Jacqui Lambie back Big Media’s merger plans?”

Comment: Is Bigger Media really a good option for Tasmania’s democracy?

*Bob Burton is a Hobart-based Contributing Editor of Tasmanian Times. His earlier articles on Tasmanian Times are here.

If you would like to be added to his email alert list for when new articles are published you can sign-up here.

Tasmanian Times (TT) is free – always has been, always will be. If you like what TT does, please consider making a donation.

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• Grant in Comments: How can anyone not love the retail and real estate puff pieces that appear regularly in the Mercury? I think they are fantastic and hope everyone went to the Boxing Day sales to keep the cash registers ringing. It’s all that matters surely?

• Paul Carter in Comments: This analysis is worthy but outdated. These erudite energies are best focussed elsewhere. Journalism long ago left the building. The Mercury before it disappears is on track to become a surburban freebie, a Hobart shopper, with 70% ad to 30% editorial content. Its editor rose to that level of journalism and its news editor isn’t a journalist. So I don’t think they share your concern about “journalism”. They are salarymen and women, content with their journalistic standard. They are not crusaders for your journalism. The business’s only lifeline, the digital paywall, is doomed to fail when so much better is available for free and core advertisers develop their own digital projection platforms for a completely digital savvy audience. For the Mercury, the band is still playing but there’s no more lifeboats. They are presently managing decline. So you are fighting a good fight. It’s just that the fight at this location finished long ago. The dogs bark, but the caravan goes on.

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25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Alan Mason

    January 16, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    Finally relented!

    Paid for my Digital Subscription to the Age. $139 per year seems pretty good value, unlike the Merc’s offer.

    Will keep depending on TT and the ABC for local content, along with a fleeting view of the hard copy of the Merc in the Office Tea Room.

    Welcome back for 2017 TT Crew.

  2. Christopher Eastman-Nagle

    January 13, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    What started off as a commentary on the decline of print journalism quickly turned into a series of cris de coeur about civilization and its discontents.

    There is a sense of uneasiness and an increasing awareness that although our society has democratic features it is actually totalitarian; a privatised form whose propaganda language is marketing and PRspeak, which over a 50-70 year period now, has got into every nook and cranny there is.

    The whole architecture of discourse is now so suffused with consciousness manipulation that the distinction between fantasy and reality is blurred almost beyond repair. The defense of critical reasoning is constantly undermined by the pervasive use of iconically imaginative and psychologically manipulative thought bubbles packaged in 30 second grabs. The delicate feedback filaments that connect assumption/belief and evidence based rational justification for it, are ruptured as faith becomes blind and reason becomes rationalization.

    And this collective uneasiness is focused more clearly now as the process not only intensifies into a near constant assault on our senses (Kristmas from late October to Mid January), but the real political consequences are devastating, as exemplified by the weird and abnormal behavior that seems to be seeping out of our culture at all levels, from grand scale to personal.

    Mathew Broderick and Nathan Lane’s hilarious ‘Producers’ style spoof ‘Trumped’ gives us a despairingly comedic take on a genre that demonstrates how absurdism is now obsolete. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OemqVWi_R0k).

    Ideological cranks who once wouldn’t have made it past the Sunday afternoon soapbox oratorical entertainment in the local park now help run our country, from boardrooms to parliament.

    And well intended do gooders have become just as dangerous in their own way as gangsters, in paving the way to hell.

    The decline of journalism into marketspeak armed with a 500 word vocabulary aimed at the barely literate year 12 graduate of liberal pedagogy, in some ways seems benign.

  3. Chris

    January 8, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    #22
    I pay for digital age, goodbye Australian and Mockery which I aint bought for ten years or more !

  4. John Taylor

    January 8, 2017 at 1:28 am

    I pay for digital access to the Australian. That is sufficient. Not paying for access to the Mercury also. Sad to say this but goodbye Mercury.

  5. John hayward

    January 4, 2017 at 11:08 pm

    Paul Carter, #19, is prophesying an even lower standard of journalism than we have seen to date.. I’d like to see that, but can’t completely dismiss its possibility after a Meander Valley Councillor moved to name a new reserve after Donald Trump.

    John Hayward

  6. mark

    January 4, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    As pointed out in the other story, how long before the advocate and examiner are one or the readers of the advocate pack it in all together? Sure it’s the holidays, but over the last few weeks a greater portion of Northern news is in The Advocate (in between the 2016 rehashes).

