Another One Bites the Dust

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Promising to bite the hand that fed it may have come back to bite the nation’s newest newspaper, the Manic Times, which stopped publishing weekly on 13 October, after just eight weeks.

‘It’s fair to say we ruffled a few feathers, but that’s what everyone expected us to do,’ says co-founder Charles Firth, who is also a founding member of The Chaser.

With a mix of financial backers that Firth describes as ‘rich industrialists, media companies and unions’ (although he declined to say which ones), the Manic Times venture remains unapologetically pro-union.

It was bold, however, in publishing stories that some investors might have preferred discretion over.

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It’s understood the paper folded after the Electrical Trades Union failed to deliver a pledged amount of money because the union didn’t approve of the publication of an article about the privatisation of the NSW electricity supply. (The article can be read here.)

‘The union movement has strategically decided to be very quiet about its complete opposition to privatisation,’ says Firth. ‘So we did a story about it, and basically the story said it was impossible to get a word out of anyone. It’s completely understandable they’re waiting until after the Federal election to have the barney.

‘[But] if people thought we weren’t going to ruffle feathers then they obviously hadn’t even read our pitch. Our philosophy has always been to bite the hand that feeds us and will continue to be.’

‘It was a strong publication. We just didn’t have the resources or time to find the audience, because we were turning around the next issue, week after week,’ says Firth.

‘We had some great print stories, but video was the thing that was really cutting through at a commercial level. We decided that was our strength and we should do it properly,’ he says.

Scaling back the print publication to concentrate on online video news has significantly reduced the Manic Times workforce effective immediately although Firth says staff journalists have been offered online writing jobs. The core team now comprises Firth, his business partner Martin Robertson and two video producers.

Features Editor Robert Kennedy is back in the market for a job.

‘We’re good friends and I’ll do other kinds of projects with Manic Times, which is great, but it’s just disappointing,’ says Kennedy. ‘I feel disappointed for our contributors, because we never really got going. It would have been nice to get more people on, and work out how to encourage writers, and a new style. It was a daring business model.’

The newspaper broke at least one big story revealing that casual workers with limited training were being employed to administer the new Fairness Test but struggled to find a comfortable balance between serious journalism and satire.

A new Manic Times website which Firth says will be ‘a hundred million times more schmick’ will be launched on Monday. The site will feature five minutes a week of news satire and stunt-driven video journalism, with about 30 per cent written editorial. There are plans for the newspaper to be rejigged and published around six times a year.

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