The Age is a daily newspaper which has been published in Melbourne, Australia, since 1854. Owned and published by Fairfax Media, The Age primarily serves Victoria but is also available for purchase in Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and border regions of South Australia and southern New South Wales. It is delivered in both hardcopy and online formats. The newspaper shares many articles with other Fairfax Media metropolitan daily newspapers, such as The Sydney Morning Herald.

As at December 2013, The Age had an average weekday circulation of 131,000, increasing to 196,000 on Saturdays (in a city of 4.2 million).[2] The Sunday Age had a circulation of 164,000.[2] These represented year-on-year declines of 14% to 17%. The Age's website, according to third-party web analytics providers Alexa and SimilarWeb, is the 44th and 58th most visited website in Australia respectively, as of July 2015.[3][4] SimilarWeb rates the site as the seventh most visited news website in Australia, attracting more than 7 million visitors per month.[4][5][6]

The management board announced on 18 June 2012, that during the following three years, 1,900 positions were expected to be terminated from Fairfax Media, including many from The Age, that the broadsheet format would be changed to a compact format and that the online version would no longer have free access after the introduction of a paywall to protect content with an expectation of increased revenue.[7] The newspaper went compact in March 2013, with the Saturday and Sunday editions retaining the broadsheet format.[8] On 22/23 February 2014, the final weekend edition were produced in broadsheet format with these too converted to compact format on 1/2 March 2014.[9]

History

The Age was founded by three Melbourne businessmen, the brothers John and Henry Cooke, who had arrived from New Zealand in the 1840s, and Walter Powell. The first edition appeared on 17 October 1854.

Syme family

The venture was not initially a success, and in June 1856 the Cookes sold the paper to Ebenezer Syme, a Scottish-born businessman, and James McEwan, an ironmonger and founder of McEwans & Co, for 2,000 pounds at auction. The first edition under the new owners was on 17 June 1856. From its foundation the paper was self-consciously liberal in its politics: "aiming at a wide extension of the rights of free citizenship and a full development of representative institutions," and supporting "the removal of all restrictions upon freedom of commerce, freedom of religion and—to the utmost extent that is compatible with public morality—upon freedom of personal action."[10]

Ebenezer Syme was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly shortly after buying The Age, and his brother David Syme soon came to dominate the paper, editorially and managerially. When Ebenezer died in 1860, David became editor-in-chief, a position he retained until his death in 1908, although a succession of editors did the day-to-day editorial work. In 1891, Syme bought out Ebenezer's heirs and McEwan's and became sole proprietor. He built up The Age into Victoria's leading newspaper. In circulation, it soon overtook its rivals The Herald and The Argus, and by 1890 it was selling 100,000 copies a day, making it one of the world's most successful newspapers.

Under Syme's control The Age exercised enormous political power in Victoria. It supported liberal politicians such as Graham Berry, George Higinbotham and George Turner, and other leading liberals such as Alfred Deakin and Charles Pearson furthered their careers as The Age journalists. Syme was originally a free trader, but converted to protectionism through his belief that Victoria needed to develop its manufacturing industries behind tariff barriers. In the 1890s, The Age was a leading supporter of Australian federation and of the White Australia policy.

After Syme's death the paper remained in the hands of his three sons, with his eldest son Herbert Syme becoming general manager until his death in 1939. Syme's will prevented the sale of any equity in the paper during his sons' lifetimes, an arrangement designed to protect family control but which had the effect of starving the paper of investment capital for 40 years. Under the management of Sir Geoffrey Syme (1908–42), and his chosen editors Gottlieb Schuler and Harold Campbell, The Age failed to modernise, and gradually lost market share to The Argus and to the tabloid The Sun News-Pictorial, although its classified advertisement sections kept the paper profitable. By the 1940s, the paper's circulation was smaller than it had been in 1900, and its political influence also declined. Although it remained more liberal than the extremely conservative Argus, it lost much of its distinct political identity.

The historian Sybil Nolan writes: "Accounts of The Age in these years generally suggest that the paper was second-rate, outdated in both its outlook and appearance. Walker described a newspaper which had fallen asleep in the embrace of the Liberal Party; "querulous," "doddery" and "turgid" are some of the epithets applied by other journalists. It is inevitably criticised not only for its increasing conservatism, but for its failure to keep pace with innovations in layout and editorial technique so dramatically demonstrated in papers like The Sun News-Pictorial and The Herald."