    It’s sad about the kid who was killed on the jetski near Launceston, but how does it warrant half of page 6 on the North-West? …

  7. Paul Carter

    January 4, 2017 at 4:54 pm

    This analysis is worthy but outdated. These erudite energies are best focussed elsewhere. Journalism long ago left the building. The Mercury before it disappears is on track to become a surburban freebie, a Hobart shopper, with 70% ad to 30% editorial content. It’s editor rose to that level of journalism and its news editor isn’t a journalist. So I don’t think they share your concern about “journalism”. They are salarymen and women, content with their journalistic standard. They are not crusaders for your journalism. The business’s only lifeline, the digital paywall, is doomed to fail when so much better is available for free and core advertisers develop their own digital projection platforms for a completely digital savvy audience. For the Mercury, the band is still playing but there’s no more lifeboats. They are presently managing decline. So you are fighting a good fight. It’s just that the fight at this location finished long ago. The dogs bark, but the caravan goes on.

  8. Bob Hawkins

    January 4, 2017 at 3:38 pm

    Governments do it. Big business does it. All other businesses do it. Service organisations do it . . . All of which is to put the fear of death, or debt, or whatever, into our minds. This morning, I heard a surf-lifesaving organisation spokesperson asking the public to stay calm because a more than usual number of sharks had been spotted off Victoria’s south coast. “Frenzy”, “Calm”, “Don’t panic”, “Stay strong” — all these bullshit weasel expressions are designed to keep us — citizens of the nanny state — worried and under total control. I liked the one the other day touting airline travel, where the “expert” told us that, if we want to stay alive, we should get into a plane and don’t ever get out of it, because, considering all those other threats that are around to finish us off, the least chance we have of dying a violent death is to be flying.

  9. Simon Warriner

    January 3, 2017 at 6:58 am

    Love them or hate them, but the manager of the biggest of big money hedge funds has a view on the continuing decline in mainstream media standards and performance.

    “Nonetheless I am compelled to say what many people express privately, which is that 1) the quality of news media is declining in general, 2) those in the news media have an enormous amount of power, 3) the news industry is unique in not having its standards of behavior specified and overseen, and 4) this confluence of realities is dangerous.”

    Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater – the world’s largest hedge fund

    The whole article can be found here:
    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-01-03/worlds-largest-hedge-fund-manager-slams-mainstream-medias-fake-distorted-news-epidem

    If I was Rupert, I would be paying attention, a whole lot of attention.

  10. john hayward

    January 2, 2017 at 11:59 pm

    #14, Lumber. As you are aware, Tas inc is simply the Tas counterpart to WA Inc, which was the cartel of crooked WA pollies under Brian Burke and dodgy business types who combined to run that state in the 1980s for their mutual benefit. Unlike here, they ran into legal trouble.

    John Hayward

  11. Grant

    January 2, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    How can anyone not love the retail and real estate puff pieces that appear regularly in the Mercury? I think they are fantastic and hope everyone went to the Boxing Day sales to keep the cash registers ringing. It’s all that matters surely?

  12. Jack Lumber

    January 2, 2017 at 11:25 am

    re 12 Pete fair points made
    re 10 John Bah humbug to you again and WTF “TasInc”

  13. Chris

    January 2, 2017 at 10:46 am

    #12
    Tend to agree, show me the sustainability of it all, get the demoted now minister for anti green rhetoric to smile wider and wider and spin his way to demotion again.
    Who supports fish farming in the RIGHT place and not in some spot that will transport its septic residue towards Triabunna as each tide ebbs and flows ?
    Perhaps an enquiry in his unique way might expose the Exclusive Brethren influence concealed in the town and like dough proving rise when the political cake is presented to the ignorant voters !

  14. Pete Godfrey

    January 1, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    #8 Jack for me it is not about being a grinch.
    I feel that our society would be in a much better space if we based it on Truth.
    We have so many great teachers and wonderful people we can look to for examples, there is no need to make up fairy tales.
    The teachings of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Zoroaster and many others are wonderful. We don’t need to add in lots of rubbish.
    As far as the buy buy buy mantra, well I have never bought into that one. I dislike being referred to as a consumer. I prefer to be a member of the public.
    I have lived a simple life all my life, bought second hand wherever possible and always repair my own things.(cars, electronics, tools etc)
    I may be old fashioned but I still believe that Truth and Honesty are the best way to relate to the world.
    I think it would be a better world if children were brought up being told the truth, and being inspired by true stories about real people.
    We have plenty to choose from.

  15. O'Brien

    January 1, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    The sharing economy. “I’ve met many people from all warps of life in the cab, who now catch uber because they tell me cabs are too expensive. Well, I happen to think tradies, doctors, lawyers, waiters, politicians, construction workers, management consultants, project managers, journos, public servants, vets, etc etc etc are all too expensive. I can’t wait for uber to start up a workforce in this country that covers everything else. I can’t wait to hear how people in those occupations feel about having their wages cut in four. I work six days a week with no benefits what so ever, six days a week for about seven dollars an hour. Get another job you say, well I’ve been knocked back for stacking shelves and cleaning toilets in the past six months, but who cares. I just can’t wait for you all to join the party and the uber revolution.”

