The Fairfax press is in complete disarray. Hundreds are being sacked, the editor of The Age has been terminated, the remaining journalists at time of writing are out on strike, and when columnist Mike Carlton refused to cross the picket line with copy, he too was terminated. Management are eager to demonstrate that you don't need journalists to publish a huge paper full of advertisements, and have succeeded admirably in that task, while degutting the paper to even more monstrous levels of tedium and second rate hackery.
In Carlton's place, the esteemed management editors managed to mount a column by Miranda Devine, a woman with the inclinations of Ann Coulter but without the brains or the looks, a woman so devoid of intellect or ideas she makes Canberra writer Angela Shanahan's dedication to the family seem like an idea fixee worthy of Wittgenstein. Devine is a regular at other times during the week in the Herald, but her presence has now infected the Saturday edition in way which can only be compared to the spread of the black plague amongst intellectuals in medieval times (it was a tough choice as to whether to dedicate a blog to Duffy or Devine, but in the end Duffy has neuroses, Devine not a single vital sign of intellectual or mental life).
The resulting turmoil has created confusion and despair amongst ABC listeners, and loyal Granny readers, who are canceling their subscriptions, or at least threatening to. Now as someone who once crossed the picket lines regularly as a contributor during the good old days of an AJA strike (which aimed at keeping contributors out of journalism), it's hard to keep a righteous stance during the current crisis.
But by sacking Carlton - one of the few columnists who actually contributed amusing copy - for what was an exceptionally minor display of loyalty to his fellow workers, the current management have simply gone too far. Yes it's true Carlton is a rah rah union bugger boy with Eastern suburbs manners and mildly socialist leanings, but even if only for his constant caricaturing of Lord Downer he deserves a knighthood. The man writes funny, and in a newspaper where dullness and mediocrity is the measure, his column was one of the few 'turn to' parts of the paper when downing bacon and eggs and wit for breakfast.
Accordingly it's impossible for this blog to suggest you buy the newspaper to keep up your unfailing anger with Michael Duffy, an amusing posture until the chips are actually down. Nor will we link to Duffy's latest article, for fear that the one stray reader this blog might attract, will in fact click through and thereby somehow bestow support on the current evil regime. From now on there can be no more click throughs, no more physical consumption. Darth Vader has taken charge of the building, and the likes of Duffy are his minions.
Fortunately Duffy's column, entitled "From humble beginnings, a special business breaks down barriers", is an exceptionally stupefying, dull and ponderous pontification on a charity, Cumberland Industries, the kind of overweening rant we usually have to suffer from Phillip Adams on radio when he gets to talking about his favourite charity for kids.
It's positioned next to an article by Iemma, call me Maurice, the Premier of NSW, on how the power of one treacherous leader sold out the people of NSW, a piece of picket-breaking scabbery worthy of a Labor premier whose name will soon be consigned to the dustbins of dull backyard state political history, about the way he got dudded by opposition leader Barry O'Farrell.
Sadly it's the last time we will be able to comment on Duffy's physical position in the Saturday paper, because like many other citizens we will be boycotting the actual purchase of the Herald, until such time as Carlton returns or hell freezes over (a metaphysical metaphor Christians will understand as meaning until some time in the future when a mythical place refutes global warming and becomes a place in which alcohol can be safely stored for the Devil's ongoing party on dude).
Viewers of the fifth season of The Wire will have already caught up with what is actually going on here. As readers desert, and the business model changes, the Herald is going through the same turmoil as the Baltimore Sun - we must do more with less cry the managers, as they rort the system, pay themselves ever larger cuts of the operating costs, and lash the poor old wordsmiths with cries of poverty.
Perhaps it's worth briefly noting that Duffy's column is such a dull read because of the way it reveals Duffy's internationalist, cosmopolitanist outlook. Duffy is most excited by Cumberland Industries, not so much because of the way it shackles disabled and intellectually retarded people to the workplace, and makes a substantial profit out of them, but because visiting it took him into the bizarre world of Auburn.
This allows Duffy to rattle off mentions of a Dubai sheik, and people chatting in Arabic, and 10,000 Indian meals a day, and business models, and most remarkably the fact that the charity is just down the road from the big Gallipoli mosque in Auburn. Indeed Duffy notes that the Auburn factory of the charity has the best view of Auburn, splendid vista that it is, a view which even includes a view of the mosque.
Duffy is almost ecstatic at his incredible bravery at visiting such a place or that it should exist, deep in the heart of the West. He's been amongst the Islamics and survived to tell the tale! Brave prince of strike breaking columnists. Well, we always said he should get out more, and he does get so very heart palpitatingly excited when he does, so perhaps we will see more stories from Sydney's western heartland, Duffy in flak jacket reporting from the front line on the curious ways of western dwellers.
Unfortunately we will only be accessing such meandering commentaries by way of borrowing or stealing a Herald, perhaps one a strike breaker has left on the train from a daily commute, handing on the contraband so the current bandits in charge of the Herald (living in the Eastern suburbs in the Fairfax way) don't profit that much from the initial purchase. Recycle and repent and save.
It's going to be a bleak life, deprived of quick easy Duffy fixes, having to scrounge for his pearls of wisdom, but that's the way it's going to have to be. The death of a newspaper by a thousand cuts, the death of a sense of humor by terminating Carlton, has to be more significant than the outpourings of one dull, mediocre columnist.
We are now left with Duffy, Morris Iemma, and Miranda Devine as our intellectual food for the week (along with a guest piece by Naomi Wolf celebrating in typically perverse fashion the role of veiling in the Muslim world, which you could read online at The Sunday Times or in a dozen Islamic blogs who seize on this kind of nonsense as a justification for their persecution of women - can we look forward the veiling of Wolf, and her shutting up?).
Meantime, the Herald is dead, its online presence a down market tabloid little better than the Murdoch rag the Daily Telepgraph, and its real world presence stumbling towards oblivion. Remember Sydney already has Mx, we have no need of Devine or Duffy.
Perhaps a few readers weakened so they could get the freebie DVD disc 'Century of Pictures' - and we can forgive the jackdaw and the magpie for picking up such glittering trinkets, even if they're flung aside, in the 'to be watched but never will be' pile of detritus marked newspaper giveaways. But no more, no cheap easy bribery, let the Sydney Morning Herald boycott begin.
Roll on reading online the works of real minds at real papers in other parts of the world, and brooding on the Yeats' poem "The Second Coming":
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
As a mark of mourning, we have abstained from rating Duffy's column, beyond ascribing it a standard level of mediocrity. The real question is, will the Herald join the Baltimore Sun as being amongst the worst papers in the world?