Adelaide, Australia -

sample of a media-challenged city?

There are road accident reporters, but there do not seem to be investigative journalists and insightful commentators who interpret the city to itself. What is to be done?


Thor May
Adelaide, 2015




Preface: This is a discussion paper, not a researched academic document. The reading list at the end is mostly a collection of contemporary links from the Internet and pretty accidental, not edited for quality. Where a topic is of broad general interest comes up with friends, I have adopted the practice of posting discussion starters like the present one on in the hope that others might also find them worth thinking about.







1. Introduction


There are two topics fighting for space within this discussion focus: the city of Adelaide, South Australia and journalism. Both are open to a question of what they amount to.  Clearly Adelaide itself is likely to be of only passing interest to readers elsewhere, unless it is taken as a paradigm for the forces which can play out worldwide in small to medium sized cities, of which there are now thousands. All the signs are that the 21st Century is going to be an age of human cities versus elemental forces of nature, so Adelaide may be one useful example among many. What exactly makes a city something more than a town?

As for journalism , it is a primary vehicle through which we are assisted to be informed and begin to understand the world around us. This is not a trivial matter. What exactly makes some kinds of journalism of more consequence than a publicity handout from the mayor’s office? When a city and dynamic journalism are added together, does some new entity emerge with a greater meaning than the sum of the parts?

Be warned that this is a partisan thesis. One man’s city of dreams is another man’s football match. Road accident reports are a perfectly satisfying diet for accident junkies, while another person craves searching questions from journos of wit and insouciance. I admit to looking for layers of hidden meaning in everyday scenes. Art after all is orchestrating a symphony where passing pedestrians only hear noise.

Well, after those weighty questions about Adelaide, cities, and journalism, I have to admit sheepishly that no final or even credible answers are to be found in this slip of an essay. A quest is a journey which begins with a question though, and is driven by a search for something valued. So the departure point here is at least curiosity about a city newly met, and the beginning of a search for what it might yield up.


2. The Australian scene


Just under 90% of Australians live in urban environments, from a total population of about 23 million. This is up from 84% in 1972, reflecting changing occupations, the advance of agribusiness technology in rural areas, and rising aspirations. Within the urban frame there are many lifestyles, from high rise inner city apartments, to sprawling suburbs, to a smattering of large country towns gradually being re-birthed as cities, whatever a city is.

When I was born in 1945, the country’s population (7 million) was less than a third of the present size and the only true conurbations were Sydney (capital of New South Wales) and Melbourne (capital of Victoria). Other state capitals jealously guarded their ‘city’ status with independent legislatures, but were sleepy places with little of the cultural vibrancy and diversity we associate with big city living. Even Brisbane (Queensland), when I came there for my first job in 1962 seemed to be distinctly parochial.  The urban scene in 2015 is very different from these earlier generation vignettes.

Also in 1945 Australia’s 7 million people, having just narrowly escaped Japanese invasion, were ready to accept mass immigration under the slogan “populate or perish”. This immigration was initially Anglo-Celtic, then European, Middle-Eastern, and from the 1970s contained an increasing component from East Asia. The 1945 population was more than 97% Anglo-Celtic, mostly born in Australia (Australians did not have their own passport until 1948). Now in 2015 almost half of Australians were either born overseas or have a parent who was born overseas. Currently, 33% of foreign born Australians have an Asian origin. A third of marriages occurring in Australia now are cross-cultural.

These population and cultural changes have profoundly affected the daily lives of Australians, the environment they live in, their cultural norms, and how they see themselves. If mass media, and journalism in particular, is a mirror held up against society, then we would expect that it, too, would have shifted in character over the 1945-2015 period. Even discounting technology, the practitioners of journalism have indeed changed their ways, somewhat. Yet there is also a lag, which comes in part from natural generational conservatism, and also the reality that the laws, institutions and sources of political power are still dominated by elites from an earlier era.

