Thoughts on renewing my Crikey nominations

I’ve just paid $240 to renew my Crikey subscription for another two years. My current one doesn’t expire till early 2011 sometime but I fell victim to their current end of financial year marketing campaign which saw the wonderful First Dog on the Moon spruik for business. With New Matilda going bust this week there is a nasty breeze from the hole in the Australian independent media space and it was time to insulate against it.

I’ve been subscribing to Crikey (or crikey.com.au to give it its proper name) 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. Gen Ys supposedly can’t tolerate email but as an asynchronous long or short form communication mechanism, it remains the best of its class after 20 years. It hardly makes Crikey “new media” but it keeps them independent and mildly profitable, unlike New Matilda which fell in a hole between subscription and freedom. Crikey deliver 20 or so stories in an email 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 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 establishing himself as the cult Australian cartoonist of his generation borrowing liberally from Michael Leunig 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 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. It has also collected a lively collection of blogs under its banner. Oddly enough, the one thing 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. 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 direction may have interesting ramifications for Crikey staff. Jason Whittaker took on the role of Crikey’s 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) 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. In no other industry would 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 as a business. It has a democratic function, but that, as New Matilda have found out, is a sidebar. The main game is making money to survive. That requires everyone 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.

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