Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Thoughts on renewing my Crikey nominations

I’ve just paid $240 to renew my Crikey subscription for another two years. My current one doesn’t expire till early 2011 but I fell victim to their end of financial year marketing campaign which saw the wonderful First Dog on the Moon cross the dreaded church and state divide to spruik for business. Plus, with New Matilda going out of business this week there is now a nasty breeze from the hole in the Australian independent media space and I thought it was time to insulate against it.

I’ve been subscribing to Crikey now for four years or so and while they have a mixed record, I enjoy their daily digest of news served up in my favourite online tool: email. I keep hearing Gen Ys and beyond can’t tolerate email but as an asynchronous long or short form communication mechanism, it remains the best of its class - even if it has been in widespread use now for almost 20 years. It hardly makes Crikey “new media” but it certainly still keeps them independent and mildly profitable, unlike New Matilda which fell into the gap between subscription and free content.

In their email, Crikey deliver 20 or so stories in a package every lunchtime. I’m usually busy around that time and will often skim through most of the stories. But I will always take the time to read some of the articles. I like Bernard Keane’s post-public servant acerbic take on politics (even if he wears his Labor voting on his sleeve). I also enjoy Guy Rundle’s manic mutterings and then there is the incomparable First Dog on the Moon, Andrew Marlton. Marlton is quickly establishing himself as the cult Australian cartoonist of his generation borrowing liberally from other great cartoonists such as Michael Leunig and Jon Kudelka allied to his own native off the wall wit. His arrogant, foul-mouthed version of Jasper, Kevin Rudd’s Cat (who seems more suited to being Paul Keating’s pet) is well on the way to becoming one of the all-time great Australian fictional characters.

I also like Crikey’s well informed media coverage from Margaret Simons and the occasional tech rant from Stilgherrian. It has also collected a varied and lively collection of blogs under its banner. Oddly enough, the one thing I I don’t care too much for is Crikey's rumour and gossip. This is the section for which it initially became famous, and how the publication is still described by bigger media when they want to pour scorn on it.

Its skirting along the edge of defamation cost Crikey’s original owner Stephen Mayne his product but perhaps that was a good thing for the Australian mediasphere. It meant the more comercially-savvy Eric Beecher came in to take it over. Beecher has the same impassioned belief in the power of a free press that Mayne had. But he also has business smarts. His appointment of Amanda Gome as Private Media CEO shows the publication is heading in a new direction. Gome has a journalism background but she is also a publisher and a professor of business at Melbourne’s RMIT.

That new direction may have interesting ramifications for Crikey staff. Jason Whittaker took on the role of Crikey’s new deputy editor after Sophie Black was promoted to editor when Jonathan Green left to take over the ABC's The Drum. Whittaker is on the public record (prior to his Crikey days, admittedly) as a passionate defender of the traditional separation of journalism and advertising - the “church and state” of media.

If their most recent advertising campaign is anything to go by, Gome and Beecher are no longer so sure such a strategy is effective. In no other industry would a refusal of two key branches to work together be tolerated - even if there is a great possibility of conflict of interest. Crikey is a business and it must perform like a business. Its democratic function, as New Matilda has just found out, is just a sidebar. The main game is making enough money to survive and then thrive. This requires everyone in the organisation working to the same objective. The fun part will be watching how Crikey evolves to meet that objective. I look forward to following the journey for the next two years.

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