We Told You So

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Phew. It’s been a big year for online media. It was the year that the big players realised they wanted what the small players had, and made their way into the online sector. We now have three new key online forums (News Ltd’s The Punch, Fairfax’s The National Times, and the ABC’s The Drum) as the major media twigged that mixing news and commentary online is a winning formula — not only does it provoke comment but it also builds communities who just keep on coming back.

But while the major outlets might be making a cynical foray into the field in an attempt to maintain falling ad revenue and readerships, at NM we exist for an entirely different reason — to fill the gaps that exist in those very same media. We might be a small player but our focus is on quality: considered analysis that answers the "why" as well as the "who, what and when" of the daily news cycle.

And in 2009 we brought you plenty of that.

The year began with our concentrated coverage of Israel’s bombing of Gaza — we stood almost alone among Australian media outlets in calling that "war" for what it was: a military attack on civilians. Our coverage earned us the attention of the Israel lobby — and a personal mention in parliament from the honourable Michael Danby MP.

In February we copped a very different kind of flak for our Urban Intervention experiment — where we subjected NM intern, Scott Mitchell (who has since gone on to bigger things at ABC1’s Hungry Beast), to two weeks of income management like that experienced by Aboriginal people under the Northern Territory Intervention.

We took a risk with this particular series — knowing that we would likely attract criticism for assuming that a white middle-class kid could in any way understand the experience of a poor black one. And sure enough, it came, mostly from people who have worked in the Aboriginal service industry. Of course, the point of the series was not to try to recreate the experience of an Aboriginal person under the Intervention, but to break down some of the barriers that exist for us East Coasters around the issue of Aboriginal disadvantage — many of us fear that we can’t really understand it if we’ve never worked or lived with Aboriginal people. We wanted our readers to think about the Intervention as though it were happening to them (or their son, or grandson), and for the conversation to flow from that point. Based on the many thoughtful comments the series provoked, it was a great success.

The Rudd Government’s broken promise to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act in October received very little media attention amid the resurrected debate over asylum seekers. We gave critical coverage to Jenny Macklin’s last-minute community consultations on the legislation — which were not in fact to garner community opinion but to cover the Government in the case of a legal challenge under the RDA. The key to understanding the Government’s wrangling over the RDA was to get your head around the concept of "special measures". What are they again? NM correspondent Sarah Burnside explained.

We commissioned geeks to tell you in plain English why Stephen Conroy’s internet filtering plan won’t work, and also explained what the Communications Minister himself isn’t able to: what exactly is "prohibited content"?

Internationally, Jeff Sparrow’s analysis lifted a lid on the war in Afghanistan and the use of Vietnam-style "hunt and kill" programs by our own troops, and Sophie McNeill revealed the devil in the detail of the Karzai Administration’s controversial policy allowing husbands to rape their wives.

We provided running coverage of the Rudd Government’s proposed emissions trading scheme as it went from bad, to worse, and finally became a match under the tinder-dry Liberal Party. Along the way we also gave important coverage to viable alternative energy sources, and brought you the inside story on why renewables start-ups are fleeing overseas or not making it to market (hint: it’s not through lack of trying).

We’ve kept a keen eye on the slow death of SBS — and, strangely, been one of the only outlets to do so. Poisoned by Howard-era stacking of the board and direct political interference, the other public broadcaster has not managed to recover after two years of Rudd’s Labor. Many of you have told us you used to tune in nightly to SBS and now don’t bother. We’ll bring you more of the inside story of the broadcaster’s demise in 2010.

Sometimes it’s what we don’t cover here at NM that sets us apart from the other media. We comprehensively ignored "utegate" as it was unfolding — except to highlight the other media’s frustrating obsession with empty scandals. We also exposed the key role that News Ltd’s sloppy editorial practices played in giving life to the forged email at the centre of the affair.

It’s now fading into a distant haze of shiny Christmas things, but the global financial crisis was the other big story of 2009. Our national affairs correspondent, Ben Eltham, called it early and did a sterling job of providing economic analysis that was both punchy and relevant.

And finally of course, we brought you our comprehensive Copenhagen explainer as well as expert running coverage of the meeting, including on our group blog, COP This!.

All up, 2009 has been a hugely successful year for NM — our readership has almost doubled since January and we continue to punch above our fairly puny weight in the online media sector. We’re sure that if the Drum doesn’t poach all of our home-grown talent with their Government-funded coffers, we might just make 2010 the best one yet.

Oh, and before we sign off, it’s traditional to give a gong to the year’s most popular article — this year it goes to Ben Pobjie for his satirical delight The Joy of Violent Muslim Sex.

Ahem. We’re pretty sure that’s Google’s fault.

Merry Christmas and a safe and happy new year to you all — and don’t forget to check out our Summer reading, which will be populating the site from tomorrow.

xNM

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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