Cultural lag is a universal phenomenon. The disjunction becomes even more stark if we go back, say 150 years, which is really a very short time – the lifetime of my grandparents’ grandparents. As it happens, this also almost covers the history of  journalism as we know it. 150 years ago an English woman could expect to live for 41 years. In that short life she would have 18 pregnancies, and most of the infants would die (MacLennan 2015). In other words, if you think of the life pattern of a woman of that era and a woman in 2015, their daily circumstances are radically different, yet many of the same laws and customs persist. Similar anachronisms are evident in large numbers of issues that are the bread & butter of a journalist’s trade, not that journalists themselves are noted for sharp historical memory. Institutions eventually adapt, but not at the same speed as technology or actual populations on the street.


3. Meeting Adelaide


Adelaide has evolved from its foundation in 1836 as free settlement of English colonists who bought the land, sight unseen, in England. The small surviving Aboriginal population, those who had not already been wiped out by smallpox, seem to have received short shrift. The city was carefully surveyed before settlement, and never had transported convicts, unlike other Australian state capitals. A conscious division of a small land-holding capitalist class Vs labourers has been present in South Australia from the beginning, but also some concept of a social contract intended to attract workers from the more prosperous eastern states, and offer some prospect for personal betterment. South Australia became a self-governing colony in 1856, and a bicameral parliament was elected in 1857. The University of Adelaide was founded in 1874.

Economic prospects have gyrated, decade by decade from the beginning, and this roller-coaster continues with the present outlook looking rather uncertain. Now, at the beginning of 2016, South Australia has the highest unemployment rate in Australia and is in the process of losing major manufacturing plants. The population mix is somewhat out of whack with any possible transition to a high tech future, especially since the talented have tended to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

The reputation of Adelaide in Australia’s populous eastern states is ill-defined, and not particularly complimentary. The place is rarely in the news. What is believed about it (note the cultural lag again), when it is thought of at all, might best be summarized by this Wikipedia entry describing Adelaide in the early 20th Century:

“Many visitors to Adelaide admired the foresighted planning of its founders, but deplored its Puritan tone. Others thought it combined all the best and all the worst features of life in an Australian city – an extremely wealthy upper crust living in splendour in elite suburbs alongside grinding poverty in industrial slums; a nominal proclamation of Christian virtues on Sundays, yet a ruthless devotion to money-making on weekdays.” - F.W. Crowley

In July 2015 I decided to move to Adelaide, at least for a while, mainly because I knew almost nothing about it. (Black holes of ignorance – my ignorance – always draw my attention). I drove a small van of worldly possessions across the emptiness of inland Australia, and down to this city on the Gulf of St Vincent where the beaches all look westward, in confusing defiance of an east-coaster’s lifelong instincts. My first reactions were quiet delight. Adelaide was big enough to have all the diversity of city life, but small enough to be personal and allow quick access (unlike monster conurbations like Sydney). The natives seemed friendly.

Adelaide now is visibly a highly multicultural city which has absorbed successive waves of non-English immigrants for well over a century. First came Germans, establishing vineyards, then Southern Europeans who claimed whole districts. More recently East Asians have loomed large in the landscape, especially Vietnamese (the State Governor is Vietnamese) and Chinese. Africans are not uncommon. Since I have spent almost my entire adult life working across cultures, this ethnic mix was personally very welcome. The narrow puritanism of Crowley’s 20th Century Adelaide was sure to be living on in pockets, but there was more, much more to the region.

For all the diversity of the new Adelaide, it slowly dawned on me that there was a kind of cultural deficit in its identity. A deficit that is in the stories Adelaidians told each other about themselves, and therefore their evolved identity. Perhaps I was being too picky, or somehow elitist, but the shadow persisted. The city had its catalogue of dastardly murders, recounted as after-dinner tales (doesn’t every city?). It was plain that football loyalty was a carefully cultivated crowd puller. (I snarkily tell myself that the Roman idea of bread and circuses as a form of social control for the plebeians lives on. But this is probably putting too sharp a pitch on what lots of people obviously enjoy).