In 1942, David Syme's last surviving son, Oswald Syme, took over the paper. He modernised the paper's appearance and standards of news coverage (removing classified advertisements from the front page and introducing photographs, long after other papers had done so). In 1948, convinced the paper needed outside capital, he persuaded the courts to overturn his father's will and floated David Syme and Co. as a public company, selling 400,000 pounds worth of shares, enabling a badly needed technical modernisation of the newspaper's production. A takeover attempt by the Warwick Fairfax family, publishers of The Sydney Morning Herald, was beaten off. This new lease on life allowed The Age to recover commercially, and in 1957 it received a great boost when The Argus ceased publication.

1960–present

Oswald Syme retired in 1964, and his grandson Ranald Macdonald became chairman of the company. He was the first chairman to hand over full control of the paper to a professional editor from outside the Syme family. This was Graham Perkin, appointed in 1966, who radically changed the paper's format and shifted its editorial line from the rather conservative liberalism of the Symes to a new "left liberalism" characterised by attention to issues such as race, gender and the environment, and opposition to White Australia and the death penalty. It also became more supportive of the Australian Labor Party after years of having usually supported the Coalition. The Liberal Premier of Victoria, Henry Bolte, called The Age "that pinko rag," a view conservatives have maintained ever since. Former editor Michael Gawenda in his book American Notebook wrote that the "default position of most journalists at The Age was on the political Left."[11] Also in 1966, Macdonald took the fateful step of allowing Fairfax to acquire a minority stake in The Age, although an agreement was signed guaranteeing the paper's editorial independence. Fairfax bought controlling interest in 1972.

Perkin's editorship coincided with Gough Whitlam's reforms of the Labor Party, and The Age became a key supporter of the Whitlam government, which came to power in 1972. Contrary to subsequent mythology, however, The Age was not an uncritical supporter of Whitlam, and played a leading role in exposing the Loans Affair, one of the scandals which contributed to the demise of the Whitlam government. It was one of many papers to call for Whitlam's resignation on 15 October 1975. Its editorial that day, "Go now, go decently", began, "We will say it straight, and clear, and at once. The Whitlam Government has run its course." It would be Perkin's last editorial; he died the next day.

After Perkin's death, The Age returned to a more moderate liberal position. While it criticised Whitlam's dismissal later that year, it supported Malcolm Fraser's Liberal government in its early years. However, after 1980 it became increasingly critical and was a leading supporter of Bob Hawke's reforming government after 1983. But from the 1970s, the political influence of The Age, as with other broadsheet newspapers, derived less from what it said in its editorial columns (which relatively few people read) than from the opinions expressed by journalists, cartoonists, feature writers and guest columnists. The Age has always kept a stable of leading editorial cartoonists, notably Les Tanner, Bruce Petty, Ron Tandberg and Michael Leunig.

In 1983, Fairfax bought out the remaining shares in David Syme and Co., which became a subsidiary of John Fairfax and Co. Macdonald was denounced as a traitor by the remaining members of the Syme family (who nevertheless accepted Fairfax's generous offer for their shares), but he argued that The Age was a natural partner for Fairfax' flagship property, The Sydney Morning Herald. He believed the greater resources of the Fairfax group would enable The Age to remain competitive. By the 1980s a new competitor had appeared in Rupert Murdoch's national daily The Australian. In 1999 David Syme and Co. became The Age Company Ltd, finally ending the Syme connection.

The Age was published from offices in Collins St until 1969, when it moved to 250 Spencer St (hence the nickname "The Spencer Street Soviet" favoured by some critics). In 2003, The Age opened a new printing centre at Tullamarine. The Headquarters moved again in 2009 to Collins Street opposite Southern Cross Station.

As of 2012, three editions of The Age are printed nightly: the NAA edition, for interstate and country Victorian readers, the MEA edition, for metropolitan areas and a final late metropolitan edition, the THA.

Like its Fairfax stablemate The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age announced in early 2007 that it would be moving from a broadsheet format to the smaller Berliner size, in the footsteps of The Guardian and The Courier-Mail.[12]

Headquarters

The Age headquarters, named Media House, is shared with other Fairfax business units including: 3AW radio, Magic1278 radio, The Australian Financial Review Group, and Fairfax Community Network.[13] Media House was designed by Bates Smart and built by Grocon for $110 million.[14] The building was formally opened in October 2009.[15]

