Just a late arvo quickie on Crikey publisher Eric Beecher’s red hot go at The Drum, which the Australian featured prominently in its media section today.
Key paragraph from Lara Sinclair’s story:
“As a huge supporter of the ABC, I have been somewhat shocked at (the ABC’s) decision to create a website (The Drum) that sits so blatantly in the territory of sites like Crikey and The Punch,” Mr Beecher said.
“Operating in the commercial space, we expect vigorous competition from other commercial publishers. But to see the ABC tanks roll up on our lawn was bewildering.”
There’s contradiction from the first sentence of that paragraph. Margaret Simons’s piece in Crikey (an outlet which is nothing if not robust, clearly) makes the point that the same could be (and has been) said by operators of commercial radio and television outlets. Also odd to hear Beecher have a go at the Drum on the basis of a preponderance of left-wing opinion when voices like Guy Rundle’s are so prominent in his own publication. It seems a little gratuitous frankly, and one wonders whether it’s simply an offering to Green’s critics, who are obsessed with the alleged “left-wing bias” of The Drum.
Margaret’s suggestion about what’s behind all this are interesting. She says it’s not so much competition for readers as the pool of publishable writers that’s worrying Beecher:
So far as audiences are concerned, there has been no discernible impact from The Drum. Crikey’s subscriptions and website traffic have continued to increase. But what has caused gnashing of teeth in the Crikey bunker is the poaching of writers. Since Green switched camps, he has aggressively recruited writers who previously filed for Crikey.*
That’s true as far as it goes, although Crikey has kept many of its unique voices, not least Margaret herself. The point that the Drum can afford to pay more than Crikey is well made, but again, neither of them really could be relied on as a major source of income.** I don’t live off freelancing, but I do wonder whether the thing that may attract some writers the Drum’s way is not so much the money, but the luxury of a bit more space in which to make your points, and the suspicion that there may be a larger audience, and greater exposure…*** Hard to see how Crikey could address either of those without a change in format that would sacrifice its unique selling points, and indeed perhaps its business model. But then, I don’t think they’re short of good, saleable content.
Those of us outside the milieu can’t know if there is any lingering interpersonal rancour contributing to this, so let’s just assume that this isn’t a factor. For the rest of this post, then, I’ll just speak as a reader.
From that perspective, these sites aren’t competing for my attention – they’re complimentary parts of my information diet. Crikey is a much more focussed read. I subscribe to the email for their suite of authoritative regular writers. I’d say I read most items in the email each day, and on Crikey Blogs I’m a regular reader of at least half a dozen bloggers who have a consistent subject matter and authorial voice.
The Drum has ABC journos, who now and again produce some interesting stuff outside conventional op-ed that’s worthwhile. Presumably, Beecher isn;t thinking about them as potential Crikey contributors anyway.
But I’m actually more likely to tune into Unleashed, which is a very different experience to Crikey. It’s a grab bag, but it also feels more open than Crikey does to a very wide range of contributors. I’ve always understood it as a bit of a soapbox, and unlike Kim over at LP, I’m pretty happy for it to fulfil that function. (I suspect that lots of working journos within the ABC are also happy that their function isn’t being outsourced to freelancers outside the organisation, and we should never underestimate the power of those intraorganisational tensions).
Anyway, I don’t think that expanding political voice by offering a platform for a broad range of opinion is a bad space for the national broadcaster to be in. It may sound like they’re spending a bit of cash, but how do their contributor fees square up with, say, an hour of television drama? As important as the arguments made over at Unleashed is the practice people are getting in making themselves heard in a very public arena. Some might argue that anyone can do this on a blog, but no one starting a personal blog now will likely ever be able to make their opinions as widely heard as, say, Kim and the other LP authors can, due to their advantages as early movers in the space. Unleashed gives an opportunity to put their positions before the kind of audience that the national broadcaster can pull.
Anyway, for this reader at least, the ABC doesn’t have its tanks on Beecher’s lawn in any simple way. To me they seem to be different sites doing different things. It’s even possible that they help each other by contributing to the sense that online is where you should go for agenda-setting information.
* Parenthetically – Margaret doesn’t here canvas the possibility that Beecher might be making less ad money from Crikey despite the increased traffic and subscriber base. Given what I’ve heard about the online ad market, this is at least an outside possibility, and may be adding to frustrations.
** Disclosure: Though I’ve written for the Drum, I personally have never asked for or been given payment for my publications there. Nor have I asked for or been given payment for my very occasional contributions to Crikey. There’s a debate to be had about the responsibility of academics to make public contributions that I don’t have space for here.
*** For what it’s worth, I ended up as a semi-regular at the Drum mostly because of direct contact and encouragement from Green to file things. When Crikey have asked me to do things, I have done – it’s just that he’s been in touch more regularly.