On The Road Again

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Dear readers,

Welcome back! New Matilda starts publishing again today and will stay online through 2011. Thank you to everyone who became a financial supporter of the site during our fundraising campaign last year. We wouldn’t be here without you and we’re all set to keep our promise and bring you sharp new journalism throughout the year.

New Matilda wasn’t the only media organisation trying to work out how to pay the bills in 2010. How to run a viable online media outlet, how to pay journalists, how to conduct investigative projects in a tight media environment: these were key questions for the sector — and we expect they’ll be even more pertinent in 2011.

Tomorrow, Rupert Murdoch is set to launch his iPad-only newspaper, The Daily, and later this year News Ltd will start charging readers of The Australian for access to content. Will readers of The Oz stump up to read the paper online? Or will The Australian’s website, which already receives a fraction of the hits of its Fairfax competitors, sink under the weight of a paywall?

We’ll be watching the big players closely during this period of transition.

In the meantime, we’re extremely gratified that enough New Matilda readers are prepared to pay for the stories they read on the site to get us back up and running. It bodes well for the longevity of independent online media in Australia, especially when what the future of news media will actually look like is anyone’s guess. But NM is not out of the woods yet. We will be working hard this year to build our supporter base and we still need many more of you to put your money where your mouse is and subscribe if we are to keep the site online beyond this year.

In 2011 it’s not just the online media business models that are in a state of flux — the kinds of stories you read online are undergoing change too. New Matilda has always run stories that put the news of the day in context or explain technical aspects of current affairs. Whatever you call these stories — backgrounders or explainers — they are now becoming a staple of online media. Indeed, only a few years ago it would have been inconceivable that the ABC would have joined forces with the US-based Explainer.net, NYU and ProPublica to "try to advance the art and science of the journalistic explainer".

The genesis for this collaboration was a widely reported panel titled "The Future Of Context" at the SXSW conference in 2010. Matt Thompson, one of the panellists, provides a solid rationale for providing context:

"If you’re like most people, you have a certain amount of ambient knowledge that health-care reform is happening. You pay attention to headlines, and you see a lot of stories about Nancy Pelosi saying this, or Mitch McConnell saying that. You catch a line or two about it in a Presidential address. You’ve watched some headlines about it in the evening news.

"Chances are that most of the information you’ve encountered about this subject has been what I’d call episodic … This constant torrent of episodic information is how many of us encounter information about current events. This has been true for as long as any of us has been alive, but in the wake of the real-time Web, it’s become ever more constant and ever more torrential."

There has been a rush of such backgrounders on the anti-government uprising in Egypt over recent weeks, from this excellent explainer at Mother Jones to the Complete Guide to the 2011 Revolution published at the Huffington Post.

Such resources are well suited to online outlets and form the backdrop to surging waves of breaking news, or what Thompson called "episodic information". Events in Egypt, like those that took place in Tunisia, are first reported online via blogs and social media. Tracking breaking news without such context can be a disorientating and ultimately uninformative experience.

As always, this year at NM we’ll be bringing you plenty of quality backgrounders and analysis about the big stories of the day — but we also want to carve out our own niche and publish more original journalism. While we don’t have the kind of money available to the national broadcaster or the daily broadsheets to do long-form investigations, we will be drawing on a wealth of contacts from within the NM community and beyond, working with interns, asking favours and working late to break stories on a shoestring budget.

We’re doing it because we think too many outlets dance to the beat of the same drum, and we know there are plenty of stories that don’t get told because they are don’t fit the format of the breaking news cycle. Above all, we want you to be in on the action too. We’re keen to work with others who are passionate about doing journalism differently, and we also want you to tip us off.

We’ll be taking risks and sometimes getting it wrong, and not everything we publish will be groundbreaking.

But as long as we manage to shake things up a little and throw a few hand grenades in 2011, we’ll judge the year a success. It’s great to have you along for the ride!

Marni and Catri

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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