Masthead

The Age masthead (nameplate) has received a number of updates since 1854. The most recent update to the design was made in 2002. The current masthead features a stylised version of the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom and "The Age" in Electra Bold type. The crest features the French words Dieu et mon droit ("God and my right"). According to The Age's art director, Bill Farr: "No one knows why they picked the royal crest. But I guess we were a colony at the time, and to be seen to be linked with the Empire would be a positive thing." The original 1854 masthead included the Colony of Victoria crest. In 1856, that crest was removed and in 1861, the royal coat of arms was introduced. This was changed again in 1967, with the shield and decoration altered and the lion crowned. In 1971, a bold typeface was introduced and the crest shield rounded and less ornate. In 1997, the masthead was stacked and contained in a blue box (with the logo in white). In 2002, in conjunction with an overall revamp of the paper, the masthead was redesigned in its present form.[16]

Ownership

In 1972, John Fairfax Holdings bought a majority of David Syme shares, and in 1983 bought out all the remaining shares. A recent development for the company has seen the purchase of shares by Western Australian mining company Hancock Prospecting which presently controls just below 15% of the shares of The Age parent company Fairfax Media.

Printing

The Age was published from its office in Collins Street until 1969, when the newspaper moved to 250 Spencer Street. In July 2003, the $220m 5-storey Age Print Centre was opened at Tullamarine.[17] The centre produces a wide range of publications for both Fairfax and commercial clients. Among its stable of daily print publications are The Age, The Australian Financial Review and The Bendigo Advertiser. The Age Print Centre uses Norske Skog paper and is a member of the Publisher's National Environment Bureau (PNEB). The building is up for sale as of late 2013, and printing will be transferred to "regional Presses" in 2014.[18]

Controversies

In 2004, Gawenda was succeeded as editor by British journalist Andrew Jaspan. Jaspan aroused controversy by initially appearing to not know that The Age was published in Melbourne, sacking Gerard Henderson, a prominent conservative columnist, from the paper and by making remarks critical of Douglas Wood, an Australian engineer who was held hostage and tortured in Iraq. Jaspan accused Wood on ABC radio of being boorish and coarse for speaking harshly about those who kidnapped and tortured him.[19]

In February 2007, The Age took a prominent role to publicly advocate on behalf of the Free David Hicks campaign (when Hicks was a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay).

In 2009, The Age suspended its columnist Michael Backman after one of his columns condemned Israeli tourists as greedy and badly behaved, prompting criticism that he was anti-semitic. A Press Council complaint against The Age for its handling of the complaints against Backman was dismissed.[20]

Reporting on 19 March 2010 on alleged corruption in religion, The Age claimed that the Vienna Boys Choir "has been caught up in accusations that pedophile priests systematically abused their choristers", even though the complaints were made against teachers and older pupils of the choir, which is a private organisation.[3] Reviewing the matter, journalist Paul Mees in Crikey accused The Age of outright "fabrication".[22]

In 2011, the Sunday Herald Sun's James Campbell revealed an alleged "hacking scandal" involving journalists at The Age who were accused of illegally accessing the computers of a political party.[3] Following a complaint by the Victorian Electoral Commissioner, the suspected journalists, including the editor-in-chief Paul Ramadge, are being investigated by Victoria Police.[3] The journalists were expected to appear before a parliamentary hearing in 2012.[3]

In 2014 The Age put a photograph of an innocent man, Abu Bakar Alam, on the front page mistakenly identifying him as the perpetrator of 2014 Endeavour Hills stabbings. As part of the settlement the newspaper donated $20,000 towards building a mosque in Doveton, Victoria.[3]

Editors

Owner(s) / ManagementEditor(s) /
Editor-in-chief
Year appointedYear endedYears as editor
John Cooke,
Henry Cooke, and
Walter Powell
T. L. Bright and
David Blair
185418562 years
Ebenezer Syme and
James McEwan
Ebenezer Syme185618604 years
David SymeGeorge Smith186018677 years
James Harrison186718725 years
Arthur Windsor187219008 years
Gottlieb Schuler190019088 years
Sir Geoffrey SymeGottlieb Schuler1908192616 years
Len Briggs1926193913 years
Harold Campbell1939194220 years
Oswald Syme /
David Syme and Co.
19421959
Keith Sinclair195919667 years
David Syme and Co.Graham Perkin196619729 years
John Fairfax and Sons19721975
Les Carlyon197519761 year
Greg Taylor197619793 years
Michael Davie197919812 years
Creighton Burns198119878 years
Warwick Fairfax /
John Fairfax Holdings
19871989
Mike Smith198919903 years
John Fairfax Holdings /
Conrad Black
19901992
Alan Kohler199219953 years
Bruce Guthrie199519962 years
John Fairfax Holdings19961997
Michael Gawenda199720047 years
Andrew Jaspan200420074 years
Fairfax Media20072008
Paul Ramadge200820124 years
Andrew HoldenJune 2012presentincumbent