A good start for the Global Mail

I’m sure many of us were looking forward to the first edition of the Global Mail this week.

Non-profit online journalism start-up The Global Mail launched today with the aim of providing free, non-partisan coverage of local and international current affairs to a broad audience.

Headed up by Gold Walkley Award-winning journalist Monica Attard as managing editor and former Time Inc. editor Jane Nicholls as CEO, the site will offer features, news analysis and investigations on issues of public interest.

[B&T magazine Monday 6 Feb 2012]

According to start-up editor Monica Attard, the brief is exciting, but tough;

I had long viewed, with a degree of envy, the ProPublica model in the US and wanted to build a site here that carried only public interest journalism — no ads, no subscription, no celebrity stories, no spin, funded philanthropically. So the model was inspired by ProPublica.org, even though we won’t and can’t do investigations alone.

[10 Questions for Monica Attard, The Australian]

I hope this venture into the locally un-proven philanthropic business model of public interest journalism is highly successful.

It deserves to be successful; not least of all because of the hard-work that goes into building something brand-new in as yet unknown territory. I worked with Monica Attard at the ABC and have long admired her work. If the team can hit the ground running this week and next, it could become a must-read site.

It is pioneering in the Australian news market. Perhaps the only previous bench-mark was Margo Kingston’s Web Diary.

The long-term question is really: Can something like the Global Mail sustain itself?

Simply put: How will the reporters, editors, producers, assistants and suppliers be paid?

This is something we all have to turn our minds to at some point.

One way to survive is to become indepsensible and so popular that the concept proves itself worthy of support. But then what do you do?

A sum of capital – as well invested as it can be in these uncertain times – will provide a modest on-going income stream. As long as the balance is maintained slightly in favour of the interest dividend you can continue this way till capitalism freezes over.

It’s anyone’s guess how long that might be given global warming.

I don’t know what the business plan is at the Global Mail, but whatever the idea is, I hope it’s a good one.

The highlights for me on a quick read through over lunch today was a theme of bashing the mainstream media. The writers didn’t do it themselves, but the tone of some chosen quotes gives an indication.

In a Stephen Crittenden story about a blogging theatre reviewer with provocative tendencies, I found this:

One former theatre reviewer for Fairfax and News Limited, who asked not to be named for contractual reasons, told The Global Mail: “The pressure is on reviewers to be polite. We now have a situation where newspapers need arts companies maybe slightly more than the arts companies need them. Editors are far less likely to run a bad review for fear of a breakdown in the relationship in the fight for advertising dollars. They won’t say this publicly, but reviewers ‘disappear’ because they’re too harsh.”

[Now everyone really is a critic]

Oh dear, we can’t even trust theatre reviews in the paper anymore.But what’s this? Public interest journalism and already we have sources being hidden from the reader. Not necessarily a cardinal sin, but interesting.

My favourite was this grab from Richard Ackland in Mike Seccombe’s piece about why we don’t understand the Occupy movement in Australia:

“I haven’t read anything comprehensive or interesting in Australia. You’d think there would be some sort of analysis, some sort of long-form journalism, that looked at these things [equality issues]. But no.”

[Rising with a bullet]

There has been coverage of the Occupy movement in the MSM. but Ackland is right about one thing. It hasn’t been very good.

Seccombe’s piece looks at the statistics about who makes up the ‘one percent’ in Australia, or where, more accurately the dividing lines are drawn. Useful ammunition.

Bernard Lagan’s piece on Gillard’s leadership issues was also a good read. He even wryly acknowledges at the conclusion that it is journalists like him who have previously let the public down in terms of political coverage.

On Friday, Feb. 3, [Gillard] lamented that Bob Hawke had gained more media coverage for downing a beer at the Sydney Cricket Ground during the Australia versus India test than she gained for announcing a $95 million boost to cricket’s infrastructure.

She’s right, of course. And it does people like me no credit at all.

[Prime Minister on hold]

It will be interesting to see how this new and potentially game-changing online start-up works out.

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