Now I know that's a big call. And I'll make one large caveat: I'm talking here only about the online editions of the major papers. I know that the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age are a bit better in print than they are online. But if you're like me and read practically all of your news online, The Oz really is as good as it gets. Maybe people of Quiggin's persuasion would say that The Oz is so partisan (etc) that they're not serious minded. I'd argue that The Oz still comes out ahead for trying to report on actual news even if their decisions on what is actual news, and how to report on it is informed by their partisan preferences.
To illustrate my point, here are screenshots from the smh.com.au and theaustralian.com.au websites, taken this morning:
[Apologies - I'm struggling to make the screenshots work. I'll have them back up shortly.]
I think the difference here is pretty clear. The SMH is running 'front page' stories about Robbie Williams laughing at a naked Kylie Minogue. About a 16 year old 'Horrorcore' rapper who killed his girlfriend and her family in the US. About an off duty cop who saved a family from a house fire. About Paris Hilton avoiding jail. And about 'Touring Amsterdam's Red Light District'. The Oz runs stories about Rob Oakeshott (aside: what a wanker), power prices, foreign aid and the US recession.
So sure, The Oz has its problems. But its critics should save some of their vitriol for the once-great Fairfax papers, who've chased the lowest common denominator and ended up just above the gutter. I'd say that smh.com.au these days is much closer to news.com.au than The Oz. The Herald should be pressured to pick up its act and give The Oz a run for its money.
Finally, I think this argument also applies by analogy to critics of the ABC on the right, who accuse it of left-wing bias. If they don't like what the ABC is dishing up, they should pressure commercial networks to pick themselves up and try to report on actual, serious news. Watching Channel 9 advertise its Monday night bulletin with a story about children swallowing things (as it did on Sunday night) should be enough to drive serious consumers of news to the drink.
The broader, and more depressing point to be observed here is that providing quality news isn't very profitable if you put it on the internet or broadcast it for free. I think that's an argument for giivng newspapers charity status or subsiding them, or something. But that's a topic for another day.