No, for me in my particular bubble, the hollowness seemed to come down to scarcity of original local commentators, columnists, gad-flies, tale-tellers, chroniclers of the living story of Adelaide. From a population of 1.3 million, there had to a handful of artful observers out there somewhere. Or perhaps it was just that there was nowhere in South Australia for such characters to make an honest living.


4. The changing dimensions of mass media


Mass media can be examined from many perspectives according to taste. In some ways looking at mass media is like looking at an entire virtual country. As foreigners we tend to judge a country by its government, if that is the part of the news we read, or perhaps by its sport if we are spectator sports enthusiasts … and so on. If we live in a country, our concerns might follow a more narrow trail of workplace, entertainment, friends, the supermarket …

As with a real country, the virtual country of mass media has its general outline and limitations set by those who hold power. For media owners, the Australian Broadcasting Commission aside, media is first of all a business which exists to make money, both through advertising and hopefully from subscriptions. In return, the media owners offer content to fit the preferences of whatever readership or viewing audience they are aiming at. Well, that might be a naive view. There is no doubt that media, like advertising, also shape preferences. It is an entangled relationship. Media owners also tend to have personal preferences which may reflect their politics or desire for influence, and so on. The saga of media and advertising at this level is chronicled by online websites like and .

In the case of Adelaide, as with Australia in general, the main audience obtains the vast majority of its media exposure visually through television, although the younger demographic is turning increasingly to online material which may be photographic, cinematic or written. A large part of the “written” material in popular social media sites like is brief meme-like stuff that requires a minimum of literacy. This is just as well since just under half the Australian population is functionally illiterate at the level of reading a bus timetable or jar label; (this is in common with all so-called advanced countries).

Some national television content, especially on the ABC, is pitched at a level high enough to engage the more reflective part of the population. This is a matter of fine judgement and showmanship since in the TV business viewer ratings are everything.

Print media worldwide has been undergoing a turbulent transition with its soul split between paper hard-copy and electronic presentation. This is partly a generational process, with a large proportion of older readers (especially those without smart phones) refusing to read substantial content electronically, while the smart-phone generation has a shortened attention span (Nicol 2015). The advertising, especially classified advertisements, which traditionally supported newspapers has largely gone online to places like

In spite of the turbulence just described, print media in various formats does survive and even thrive because the readership which it has always served – those who want more context than a fleeting TV report – continue to seek information. In online formats, media is not geographically bound, and this has profound consequences. Niche interests (including political fanatics of every flavour) who would not have filled a bathroom in any given town now consolidate worldwide with their own websites to make a crowd and attract targeted advertising. I myself read online newspapers and information sites from all over the world on a daily basis.


5. Surviving with mass media in South Australia


Nobody in Adelaide needs to feel excluded from national or international conversations. Anybody with a good internet connection anywhere in the world can be part of all that. At the level of radio and television, South Australians like all Australians also have access to a full quota of national content. So what remains to be lamented or celebrated?

As I put it in the earlier backgrounding paragraphs on Adelaide, it comes down local identity as chronicled by talented local writers through local media. I accept that this is a minority, even elitist, complaint but I continue to feel that this kind of writing does put a city on the cultural map. (OK, yes, the are other kinds of media .... I hear that two or three local TV and radio identities have been known to do the occasional sharp interview). New York without the New York Times, or Washington without the Washington Post, would be somehow lesser places. In Australia, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane do have a vibrant scene of talented journalists and commentators, mostly employed by the Fairfax group (The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Brisbane Times), but also in many more specialised online websites.

For print media (paper and online) Adelaide has The Advertiser. The Advertiser is part of Rupert Murdoch’s global group, News Limited. Murdoch’s father was an Adelaide media proprietor of an afternoon tabloid, The News. The Advertiser's own life goes back to 1858. Between 1893 and 1929, Sir John Langdon Bonython was the sole proprietor of The Advertiser, and apparently a quite talented individual. From 1929 the Melbourne Herald and Weekly Times group held a controlling interest in The Advertiser, which remained a broadsheet. In 1987 Murdoch acquired The Herald and Weekly Times. The News closed in 1992. In 1997 The Advertiser was turned into a tabloid.

