One Year On: A New Matilda Editor’s Perspective

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When I took over New Matilda a year ago today, I promised readers a wild ride. I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly had one.

In the space of a year, we’ve found ourselves in the Federal Court and the NSW Supreme Court – with numerous other threats in between – and we’ve been investigated by state and federal police on several occasions.

We’ve been attacked by media, including being accused of plotting to bring down the Prime Minister on the front page of The Australian (which is of course partly true… at New Matilda, we’re permanently involved in plots to ‘bring down’ Prime Ministers and other politicians, although we call it ‘reporting’).

I have a simple theory on journalism: if they’re not suing you, if the coppers aren’t watching you, if other media aren’t attacking you, then you’re not doing your job (note to other reporters: if none of that is happening to you, what you’re probably doing is ‘public relations’).

So the wild ride promise, I consider kept. Other promises – including a recent one – have been broken, but I’ll come back to those in a minute. Because it’s gloating time.

The past year has seen us break some big stories – Frances Abbott’s secret scholarship, Barry Spurr’s world beating racism, Scott Morrison’s ‘shit-worried’ persona, and the secret treaties we signed with Indonesia to help prop up the death penalty.

We’ve revealed ghost environmentalist on a big mining companies’ green committee, we’ve caught out all sorts of people practicing all sorts of racism, we’ve mocked Reclaim Australia, harassed neo-Nazis, and Andrew Bolt.

All that fun notwithstanding, I’d be lying if I said that I’ve loved every minute of my New Matilda journey. Certainly, I’ve had some euphoric moments – the buzz you get on deadline as you get ready to break a major yarn is pretty good – but working in the media is a tough gig. And working in independent is even tougher.

It can also occasionally be ridiculous, as can I. My appearance in the Federal Court – unrepresented, in Spurr vs At Large Media – while, more or less, a fond memory, scandalised the Australian judicial system by my mere presence (think Denis Denutto in The Castle).

But one of the best things about my job is that I never stop learning. BNM (Before New Matilda) I’d spent my entire career in print media. I’d dabbled with online media, but never really jumped in balls and all.

Marni Cordell and the teams before her built an extraordinary platform for alternative views. The thing I like most about New Matilda (before I took over, and still today) is its absolute stubbornness and refusal to lay down and die, particularly in a media landscape that has claimed a few casualties.

Over the past year, I’ve tried to preserve New Matilda’s values, and add a bit of aggression. I’ll leave it to readers to judge whether or not we’ve achieved that.

But on the singing my own praises front, one of my proudest achievements at NM is the team (a fair bit of which, admittedly, I inherited).

When I took over New Matilda, we had no full-time staff. Today, New Matilda employs Angela Nicholson, Amy McQuire, Max Chalmers, Thom Mitchell and yours truly (although admittedly, I don’t draw a wage – I do ‘other’ stuff such as media and political advice to pay the bills, which explains my occasionally sporadic appearances online).

We also pay more of our writers, cartoonists and contributors, although we still rely on a lot of charity. Our goal this year is to build our paid subscriptions to 10,000 that will fund an awful lot of independent media.

As we stumble our way there, I’m mindful that in addition to Ange, Amy, Max and Thom in particular, I owe a very deep debt of gratitude to the stalwarts (some paid, some not) who keep New Matilda ticking – Geoff Holland (our lawyer, and the most sensible man in the room), Wendy Bacon (contributing editor and moral compass), Ben Eltham and Ian McAuley (good with numbers, logic and everything we throw at them), Michael Brull (Mr Unassailable), Liz Conor (brilliant, funny, and brilliant again) and Jeff Waugh (Man-genius who speaks a language none of us understand).

And there’s Fiona Katauskas, Lindsay Folye and Costa A, who make me laugh at least three times a week.

I also owe a huge thanks to our sources – Freya Newman, and the others, who know who they are. These are the people who risk a lot (including, occasionally, their liberty) to blow the whistle. You have my endearing thanks, and my email address – just don’t use it if you’re sending me ‘stuff’.

I also owe a big thanks to Charbel, Georgia and the incredible team of staff and students at the Velvet Onion Academy. Ange and I recently completed a User Experience design course (gratis) at Velvet Onion, and we’re still working with the crew to re-design the site (who knew the whole ‘internet thingie’ could be so damn complicated).

Most of all, I owe a big debt of thanks to our readers. Our traffic is up in the ‘hundreds of percent’ since last year, indeed last month represented the biggest in the site’s history, traffic-wise.

And so now to a few of the broken promises.

In my very first piece as editor I promised readers a revamp of the NM website: “The front end of the website is due for an overhaul. Watch this space.”

For those still watching, my apologies.

One of the challenges of small, independent media is obviously money – we’ve tinkered at the edges of NM’s front end, but as yet haven’t been able to afford a major overhaul.

And more recently, I delivered another broken promise. In April, I promised you MAYhem, where New Matilda would roll out a major investigation each Monday during the month of May. At the risk of pointing out the bleeding obvious, May has come and gone… and with no New Matilda scalps to speak of.

New Matilda’s website is still struggling – we still experience occasional outages, and our payment system remains archaic (although I hope you’ve noticed, the NM site is a lot quicker these days, the occasional bug notwithstanding).

The upshot is, we’re still undergoing ‘the transformation’ – it’s a looooong, complicated and occasionally infuriating process. Much longer than I had anticipated. But we’re getting there. If you want to help us on the journey, you can subscribe here, or just make a donation here.

One of the things that really helps us is endorsements to family and friends – that’s as simple as sharing our stories on social media.

Professionally speaking, New Matilda has been the toughest ride of my life. Every day is a new struggle. But it’s also been one of the most satisfying. While Aboriginal affairs is obviously my area of deepest interest, I’ve also really enjoyed writing on other national and international issues.

I’ve also enjoyed the reader interaction. In my first editorial a year ago, I wrote that New Matilda had a community feel behind it like I’d never seen before in media. I’m now even more familiar with that community, and even more convinced of its power and passion.

Admittedly, I’ve chased the odd reader from our comments section, and driven conspiracy theorists (and Holocaust deniers) into the metaphorical sea. But I’ve done it from a position of love (as in, I ‘love’ smashing conspiracy theories and Holocaust deniers… a man has to have a hobby).

And on that front, it’s cost us an awful lot of money – our legal bill so far this year stands at a shade under $55,000 – if you want to contribute, you can do so here. More on those battles later.

And one final pitch – if you believe in independent media and an alternative voice, then please consider subscribing to New Matilda today, if you haven’t already. We need subscriptions to survive. And if one day, as recently promised, we reach 20,000, we’ll no longer take corporate advertising, and give our ad space away free to community groups and not-for-profits.

Finally, keep watching this space… I promise MAYhem is coming, and I promise the website is getting an overhaul.

And as always, I promise the wild ride will continue.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.

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