It is time for Andrew Holden to stand aside as editor-in-chief of the Age, so that fact-based, information-driven democratic debate can flourish once again. Mr Holden should do so in the interests of The Age, in the interests of Victoria and, most importantly, in the interests of democracy. The public's overriding concern is that, under Mr Holden's editorship, The Age's coverage of politics and news in Australia has become trivialised and sensational. Our fear is that if there is no change in The Age editorship soon, readers will be denied a proper source of news and information – and that would be a travesty for the democratic process.
We do not advocate this lightly. We do so with all respect to Mr Holden, recognising that in the year he has occupied the office of editor-in-chief – most of it under the vexing circumstances of a collapsing market for print – The Age has undergone landmark changes, which we hope will remain (it's much easier to read on the train these days). We are not saying Mr Holden should stand aside because of the Age's format, but because he has been unable to lift the paper out of a desperately hopeless circulation and influence position.
A big majority of the population has plainly stopped reading The Age. Readers have been so attracted to other sources of news and information that efforts by the editor-in-chief and his senior writers to put together and publish a decent daily newspaper have failed. If people continue to exercise this choice, the outcome is writ large: The Age will collapse. Outright domination of the daily newspaper market may be delivered to News Limited and, more importantly for our democracy, more people may turn to MX on the train on the way home as their primary source of news.
Andrew Holden came to the office of editor-in-chief last year, after Paul Ramadge's uninspiring tenure. Ramadge had replaced Andrew Jaspan, who tried but failed to counter the success of Fairfax management in destroying their own company. He is now responsible for The Conversation website, where he has poached Michelle Grattan from The Age. The situation is eerily similar today. Unfortunately, the paper under Mr Holden has lost its way. And despite his efforts to attract new readers, nothing appears to be changing. No one in Fairfax has stepped onto the front foot with confidence to reinvigorate the divided and demoralised masthead. The onus falls on Mr Holden to break the impasse.
The population is despairing of the trivia and gossip that dominate The Age's reporting. Readers are more despairing of the piety and hypocrisy of the paper's opinion pieces. The paper has been deeply flawed for some time, and its plummeting circulation figures would indicate most readers agree with this. Victorians deserve a daily masthead of integrity. They deserve high quality journalism and thought provoking opinion pieces, not daily campaigns to smear the Prime Minister over a 20 year old matter followed by complaints that we need policy-driven coverage. As it stands, the Herald Sun has been given a free run by a publication which is self-absorbed and incompetently run.
The other Victorian daily paper has even more trivia with features on celebrity gossip, pets, and supercoach; these are just the start of it. Yet The Age under Mr Holden has been unable to step up to the contest. News Limited are being allowed to run almost entirely unchallenged with their preposterous claim that they are worth reading. The Age's inability to even come close to matching the circulation figures of such a rag is damning.
Time is running out. The Age needs to refresh its public face and present a compelling, united and inspiring voice. It is capable of doing so. Now it must find the will. There may only be one chance to minimise the damage that appears inevitable. To do nothing would implicitly weaken people's choice. If it is to be done, it is best done now. But it must be an unequivocal and energising change for the better.