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Anger as The Advertiser dumps Fringe reviews

The Advertiser is not reviewing performances at the Adelaide Fringe this year after a failed negotiation, the festival’s organisers say, although the News Corp newspaper insists its editorial decisions are not based on commercial considerations.

Feb 20, 2023, updated Feb 20, 2023
Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The Advertiser has not published a review since the festival began last Thursday, and Fringe says no Advertiser journalist has registered for media accreditation.

While a range of local publications are reviewing Fringe shows, including InReview, a not-for-profit project begun by the publishers of InDaily, the lack of Advertiser coverage has stunned the arts community.

The newspaper today rejected any suggestion that its editorial decisions had been influenced by commercial considerations, insisting it is “covering the Fringe Festival on its merits”.

Fringe director Heather Croall said Fringe had been negotiating with The Advertiser over the terms of its advertising deal and wanted some changes made to the arrangements, but the newspaper had refused this.

“We have always been of the understanding in any media outlet that advertising and editorial are oil and water,” Croall told InDaily. “We did not think that advertising spend was cash for comment.”

Discussions had begun over a renewed commercial deal over a year ago, with Fringe “asking for clarity on reach, outcomes and data and how we could better work together to build audiences”.

“Our discussions were fruitful but then we were offered off-the-shelf (advertising) inventory which didn’t reflect our discussions.”

She said The Advertiser had always made it clear that “advertising spend bore no relation to editorial”, so she was disappointed and saddened by the lack of coverage.

“Compared to previous years where the event has garnered significant coverage in The Advertiser, it’s very sad to see that Australia’s largest ticket-selling event that injects 100 million-plus dollars into the state economy isn’t considered newsworthy by a local news outlet.”

A spokesman for The Advertiser said the newspaper’s coverage decisions were based on its readers’ interests.

The Advertiser is covering the Fringe Festival on its merits, focusing on the aspects that resonate most with our audience,” the spokesman told InDaily in a statement.

“Any claim our coverage is influenced by commercial considerations is 100 per cent false.”

Rumours about The Advertiser’s apparent decision had been swirling in arts circles for several weeks.

At the opening of Fringe hub, The Garden of Unearthly Delights, last Thursday a key producer launched an extraordinary spray at The Advertiser.

In front of a crowd of hundreds of invited guests at the Garden’s opening night, Strut and Fret director Scott Maidment said The Advertiser was refusing to review any Fringe shows.

“The Adelaide Advertiser has decided not to come to any shows, not to review any shows and not to do any stories on the Fringe,” he said.

“I think it’s a really poor state of affairs when we have the whole community come together for the Fringe.”

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The Advertiser has published some Fringe content over the past few weeks, but no reviews.

This morning, the newspaper published a story critical of The Garden of Unearthly Delights over a $4 entrance fee for non-ticket holders at peak times. The fee has been in place for several years.

The coverage is in stark contrast to The Advertiser’s previous approach, which gave prominent coverage to Fringe stories, including its launch and then daily reviews.

The Adelaide Critics Circle, a collective of local arts critics who run yearly awards among other activities, is deeply concerned by the newspaper’s approach and has written a so-far unpublished letter to the editor of The Advertiser outlining its concerns.

Signed on behalf of the circle by respected former Advertiser journalist and critic Samela Harris, the letter says the absence of Fringe reviews in the newspaper is “not only mystifying but deeply concerning”.

“Adelaide prides itself on hosting the second largest Fringe festival in the world,” the letter says. “It has a national and international lineup. This strange omission by our metro daily is a harsh blow to the city’s culture, community and, more importantly, the documenting of our history.”

Despite the reduced coverage by News Corp, Fringe is on track to sell a record number of tickets this year.

The festival received a funding boost of $2 million from the State Government last year – the fulfilment of an election promise from Labor leader, now Premier, Peter Malinauskas.

The Premier would not comment today on The Advertiser’s decision.

InReview’s Fringe coverage can be found here, including a slew of new Fringe reviews. The not-for-profit project funds independent critique of Adelaide arts by paid, professional reviewers.

InReview and InDaily both have commercial arrangements with the Fringe in 2023.

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