I’ve been subscribing to Crikey (or crikey.com.au to give it its proper name) now for four years or so and while they have a mixed record, I enjoy their daily digest of news served up in my favourite online tool: email. I keep hearing that Gen Ys and beyond can’t tolerate email but as an asynchronous long or short form communication mechanism, it remains the best of its class, even if it has been in widespread use now for almost 20 years. It hardly makes Crikey “new media” but it certainly still keeps them independent and mildly profitable, unlike New Matilda which fell in a hole between subscription and freedom.
In their email, Crikey deliver 20 or so stories in a package every lunchtime. I’m usually busy around that time and will often skim through most of the stories. But I will always take the time to read some of the articles. I like Bernard Keane’s post-public servant acerbic take on politics (even if he wears his Labor voting on his sleeve). I also like Guy Rundle’s manic mutterings and of course there is the incomparable First Dog on the Moon, Andrew Marlton. Marlton is quickly establishing himself as the cult Australian cartoonist of his generation borrowing liberally from other great cartoonists such as Michael Leunig and Jon Kudelka allied to his own native off the wall wit. His arrogant, foul mouthed version of Jasper, Kevin Rudd’s Cat (who seems more suited to being Paul Keating’s pet rather than Rudd’s) is well on the way to becoming one of the all-time great Australian fictional characters.
I also like Crikey’s well informed media coverage with Margaret Simons and the occasional tech rant from Stilgherrian, both usually well worth the read. It has also collected a varied and lively collection of blogs under its banner. Oddly enough, the one thing I I don’t care too much for is Crikey’s rumour and gossip. This is the section for which it initially became famous, and how it is still described by bigger media when they want to pour scorn on the publication.
Its skirting along the edge of defamation cost Crikey’s original owner Stephen Mayne his publication but perhaps that was a good thing for the Australian media sphere. It meant that more savvy people like Eric Beecher came in to take it over. Beecher has the same impassioned belief in the power of a free press that Mayne had. But he also has business smarts. His appointment of Amanda Gome as Private Media CEO shows the publication is heading in a new and more serious business direction. Gome has a journalism background but she is also a publisher and a professor of business at Melbourne’s RMIT.
That new direction may have interesting ramifications for Crikey staff. Jason Whittaker took on the role of Crikey’s new deputy editor after Sophie Black was promoted to editor when Jonathan Green left to take over the ABC’s The Drum. Whittaker is on the public record (prior to his Crikey days, admittedly) as a passionate defender of the traditional separation of advertising and journalism – the “church and state” of media.
However if their most recent advertising campaign is anything to go by, I fancy Gome and Beecher are no longer so sure such a strategy is effective. And indeed neither am I. In no other industry would such a refusal of two key branches to work together be tolerated – even if there is a great possibility of conflict of interest. Crikey, like most media, is a business and it must perform like a business. Yes, it has a democratic function. But that, as New Matilda have just found out, is just a sidebar. The main game, as ever, is making enough money to survive. And that requires everyone in the organisation working to the same objective. The fun part will be watching how Crikey evolves to meet that objective. I look forward to following the journey for the next two years.