The current situation then is that The Advertiser effectively constitutes a local print media monopoly. It shows. Monopolies are rarely healthy in the long run, least of all when it comes to the dissemination of information. My feeling is that at present The Advertiser is a low quality, uninspired mishmash containing little spirited journalism of any kind. Even the layout is a mess. Adelaide city is being short-changed.

Globally, newspaper barons, because of the power that they wield, have had a strong influence on political cultures. In some cases these individuals, whether of conservative or liberal temperament, have restrained their own opinions in the public interest, and sometimes exercise a beneficial form of noblesse oblige.

In the case of Murdoch, little of the above applies. In my view (I briefly worked for the man once) Murdoch is a business predator with a deeply cynical outlook who also relishes the exercise of political influence. He keeps the national paper, The Australian, running at a loss to indulge his taste for conservative political manipulation. In the case of Adelaide’s The Advertiser, it is a commercial operation of catering to the more populist segment of the population, the tabloid market. That would be fine if the local economy also supported journalism at the quality end of the market. Mostly it doesn’t.

Local suburban weekly newspapers continue to carry a financially healthy quota of display and classified advertising, which enables them to be given away. They deal with very local issues, events, developments and complaints, with an occasional excursion into a bit of editorialising. In Adelaide these suburban giveaway newspapers are again dominated by News Limited, using the Messenger masthead. The online versions even try for a paywall. It is interesting that the surrounding rural regions of South Australia seem to have an encroaching army of Fairfax local publications, made to a competent template and free on the web. However, Fairfax has been merging and economizing on these country papers (see David Washinton 2015). There are also a handful of independents.

Adelaide city upmarket journalism is very thin on the ground indeed. The main attempt is a quirky publication,, which has apparently been trying since the 1990s to provide some alternative voice to the Murdoch scene, but obviously lacks the resources to take on any major media group.

In the reading list below I have attempted to identify every media vehicle with a presence in Adelaide, and to add a short annotation on my impression of its character. As a newcomer, a blow-in from interstate, I await with baited breath for howls of protest from locals ready to point out all the hidden gems I have overlooked.



Reading List


9 News - South Australia - a news event clone feed (primarily for TV) like most of the others. This is controlled nationally by a private equity firm CVC, which also has interests in SkyNews. It also has a menu link to the UK tabloid, the Daily Mail. Online @

ABC Adelaide - Adelaide News. Mostly basic community reporting, with exactly the same stories found in almost all other Adelaide media venues. Australian Broadcasting Corporation @

Achenbach, Joel (December 30, 2015) "The AI anxiety: our preoccupation with superintelligence". [This excellent bit of science journalism from Fairfax, syndicated from the Washington Post, is an example of the kind of material simply not available to readers depending upon Adelaide media. The potential for sparking new ideas and innovation in Adelaide is thus constrained compared to Australia’s big east coast cities]. Brisbane Times online @ – Adelaide's Twitter Community  .. no entries since the beginning of 2014, but has a list of Adelaide blogs. Online @

Campbell, Andy Reporter (30 December 2015) "5 Innovations That Changed The Way We Told Stories In 2015". The Huffington Post online @

Catherall, Sarah (February 5, 2013) "How to make money from YouTube". Brisbane Times online @  

CityMag (December 17, 2015) "Business Profile: A very independent Christmas: Leigh Street Luggage". [example of an outright advertorial] InDaily news & advertising website, online @

Davies, Anne (April 13, 2013) "Casting net wide for political persuasion". Brisbane Times online @  

DNA – Adelaide – this is a Mumbai (India) based news group with an Adelaide section covering, apparently, sport only. DNA online @

