Australia’s first newspaper began in a shed behind Government House, published by a convict whose death sentence had been commuted to transportation for life. He was a shoplifter, later emancipated, and occasionally a poet. This is not a bad metaphor for the industry that followed.
Never have newspapers faced greater perils, both financially and from the more insidious creep of ideology. In this relief, it has never been clearer what they lack and what they most need: confidence, inquisitiveness, independence, occasional folly, passion, insight, moments of rage, frequent surprise, a skinned knee here and some delicacy elsewhere. The Saturday Paper begins publication today because we are confident this is what we can do.
We have no agenda and no single view. We owe nothing: to government, to vested interests, to a legacy at odds with the present and with itself. We are interested each week in only one objective: to drag news out of the narrows into which it has been forced and make a virtue of knowledge that is broad and deep, to try in a single paper the great task of explaining Australia.
Journalism has never lost its primacy – its place as society’s most valuable fulcrum, the pivot between ordinary people and those who control them – but journalism has a way of talking itself into obsolescence. Complaint is the white noise of the newsroom. Despair is preferred over success. Failure is a looming hellion.
In place of this despair, we offer a bold faith in news. We offer politics in its stumbling comedy and messy truths. Policy as it fends off the ravages of compromise. Society as it struggles with change, pushing back and forth until it is given the space to understand what it is doing. Culture as it threatens collapse but somehow comes through instead with insight. We offer a newspaper that believes in Australia and what it can be.
The American columnist Jim Bishop produced one of the great descriptions of newspapers: “A newspaper is lumber made malleable. It is ink made into words and pictures. It is conceived, born, grows up and dies of old age in a day.” This is the fleeting alchemy – the awing fact a newspaper ever makes it off the presses, let alone onto a front lawn – that gives print journalism its great magic. It is why we still believe in print: the miracle that will drive The Saturday Paper, the constant battle to deadline, the sense with each word and each unfolded lie that what we do is important and that it owes to its heritage the well-worn values of independence and objectivity.
And so here we are, this young paper with tenacious vision; a paper defiant of trends and conventional wisdom, trusting in a country that needs sophistication in place of sophistry, that yearns for calmer debate and better journalism. This is a newspaper for a country more serious than it is often credited with being. Its complexity will be hidden in its simple aspiration: to chronicle, unsparingly, the age in which we live.
Fundamentally, The Saturday Paper is about permission: Permission for a country to look at itself unselfconsciously; for writers to tell stories that are ignored elsewhere, in ways that challenge orthodoxy; permission to question authority and provoke debate, to round up an issue, to yap and growl and demand we be better. We promise to be a small but handsome mongrel, a blue heeler cross of the press.