Are papers headed for a total white out?


An insidious and clearly rampant disease is spreading across the pages of several metropolitan newspapers across the nation and could prove fatal to their hardcopy forms in just a few short years if left unchecked, a leading academic warns.

And the disease threatening several historic papers’ physical futures? Rampant white space disease, or RWSD.

Today’s Saturday edition of The Sydney Morning Herald is a classic example of RWSD, according to Professor Henny Johningham, of The University of Wollongong’s Media Studies Unit.

Prof. Johningham says the SMH is probably the most afflicted of the mainstream media papers at present and he warns it could die out in hardcopy form even before remaining readers get sick and tired of its move to the right politically.

The respected academic who has written a number of respected text books on typography and newspaper design explained: “For centuries, every inch of every page of a newspaper was full of ink. Pages traditionally were broadsheet and divided into a large number of columns, all separated by the same small margin.

“It’s like trees that provided the world’s newsprint back then were more highly respected than they are now, when vegetation loss and climate change worries.

Prof. Johningham said pages in today’s SMH (shown at top) were typical examples of RWSD left unchecked and unchallenged.

“As you can see above, a page is no longer divided into a set number of columns with say, a 12em column space.

“Not only are they all over the shop but totally empty columns are appearing on pages more and more.

“But that’s just how RWSD begins. It’s insidious in its spread and before you know it, there are more empty columns that there are ones containing text, making the paper a lot less interesting to read that it is already,

“And then before you know it, all the columns are white and there are basically no stories at all, which I suppose newspaper owners might not mind as they try to keep the costs of employing journalists as low as possible.

“As RWSD spreads, subeditors just make the headings and images larger and the paper then just looks like a Newscorp masthead.”

Prof. Johningham said on current trends and historic projections of RWSD spread, he would give the SMH “another year in hardcopy form, max”.