Eventbrite – an Australia-wide events website where many community and official groups advertise upcoming programs. No news or commentary. Online @

Fanning, Joshua and Stuart Edwards (December 16, 2015) "Brisbane a better bet than Adelaide for investment - And it's all down to marketing". [advertorial in the form of a government publicity promotion] InDaily news & advertising website, online @ 

Farrin Foster, Farrin and Andrè Castellucci (21 December 2015) "Not so wild west -  The bit of Hindley Street most often portrayed as dark and dangerous has always been more diverse than the mainstream media let on, but now it is rapidly turning into something else entirely – one of Adelaide’s premier precincts. Such a quick turnaround won’t be without complication, or opportunity". [borderline advertorial] InDaily news & advertising website, online @

Gittins, Ross (December 7, 2015) "Broken public service leads to broken governance". [An example of the kind of analysis just not seen in Adelaide media] Brisbane Times online @

Gumtree Australia Free Local Classifieds - Adelaide Region, SA – advertising only. Gumtree Australia online @

Hamra, Paul (7 September 2009) "Power Grads - a speech by Paul Hamra, publisher of Independent Weekly to UNISA communications students". University of South Australia, Division of Education, Arts and Social Sciences, School of Communication, International Studies and Languages online @

Happer, Catherine and Greg Philoa (2013) "The Role of the Media in the Construction of Public Belief and Social Change". Glasgow University Media Group, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom. Journal of Social and Political Psychology Vol 1, No 1 (2013) online @   

InDaily - Adelaide news, sort of. This is probably the most interesting media site in the city, a mix of comment, analysis (sometimes), advertorial, and everything in between. The publisher, Paul Hamra, has evolved InDaily over a number of years as an attempt to provide some perspective independent from the News Ltd juggernaut. There are obvious constraints of scale, resources and finance. Advertisers, and even some state government support, inevitably push coverage towards the good-news end of the scale. Online @

Kemp, Miles (December 08, 2013) "Adelaide company Solstice Media to receive $400,000 to write positive articles about business in SA". The Advertiser newspaper, online @

MacLennan, Alastair (2 December 2015) "New doctors face a future of infertility and increased disability". Faculty of Medicine graduation speech, University of Adelaide, online @

MediaScope (2015) “All about Emma and Roy”. [Australian print media readership analysis]. MediaScope media industry journal online @ – a website coordinating face to face group meetings of every kind worldwide (based in New York). No news or commentary although individual groups may have discussion boards. Adelaide, like all Australian cities, has a large and growing number of meetups (371 groups within 50 km of this city). Online @

mUmBRELLA (2015) - "Everything under Australia's media, marketing & entertainment umbrella". [Industry comment journal on Australian media and advertising] online @

News from the University of Adelaide Archive - This is a publicity website for (mostly) research done at the University of Adelaide. Note that the university has a disproportionate influence on the life and commerce of inner Adelaide, much more so than universities in the big cities of the eastern Australian states.

News.Com South Australia – small rolling selection (free access) of South Australian stories from The Advertiser website. national website online @ – guide to Australian newspapers. This is a comprehensive list of all Australian newspapers, print and digital. In South Australia, a survey of the links will show up some clear patterns. Within Adelaide itself, many community news sites – the Messenger group – are News Limited subsidiaries. All of these are paywalled. Many state regional areas have community papers owned by the national Fairfax organization. These are technically professional, and are free online, with extra internal links to national news. However, Fairfax has been merging and economizing on these country papers (see David Washinton 2015).The remaining local news sites are regional independents, some free, some behind a paywall. The quality of the independents varies widely, some being fairly amateur blogs, some obviously in the pocket of local business advertisers, and a few like the Coober Pedy Regional Times have a long independent history. All community newspapers try to give local areas some identity and cohesion. Sometimes this is organic, and sometimes rather superficially commercial. is online @

Nicol, Douglas  (March 16th, 2015) "Brain drain: Technology is shrinking important parts of the human brain, so how can advertisers deal with that?" Mumbrella online @