    (A.E. Graveur 1963 -)

  16. john hayward

    January 1, 2017 at 10:15 am

    At least Lumber, #8, retains the Tas Inc Xmas spirit, even lauding local miracles such as the increase in Tassie virgin forest at the same time it is being liquidated for cosmetic debt.

    Lumber and his ilk can look forward to surfing on a renaissance of global kleptomania as a 70-yr-old brat prepares to move into the White House.

    Godfrey, #2, by contrast, seems to be nailing himself to a cross of conscience or rational reflection at the same time that such crosses are being heaped up for a waste burn. How silly is that?

    John Hayward

  17. Phil Lohrey

    January 1, 2017 at 12:50 am

    The spiritual meaning of Christmas was captured in the video of Fr Rod’s passionate plea from the Gosford Anglican Church for humanity from Australians for asylum seekers. Our humanity as a community starts from here, he pleas. If you are on facebook, please type Gosford Anglican Church in the search box and listen and share.

  18. Jack Lumber

    December 31, 2016 at 10:45 pm

    What a bunch of Grinches you lot are , pontificating with a load of recycled bah humbug facts re Christmas traditions . Really old news people’s .However……

    Christmas does have meaning and means many things to many people and it’s not all commercial and does include spiritual and even miracles

    we know understand and respect that people can have a spiritual connection with the land and forests ( all people ) so let’s stay open minded or at the very least respect the beliefs of others ; albeit ” far fetched , commercialised or tainted by the action of people .

    So get off your towers or tree platforms and see if you can be more understanding in 2017 as I will be trying to and I wish you all the very best and that the year be what you want it to be .

    Jack

  19. Mark

    December 31, 2016 at 7:43 pm

    Yep, news isn’t what the TCCI or Luke Martin wants you to print.

  20. Anne

    December 31, 2016 at 10:59 am

    #2 I am totally with you on the subject of Christmas. It’s obscene how the spirit of Christmas, and that generosity of spirit towards others has become this ugly commercial exercise manipulated by the large retailers. I don’t keep Christmas either for all the reasons you list, and also because as one who grew up in the northern hemisphere, the weather is entirely wrong, and all those tizzy bits of tinsel and glitter just look tacky and ridiculous when the sun is shining and the skies are cloudless and blue.

  21. Ted Mead

    December 30, 2016 at 10:12 pm

    #2 – Hear Hear Pete !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  22. Philip Lowe

    December 30, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    Peter Godfrey No2.Peter,Please read ‘God Is Not Great’,by Christopher Hitchens.Your opinions of the modern Christmas will be so reflected.Then,try to get your religious friends to read it and see how long they remain “friends”!

    In the UK the obscene and gross commercialisation of the the Christmas period is now over.It’s like some kind of mass orgasm where everybody lies back gasping when it’s over.

    “It’s for the children”,you hear people say,is it hell as like,it’s for the retailers,and the advertisers,and all the other commercial predators,aided and abetted by the press and media.

    I love in a small town in the top end of England,Penrith,Cumbria.There are a lot of empty shops in the town and there are eleven charity shops.The charity shop industry,that’s another story,and not always a pleasant one.

  23. Simon Warriner

    December 30, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    Pete, you forgot the sly and sneaky excision of Krampus from the christmas story line, and with it the lessons in consequences that so many of our children sorely need, and lets not forget their parents.

  24. Pete Godfrey

    December 30, 2016 at 10:48 am

    I am sure that Jesus would be pretty pissed off with what we have done to his birthday celebration.
    Apart from the facts that are.
    -The 25th of December is not his birthday.
    -The Churches changing his teachings so that they have more control over their minions.
    -Moving his birthday and also the time of his death to make it easier for pagans to convert.
    -Putting up images of him being tortured rather than focusing on what his message was.
    -Leaving out many relevant writings that pertain to his life and teachings from the Bible.
    Apart from that we have taken the story of his overturning the tables of the money lenders and turned it on its head.
    Then we get to the Coca Cola invention of a fat man in a Red suit, we seem to have completely forgotten that we are actually remembering acts of charity from St Nicolaus.
    It is all about sales, how much food and alcohol we can consume.
    That is why I do not celebrate Christmas as it is celebrated in Australia.

  25. Chris

    December 30, 2016 at 10:19 am

    Don’t worry, shop at Fitzgeralds, next we now hear that Free To Air community TV has been pushed onto online broadcasting, the ISPs will be pleased and advertisers and sponsors will be overwhelmed by the excellent streaming afforded by MT,s Fraudband.

    The head Honcho of the ABC wants the same that should also delight the customers of ISPs but your Gigabyte allowance will suffer or be more costly, either way you will be “forced to pay” for your ABC again.

    Cannot wait for the Media Monopolies to TAKE over the whole lot and that pretend “Liberal” by cutting the ABC and encouraging the process to enhance their interests shows his “true” colours !

    Happy New Year to TT and their friends and make your resolutions directed to those who will protect our democracy, Get Up and go for it!

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