On Wednesday morning, the Australian newspaper made good on its longstanding threat to launch a dedicated youth media title. The Oz went live, along with accounts on Instagram, TikTok, and, for some reason, LinkedIn, bringing with it large helpings of derision from the predicted corners.
The Australian’s last attempt to reach a younger audience was when Business Review editor-at-large, Ticky Fullerton, wrote, performed and recorded a six-minute rap about how workers should go back to the office.
At least on a superficial first impression, The Oz seems to be offering less mortifying content than that. Skin care tips and horoscopes sit alongside good articles about rising student debt and checking your fertility in your twenties. The editorial and production teams are 100% female, and decades younger than the typical editorial lineup of the Australian, which has become a byword for old, white, male, rich, reactionary and culture war-obsessed.
But the existence of the Oz itself raises some big and obvious questions. Who exactly is it for? Why launch a youth media site in 2022, years after the industry’s heyday? And how will the Oz reconcile its attempts to project a progressive, youthful image with its parent company?
Youth media is a strange and complicated place. Locally, the big titles include Junkee, Pedestrian and SBS’s The Feed, along with multinational brands like BuzzFeed, VICE and LADBible.
Offices are filled with ping pong tables and graffiti, Every Word In Headlines Is Capitalised For No Reason, and white editors in their thirties Google phrases like “yaaas kween” before putting them in stories. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It’s also an industry in flux. Largely text-based websites are struggling to redefine themselves as younger audiences leave Facebook for photo- and video-based platforms like Instagram and TikTok (and the outlets that cater directly to them, such as The Daily Aus). As their original readership ages out of the “youth” demographic (vaguely defined as under 35), titles somehow have to reach younger audiences while staying relevant to their existing readers. (For Junkee, where I used to work, this split apparently couldn’t be reconciled; instead they launched a whole new site for younger readers, and called it Punkee.)
And while many have cultivated large and loyal audiences, very few have solved the all-important question of how to turn views into money. After building a massive domestic presence, BuzzFeed Australia fell victim to global staff cuts in 2019 and is now a shadow of its former self. All trace of The Vocal, Fairfax’s attempt at a youth offering, has vanished. NOVA’s GOAT hasn’t been updated in months.
The Oz has its work cut out for it, even without the particular problems it faces as a News Corp title. How will its young editorial team respond to the Australian’s coverage of trans issues? How will it cover climate change, which young Australians using the ABC’s Vote Compass have nominated as their most important election issue, but about which the Australian has a history of publishing falsehoods? Who is going to pay for the Oz’s paywalled content, most of which already exists on more well-established websites for free?
It’s premature to jump to hard conclusions just yet, but early signs are not encouraging. Some very Australian–esque articles are squirrelled away among the ones about binge-watching TV and the iPhone 13.
In a piece about the end of Covid restrictions, Oz politics and investigations editor and press gallery journalist Olivia Caisley asks: “Were the two years of isolation, loneliness, and missing out on hugs and personal milestones worth it?” For the tens of thousands of Australians who didn’t die, the answer is: probably!
Coverage of the new security pact between China and Solomon Islands features cut-and-pasted block quotes from Australian foreign editor Greg Sheridan, and Australian correspondents repeating familiar criticism of the Greens. The Oz’s multiple articles covering the confected outrage around trans women competing in women’s sport contain exactly zero quotes from trans people or experts, instead quoting politicians’ talking points without interrogation.
In 2017, the Liberal party launched The Fair Go, a youth site that then acting federal party director Andrew Bragg claimed would “level the playing field in Australian democracy”. Unsurprisingly, it was a disaster. Young readers didn’t jump at the chance to read gif-riddled stories about unions supposedly stealing their super, or how “small businesses are our everyday heroes”. A Junkee investigation found that The Fair Go’s design had deliberately modelled itself on Junkee, right down to the custom fonts and layouts. Two months after launch, the site went dark.
The Oz isn’t quite The Fair Go. But it’s not not it, either.