Passant, John (December 27, 2015) "Companies have tax questions to answer as working class taxpayers pay more tax than them". [This is a Fairfax media report from Canberra, and the kind of journalism which is very rare in Adelaide]. Brisbane Times online @

Radford, Tim (29 December 2015) "Irish DNA originated in Middle East and eastern Europe - Genome analysis shows mass migration of Stone Age farmers from Fertile Crescent and Bronze Age settlers from eastern Europe was foundation of Celtic population". [Example of a kind of backgrounding journalism not seen in Adelaide]. The Brisbane Times online @

Richardson, Tom (December 23, 2015) "'Productive debt' needed to avoid a jobless generation - A leading welfare agency has sounded an ominous warning about the jobs crisis in northern Adelaide, calling for the Government to favour investment over maintaining a budget surplus amid fears the economic downturn could cripple a generation of jobseekers". [analysis] InDaily news & advertising website, online @

Rogers, Tony (October 27, 2014) "What Is Citizen Journalism?". website online @

Rosenstiel, Tom, Amy Mitchell, Kristen Purcell and Lee Rainie (September 23, 2011) "The role of newspapers". Pew Research Centre (USA) online @  

SkyNews Adelaide – yet another news event clone feed like most of the others. The online site runs under a Telstra banner, yet the ‘about’ menu states: “Australian News Channel Pty Ltd and its subsidiary New Zealand News Channel Ltd are joint ventures of Seven West Media, Nine Entertainment Company and Sky PLC”.  All typically incestuous and murky for Australian media ownership.  Online @

Splash Adelaide – an events website sponsored by Adelaide City Council. It contains no conventional news, analysis or commentary. Splash Adelaide online @

The Adelaide Review – essentially a lifestyle magazine which sneaks in a certain amount of sometimes rather sharp social commentary under the ‘Opinion’ menu. Online @

The Advertiser - News – News Ltd, Adelaide – South Australia’s only pretence of a national news site, tabloid standard. Serious investigative journalism and analysis is almost entirely absent. It is paywalled, but see the News Ltd home site. Online @ (note: is redirected to this) 

The Guardian - Australia news – small collection of Adelaide stories, often dated. The Guardian, Australia online @

Yahoo 7 News Adelaide – a news event clone feed like most of the others. Online @

Washington, David (20 November 2015) "ABC Axes Mr Professional". Media Week, InDaily online @

Wikipedia (2015) “Adelaide”. Wikipedia online @

Wikipedia (2015) “History of Adelaide”. Wikipedia online @

Wikipedia (2015) “Journalism”. Wikipedia online @

Wikipedia (2015) “History of Australia since 1945”. Wikipedia online @

Wikipedia (2015) “Post-war immigration to Australia”. Wikipedia online @  

Wikipedia (2015) "The Advertiser (Adelaide)". Wikipedia online @ Wikipedia (2015) "Citizen Journalism". Wikipedia online @  


Professional bio: Thor May has a core professional interest in cognitive linguistics, at which he has rarely succeeded in making a living. He has also, perhaps fatally in a career sense, cultivated an interest in how things work – people, brains, systems, countries, machines, whatever… In the world of daily employment he has mostly taught English as a foreign language, a stimulating activity though rarely regarded as a profession by the world at large. His PhD dissertation, Language Tangle, dealt with language teaching productivity. Thor has been teaching English to non-native speakers, training teachers and lecturing linguistics, since 1976. This work has taken him to seven countries in Oceania and East Asia, mostly with tertiary students, but with a couple of detours to teach secondary students and young children. He has trained teachers in Australia, Fiji and South Korea. In an earlier life, prior to becoming a teacher, he had a decade of finding his way out of working class origins, through unskilled jobs in Australia, New Zealand and finally England (after backpacking across Asia to England in 1972).


Adelaide, Australia - sample of a media challenged city ? ŠThor May Noevember 2015