The mX was a free afternoon newspaper targeted at commuters, originating in Melbourne on 6th Feburary 2001 and spreading into Sydney on 4th July 2005 and Brisbane on 5th March 2007. Due to falling circulation, it put out its last print edition on the 12th June 2015.
As someone who frequently travelled on public transport, the mX kept me entertained through many years of train travel. An outpouring of stories and tributes to the mX have been forthcoming, and although I’m late to this party, I think it’s probably worth my while to summarize what this means.
When the mX first came to Sydney, I was really perplexed. There was a friendly person standing at station entrances, in the afternoon, with no set time, handing out papers. Initially, I was handed a paper and I thought “eh, this is some propaganda rubbish …” and almost disposed of it. Then I looked at it, realized that it wasn’t, and then became very bemused when it was free.
A free newspaper that wasn’t rubbish? That was almost a completely foreign concept to me. Sure it’s not “high brow”, and it’s more low-quality tabloid, it was still very readable and enjoyable. The stories were often brief, relevant, punchy, quirky, different and exciting. Definitely entertaining.
Once I got a hang of the whole mX concept, it became a habit. The mX had a unique appeal, because of their “talk” section which featured witty tit-for-tat style discussion of recent topics, and threaded discussions. It was almost like an episode of a TV show, where reading it from day to day was important to keep track with what is going on. It was also a great way to get into the mindset of the people in the city.
Other sections with appeal include the What-in-the-weird? news stories which were all amusing “snippets”. It’s almost like a viral news story summarized in a few sentences, scattered about the paper.
The regular news was also a good way for someone “living under a rock” to get caught up with the news. This is especially useful for someone who spends most of their weekdays at uni or doing study with little time for news.
The mX readership seemed to grow quickly, and grabbing a hold of the mX was a problem. Many days, if I had late classes, there would be no more mX papers left. How depressing. It was a drug … and I needed it. I even resorted to roaming through carriages looking for those which were left behind (now frowned upon as litter, but was once a considerate “social” action), or asking people who looked like they had finished whether I could have theirs.
In fact, I did archive a small selection of stories from some mX newspapers just because I found them somewhat humourous, relevant or quirky, back from when I was running my own webserver from home just for my own use.
When the mX was growing, the MP3 player or radio was probably the next main source of entertainment after reading. Mobile internet was too slow, and too expensive to be a viable source of entertainment, and smartphones/PDAs were still too expensive and had limited battery life. The mX was a good friend, and best of all, it didn’t cost anything!
The mX became such a part of travelling by trains in Sydney that they had installed paper stands. Initially, they were only handed out by friendly people, and piled on the ground. The installation of stands really made them a permanent fixture.
Early papers were sent out “loose” and had a tendency to become bulky or misaligned when read in trains or on platforms. Later papers were all stapled, with two staples, and were much more convenient. This was good as it stopped papers flying about when blown down the platform, but also meant that if you had to share a copy with someone who is done with theirs, it wouldn’t come mangled, so it was much more enjoyable to read.
As the years passed, and the popularity of mobile internet, smartphones and tablets continued to increase, the mX started to struggle. The first sign of this happened when my friend grabbed an mX for himself, and one for me … and I looked at him bemused and said “I don’t need that anymore, I’ve got 3G.” I had just won an iPad, and invested in some Telstra Mobile Broadband. Reading other websites was much more appropriate use of my time, I felt. Now that bandwidth is somewhat cheaper, other people spend their time playing games, streaming music and video, or doing something else altogether.
The mX tried to revive itself, and we could see that with a change in its logo. Initially, it had a blue, white and gold logo which was suspiciously similar in colour to Cityrail. The new logo was accompanied with a revamp of the sections based on a reader survey and seemed to involve slightly more commercial interests in competitions (which didn’t seem very popular).
Still, it seemed to struggle. This was especially evident when in my postgraduate days, I could rock up to Central station at 6pm, and still find papers on the stand. No longer did we have to contend for papers … no longer were the papers “valuable”. There was a time where sharing your “finished” mX with another girl/guy on the train could make their day … not anymore it seems.
Sorry to see them go, and sorry I outgrew you, and subsequently became part of their demise. I feel so guilty now.
The Penultimate Edition
Even though they knew they were going out, the paper kept going strong, and the penultimate edition published Thursday 11th June mostly resembles a regular edition of mX with the normal load of stories.
The only “self pity” came in the talk section, where many readers expressed their thanks, and their sadness that the mX would cease to exist in the print form.
I just so happened to be in the city, so I decided to collect one just for keepsakes.
The Final Edition
Knowing that the Friday paper would be the last, I decided to make one more trip into the city so I could have one. It seems like the mX crew decided to go out in style, with the farewell edition featuring their staff on the cover spread, and a pun on the word “exit” as the branding.
The farewell edition’s news pages featured a look back on the most funny, controversial, crazy stories and noteworthy photographs in all the issues published to date. A two page centre spread was also dedicated to reader tribute Tweets (pg 14-15). A Best of Overheard was featured on pg 21, and Talk was replaced with Talk Tribute. Other sections ran as normal.
While the mX isn’t “high brow” news, it was definitely a form of entertainment that was highly sought after, especially when it was introduced. The whole concept of smartphones, tablets, mobile data and streaming wasn’t feasible or in reach for many of the commuters, and anything was better than nothing when it comes to entertainment. I still fondly remember of the days where we would literally have to still hope there were mXs left for us if we left the uni late and got to the station at 6pm.
Sadly, the demise of the print version of mX wasn’t unimaginable. Their attempted “reinvention” with a new logo and revamped sections signalled trouble, and the affordable mobile data and ubiquity of smartphones gave people something to do on the train. People stopped wanting to carry something else with them, get their fingers dirty, and sadly I was one of the guilty parties. I was an occasional reader from 2005, a regular reader in 2007, finally giving up my mX habit around 2011 when I finished my undergrad career. Sorry. Even though I missed the Talk section, I really didn’t need more paper to carry home.
It seems that the mX will live on in some way, in the form of the mX App, although you will need to have a data connection to use it (which isn’t as uncommon as it used to be). It’s not quite the same feeling as having a print copy, but I suppose that environmentally speaking, the loss of the print might well be an overall win.