The Advertiser strikes back over Fringe reviews flap

The stoush between The Advertiser and Fringe organisers continues after the newspaper editor penned a front-page article saying festival administrators had themselves “torched” their relationship.

Feb 27, 2023, updated Feb 27, 2023
Image: Tom Aldahn/InDaily

Image: Tom Aldahn/InDaily

Last Monday, InDaily reported that Fringe organisers claimed The Advertiser had walked away from event reviews and publicity and its journalists had not sought accreditation due to a failed commercial deal.

The breakdown became public at the opening night of Fringe hub The Garden of Unearthly Delights on February 16, when a key producer took to the stage and launched an extraordinary spray at The Advertiser in front of hundreds of invited guests.

Strut and Fret director Scott Maidment said the newspaper had “decided not to come to any shows, not to review any shows and not to do any stories on the Fringe”.

Fringe director Heather Croall said last Monday that the Fringe had been negotiating over the terms of its advertising deal and wanted some changes made to the arrangements, but the newspaper had refused.

Croall said The Advertiser had always made it clear that “advertising spend bore no relation to editorial”: “We did not think that advertising spend was cash for comment,” she said.

A spokesman for The Advertiser said it was “covering the Fringe Festival on its merits” and that “any claim our coverage is influenced by commercial considerations is 100 per cent false”.

On the weekend, The Advertiser editor Gemma Jones said it was time to “set the record straight” on the issue which had been widely commented on.

Jones wrote a front-page editorial saying claims the newspaper had walked away from the partnership were wrong.

Jones said The Advertiser and Sunday Mail had a “long and proud history” supporting Fringe artists and had spent decades and “countless reporter hours helping build the event into the huge success it is today”.

“Many of our readers would also be familiar with the Tiser Fringe Adviser, another great initiative of this masthead,” the editor wrote.

“It was a product within our wider site that contained hundreds of easy-to-navigate reviews, star ratings, and show and venue details as well as where to purchase tickets.

“This worked well until the Fringe recently began publishing reviews on a Fringe Feed website with an almost identical format and functionality as our Tiser Fringe Adviser.

“The decision by the Fringe to launch a rival review website undermined our ability to find an audience and, therefore, the capacity of The Advertiser to continue to review hundreds of shows and publish them online.

“It undermined our ability to cover the cost of dozens of full pages of newspaper coverage, production hours and freelance journalists who file on shows.

The Fringe walked away from The Advertiser, not the other way around. On the way out the door, the Fringe has torched a decades-long relationship, and it is the artists who will suffer as a result.”

Jones also took aim at comments to InDaily – which Jones did not name but referred to as a “boutique news and lifestyle website” – that a failed commercial arrangement had prompted the argument.

“Wrong,” Jones wrote.

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“In addition to creating a rival site, the Fringe also imposed conditions on our journalists that to have accreditation and access to review tickets, they had to upload their reviews into the Fringe Feed website.

“The process was time consuming and aggressively policed by the Fringe, with journalists left in no doubt that if they failed to comply, then their accreditation that allowed access to shows for review would be cancelled.”

Jones said that “The Advertiser cannot work with the Fringe in the current climate”.

“However, it can work with venues and with artists to promote their work,” the editor wrote.

“From this week, we will celebrate places such as the Garden of Unearthly Delights, Gluttony and smaller venues, too – and all the fantastic things they represent.

“We can, and will, do all of this without the Fringe administration.”

Jones said The Advertiser would not work within the Fringe accreditation and free review tickets system for 2023.

“Instead, we will directly support artists by purchasing tickets, as every other festival lover in this state does,” she wrote.

“While the Fringe Feed operates as it does by taking the work of all publishers and running it on their own site, including the first par and star rating with a token click through to the source website, we cannot review hundreds of shows as we once proudly did. However, we can still support artists on merit in our news pages.”

The Fringe responded to the article with a statement on its website, saying: “It is perplexing to see that the main coverage of the Fringe in the Advertiser and Sunday Mail is negative and full of striking inaccuracies.”

The statement said that organisers were “not going to get into a tit for tat debate” but “we are very happy that the Advertiser will now start reviewing the 2023 Adelaide Fringe shows”.

The Advertiser today (Monday February 27) published a front page preview of Fringe circus-cabaret show The Party, backed up with an editorial saying “Today, we fulfil our commitment to independently support artists putting on great shows across Adelaide”.

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

InDaily has had commercial arrangements with the Adelaide Fringe since 2016 and Solstice Media’s managing director was appointed to the Fringe board in October 2022. 

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