Telling stories

Eight years ago this week, Malcolm Turnbull stood at the front of an old railway workshop in Eveleigh and launched The Saturday Paper. By Sunday morning he had issued a statement clarifying his remarks: the “demented plutocrat” he derided was not Rupert Murdoch.

In an expansive speech, Turnbull reminded readers of the special magic that lives in and makes a newspaper. It is this magic out of which The Saturday Paper is built.

“The truth is that that old art of the journalist is just as mystical as ever,” he said. “To capture the imagination of a reader – to inform, to explain, to amuse and amaze – is still, by and large, an art more than it is a science. And it is in this art that the reasons to have an optimistic outlook for newspapers is founded. Sharing stories is the most human of habits and the long form of journalism is one of the most pure, most enduring examples of that.”

Many thought The Saturday Paper would not survive its first year. They were wrong. The paper has flourished in large part because of its belief in stories, in that “most human of habits”.

We have watched as the media around us has become increasingly vicious and reactionary. Once great papers have become paranoid and crotchety. They campaign against climate action and basic rights and any individual who challenges the false premise of their power.

The front of a newspaper can look a lot like the tearoom of a retirement village: dandruffy old men prosecuting their petty vendettas, deluded about their influence, deep into wars of their own imagining, pausing occasionally to look at a racist cartoon or remark that the staff are foreign. It would be pitiful if it weren’t so important.

Of course, the country deserves better than this. It is changing and newspapers must change. In The Saturday Paper’s first editorial we promised to be defiant of trends and conventional wisdom, to trust in a country that needed sophistication in place of sophistry. “This is a newspaper for a country more serious than it is often credited with being,” we wrote. “Its complexity will be hidden in its simple aspiration: to chronicle, unsparingly, the age in which we live.”

We are preparing to cover another federal election, the third since the paper launched. The Murdoch press is already campaigning, running quotes that are more than 30 years old. Only time travel could produce a headline like: “Revealed: Albo’s sit-down with Communist Party paper”.

This election is the most consequential in a decade. It comes at a crucial juncture for action on climate change, the final chance to do something before it is too late. The unanswered challenges of the past decade are also in desperate need of response: China’s influence, wages policy, childcare, housing, health and education.

For as long as The Saturday Paper has existed, the country has run largely without an agenda. This is testament to its resilience and is also terribly sad. The Saturday Paper has a bold faith in Australia. We also believe in the power of a strong press to hold a country and its leadership to account. We have been doing this for eight years and plan to continue doing it for many, many years to come.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 5, 2022 as "Telling stories".

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