You Don't Know What You've Got Till It's Gone


What a time to be getting out of the game!

I don’t think we could’ve picked a worse time to shut down the website if we’d tried: a day after a leadership spill that toppled a sitting prime minister, installed Australia’s first female PM and saw a Labor Left candidate — endorsed and installed by the Right — signal a major policy shift to appease big business. Suddenly, this election campaign looks like it will be full of controversy, infighting and intrigue.

And won’t be around to sort the spin from the substance.

Although today is the last day of publishing for in its current form, we do have plans to rise again. I, on behalf of the current staff, have negotiated to take control of the site and we will be working to raise enough money to re-launch. The site — its audience, archive and stable of writers — is too valuable to shelve for good.

No doubt some of you will want to know why we’ve decided to press pause on publishing rather than struggling on no matter what. Since we announced our closure a month ago we have been bombarded with support and advice on how to stay afloat. We’ve also been contacted by several business interests with proposals that ranged from content-sharing to stripping the brand and refitting it for new purposes.

However, none of these suggestions fitted our vision for the site, and importantly, there wasn’t any room in these offers for us to develop the ideas about future directions for the site that have been buzzing around the office of late.

And, let’s face it, we are not in a strong position to negotiate with potential investors. Although our traffic continues to rise, has been operating on an outdated business model and at a significant loss. We have a great reputation in the industry, a portfolio of sharp writers, and a loyal readership who, like us, believe in the site’s promise — but we weren’t satisfied that the offers made valued these assets sufficiently. Nor were we convinced that we’d be able to retain our editorial independence — and without that, we know we’d lose plenty of you.

So instead of taking up those offers, and provided we can rally the right kind of support, we intend to go it alone.

Regular writers will stay on board. If all goes to plan, you can look forward to commentary of the trenchant and satirical variety delivered by Ben Eltham and Ben Pobjie and all your other favourites. But our funding sources will need to diversify, and our outlook will be expansive rather than exclusive. This will involve some subtle but important changes to the way the site functions.

Looking to the experience of media start-ups in the US and the UK, we have realised that the days of the single-revenue media outlet are over. Nowadays, small outlets are finding new ways to fund their work through what Texas Tribune founder John Thornton calls "revenue promiscuity": "you have to get it everywhere and often".

They are trading on the quality of their journalism and their trusted brands to build relationships with other media outlets to which they provide niche content. And they rely on a broad and growing base of philanthropists, funding bodies, foundations and individuals who see that as the media industry cuts costs, the survival of public interest journalism requires them to put their money where their mouth is.

These outlets are doing important work to fill the gaps left by a shrinking media industry, often with little money and few staff. They are run by veteran journalists — very often former investigative journalists whose time-intensive jobs were the first to go when newsrooms tightened their belts — and they survive on contributions from the many generous individuals and organisations who support their work.

These start-ups — and there are dozens of them across the United States alone — provide inspiration for a new collaborative model that will see the site transform into a provider of quality analysis and public interest journalism that has life beyond our little corner of the internet.

When we re-launch, our primary aim will not be to drive hits back to our own site — the model that advertisers dictate is king — but to inject new, quality journalism and analysis into the Australian media environment. In this way we hope to inspire enough of you out there to deem us worthy of your financial support.

But in the meantime, dear readers, we must say goodbye for now. Financial reality dictates that we will have to build this new model slowly, and on the side of other jobs.

And so, to the bit I’ve been studiously avoiding all morning: the sign-off!

Today we publish farewells from our two favourite sons — who were both born in the late 70s and so by the law of probability are both named Ben. Ben Eltham, who I convinced to become our national affairs correspondent in my first weeks as editor after realising the man was prolific, could digest large amounts of data at an inhuman rate, and write to a tight deadline — and our resident satirist Ben Pobjie, whose early apology to the traditional owners of the Herald Sun opinion pages made me suspect he might be one of the funniest, most intelligent and articulate writers in this country. He hasn’t proved me wrong.

Of course, there are many more writers besides who have made what it is today — I won’t name them all for fear of leaving someone out, but you know who you are. They have written for little or no money and responded to rigorous editorial feedback from us. They have delivered at short notice and taken it on the chin when we have knocked them back. Without their efforts the level of debate in this country would be poorer, and we thank them.

Personally, I would also like to thank my associate editors Brendan Phelan and Catriona Menzies-Pike. It will sound like the champagne talking but I swear I’ve said it before: these two are among the best editors in the industry. They can construct a through-line in a jiffy and spot a dangling participle a mile off. unedited would be an unrecognisable beast, and it’s largely due to the smarts of these two that the site has become known for its quality.

I’d also like to thank our managing editor Rod McGuinness, who has been NM’s rock through all of its ups and downs. Without him the website would have gone under long ago. His commitment and loyalty has been unmatched.

And the last person I’d like to thank is NM’s current owner Duncan Turpie, who has been described variously as a mysterious businessman and a shady Gold Coast investor, but who I know to be a genuine, big-hearted person who has just poured a whole lot of money into a project that he believed in merely because he wanted Australia’s media environment to be more diverse. You all should be thanking him too.

So that’s it folks. On behalf of the staff, I’d like to thank YOU for your loyalty and support over the years. We have loved working with you and for you — and although at times we’ve thought some of you off the wall, out of line, or simply out of your minds, you have inspired us to think critically about the work that we do and provided an invaluable sounding board.

If you want to stay informed about our plans, stay on the email list. If you are not a registered user, become one now. We won’t be spamming you between now and then, but we do want you to be the first to know about our re-launch. Until then, the existing site will remain live and the archive searchable.

It’s damn hard to bow out just as we head into an election campaign that just got a whole lot more interesting. As I write, I can’t help but think about the articles I would like to commission for the coming weeks and months. Instead, we are cutting you loose for now — and hoping that the other media can step in to provide the kind of smart, considered and fearless analysis that you have come to expect here.

Marni Cordell

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.