In August, New Matilda will enter its 13th year on the Australian independent media landscape. Factoring in the mighty Crikey, that makes us the second longest surviving independent media outlet in the country, a fact of which we’re enormously proud (and grateful… for the folk before us like Marni Cordell, John Menadue and others).
This very long ‘sales pitch’ aims to explain how and why we’ll struggle on for another 13 at least, and what you might be able to do to help along the way.
But first things, first: our latest Pozible campaign is here. It’s heading into its final hours, and has two simple goals this month: 1. To raise enough to pay four of our key contributors – Ben Eltham, Amy McQuire, Michael Brull and Liam McLoughlin. 2. To pay off the final instalment of a substantial legal bill.
Our legal bills for 2015-16 were $55,000. Which, to put in context, is quite a bit more than any single person at New Matilda earned in wages for the year. I’ll get to that.
We managed to cover most of that legal bill on the revenue we bring in each month. Which we’re admittedly pretty chuffed about. It feels a bit like a teenager buying their first car… with a little help from mum and dad!
But we’re still $12,000 short. And I might add, that was just the legal help we had to pay for (at a heavily discounted rate no less!). On top of that, we’ve had substantial pro bono contributions over the last few years from legal firms like Banki Haddock Fiora, Sandy Dawson and O’Brien Solicitors.
Looking back, I wonder how we managed to survive the legal maze. It’s a system set up to bludgeon media like New Matilda. And it’s usually pretty effective. So apart from paying most of our bills, we’re pretty proud of the fact that we win our cases as well.
Our financial survival is due in no small part to the very shrewd managing of our books by the amazing Angela Nicholson. But it’s also due to the substantial generosity of people like Geoff Holland, our long-suffering, long serving in-house pro bono lawyer.
The fact is, independent media in Australia is a very tough gig. As ABC TV’s Media Watch recently pointed out, digital media faces a ‘perfect storm’ at the moment, and many of the bigger players simply won’t survive.
I have a few personal theories on why… chief among them is that media have well and truly earned the level of distrust that pervades our society.
But here’s why New Matilda will survive, and has done so for almost 13 years now.
Firstly, we don’t buy into the mainstream media horsepoop. We don’t chase cheap headlines, we don’t exist to drive division (our of our missions is to eradicate it), and we’re not particularly interested in the 24-hour news cycle. We like to ‘go our own way’, and focus on issues we think are important. Even though we know sometimes those issues will be otherwise ignored.
We report honestly (many, admittedly, would disagree) and if we stuff up, we admit it. We have old media values, underpinned by ethics. Not everyone agrees with those ethics, but even our critics would concede (I think) that we spend a lot of time thinking about our moral base, and constantly reviewing it.
Secondly, and most importantly, we operate on the sniff of an oily rag, and we always have done. If you’ve never really had money, then you don’t really miss it when it dries up. Our costs to operate New Matilda every month are ridiculously small compared to other media outlets – apart from our core staff wages (three dedicated folk), our next biggest bill (not counting bloody law suits) is our rent, which is just over $400 a week. Like I said… sniff of an oily rag.
When we moved into the office space in Redfern two years ago, almost all of our furniture was donated. One reader living nearby dropped off several loads of stationery, including Australia Post bags to help get our DVDs out to readers.
And then there’s the efforts of our writers and contributors, the overwhelming majority of whom don’t get paid a dime for their work. They donate their time and their skills because they believe in what they do, they believe in what we do, and they’re passionate about both.
As the editor and owner of New Matilda, I don’t get paid. I recently moved to Brisbane to do six months contract work for the National Indigenous Radio Service after my savings ran out. Each morning, I start work at 4:30am, and then I do New Matilda in my ‘spare time’ in the evenings, hence the lateness of this email. And while that sounds ridiculous… I happen to love what I do, and feel privileged to be able to do it. If not occasionally a little tired.
Our contributing editor, Wendy Bacon, doesn’t get paid either, and never has, after years of loyal service. So too Geoff Holland. And of those few core staff and contributors who do get paid… the rates are bloody lousy. Thom, Max and Ange basically work partly for cash, partly for (virtual) cuddles. And Ben, Amy, Michael and Liam accept an absolute pittance for their regular contributions, as do our cartoonists Lindsay, Fiona and Costa.
Then there’s all the columnists who earn precisely zip for what they do. We all do what we do, because we believe in it, and we love it. And we hope you do too.
But we can’t do it without some financial help.
And so that’s where you come in, dear reader.
The backers of New Matilda are always the same folk – the regular donors and financial contributors who stump up cash every month, because they understand the alternative… no independent media, in a sea of toxic mainstream media.
We’re hoping to expand that base, and the good news is that’s slowly happening – New Matilda is steadily gaining more and more readers, and more and more subscribers. Where other big media are failing, we’re growing… albeit bloody slowly. But we’re not going backwards… no mean feat, in our view.
One other way you can help us is share our stories with family, friends and your social media networks. This is particularly important. The more people reading New Matilda, the more chance we have to raise revenue, and to get important stories in front of a disengaged, distrusting nation.
To continue doing what we do, we need immediate help on this Pozible campaign, and we need more subscribers. So if you’re one of the good folk whose followed New Matilda’s work for some time, but never quite found the time to subscribe, I urge you to consider doing that today. Based on two years of experience, that’ll be about 20 or so folk responding to this email… so we’ll ask again next month. And the month after that. And the month after that.
It costs as little as $6 per month to support us. That’s a pretty small investment in what I like to think is a pretty big deal. And apart from occasional legal bills, tax and rent, virtually every cent we earn goes to supporting writers who bring you stories and analysis that other media won’t touch.
As always, thanks to the regular heavy lifters who, month in month out, keep New Matilda alive. As a tiny independent media outlet with a big reputation, you’re the reason we’re able to punch above our weight.
Chris Graham, Editor
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