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Sep 13, 2011

Australian Literary Review shuts up shop

Storied News Limited literary digest The Australian Literary Review will publish its last edition next month, Crikey can reveal.

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Storied News Limited literary insert The Australian Literary Review will publish its last edition next month, Crikey can reveal.

ALR editor Luke Slattery confirmed this morning that the monthly supplement, published as part of The Australian, will close its doors in October following a July decision by the Group of Eight universities to withdraw $350,000 in annual support — the vast majority of the ALR‘s funding.

Crikey understands an ad-hoc rescue deal with several sandstone institutions was pursued to bridge the gap, but was ultimately unworkable. And News Limited, said to have contributed an additional $350,000 in costs off its own bat, was unwilling to bridge the gap given the dire advertising climate. Senior Australian editorial staff then made the ultimate call to end production.

The penultimate September edition of The Australian Literary Review

Slattery, who is expected to move to another part of The Oz when his job becomes redundant, said that “of course” he was disappointed with his baby’s axing.

“I think it was a bad decision by the Group of Eight,” he told Crikey.

The now-collapsed one-year Go8 deal was struck last October to keep the ailing masthead afloat after the University of Melbourne declined to renew a three-year funding deal worth $350,000 a year. The Australia Council’s $150,000-a-year commitment had also expired, as did a cash for column arrangement with the Pratt Foundation.

Crikey understands the university payload was overseen in some cases by bean-counting marketing flacks who complained they weren’t getting enough bang for their buck.

G08 policy director Mike Teece confirmed the decision to withdraw funding, adding that “individual universities will make their own decisions about any further funding support”. However, they appear not to have come to the party despite some initial interest from University of Melbourne Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis. Davis and Melbourne University Publishing tsar Louise Adler were crucial to the ALR’s resuscitation in 2006.

Slattery, who last year replaced Stephen Romei as editor during negotiations with the G08, said the title might continue in an online format but he was unlikely to remain personally involved.

He said he’s achieved his goals during his 12 months in the job to shift the publication’s gaze away from a concern with literary purity to something that actively engaged in public debates.

“What we were trying to do — which created some disquiet in literary circles — was to create a public intellectual journal, a journal of ideas,” he said. “We wanted to create a much broader social, political and economic publication using the full intellectual resources of the university world.

“We actually achieved our goals, as expressed to the Group of Eight when we went to them. It was starting to look like a unique product.”

Last December, Slattery published a swingeing cover piece by former NSW Labor minister Michael Costa attacking the Greens which apparently rankled with some universities. However, the unpopular spray was not central to the final decision to cut ties with News during the Go8’s July board meeting.

Literary doyen and regular ALR contributor Peter Craven (who penned an extensive take on Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending in this month’s edition) mourned the title’s passing this morning.

“Obviously it will be a great loss,” he told Crikey. “It was a fine thing that News Limited with their backing from the universities could produce a highbrow monthly that addressed itself to literary and intellectual matters and it will be a matter of some sadness to the Australian literary and intellectual world that it’s no longer there.”

The ALR first rolled off the presses in September 2006 under the editorship of Stephen Matchett. Romei took over in 2007 as the joint venture between News, the University of Melbourne and the Australia Council gathered momentum.

Slattery’s ascension followed a successful stint as The Australian‘s higher education editor. He formerly helmed The Australian’s Review of Books — the ALR‘s precursor publication until it too folded in 2001.

His final ALR will hit the streets on October 5.

Andrew Crook —

Andrew Crook

Former Crikey Senior Journalist

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16 comments

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16 thoughts on “Australian Literary Review shuts up shop

  1. Nici

    I was a bit harsh. It was often but not always dull and worthy. And despite this, the Australian used to sell out at my local newsagent on the Wednesdays when the ALR was inserted.

  2. Holden Back

    Nobody has mentioned The Conversation yet, which is now a conduit for ‘popular’ writing by academics from a larger range of disciplines, so actually engaging with ideas from biology, ecology, physics and even- gasp- climate science.

    @ Siiofan- If you want a more detailed analysis of Murdochs’ baleful influence in the UK, the LRB, and in particular John Lanchester’s writing avoids the chanting is highly informed, and generally amusing .

  3. AR

    It would have helped had the damned thing actually been inserted in all copies. It has been missing from copies purchased in Marrickville, the far west of NSW and the Blue Mountains, as if readers in those areas were lesser beings, not worthy.

  4. Stiofan

    @Gavin Moody
    That’s what my comment about the aegis of the Go8 was hinting at.

    Most of the rest of the comments on here seem to fall into two camps:

    * Murdoch is the Great Satan; or

    * the ALR was dull and worthy.

    Strangely, there are not six degrees of Kevin Bacon between the two. Repeated chanting of “Murdoch is the Great Satan” too often passes for intellectual activity in this country. As a result, there are few public intellectuals who can produce coherent and engaging essays (hence the “dull and worthy” ALR).

  5. Nici

    Journal of ideas? My arse. It was always dull and worthy and it just got belligerent with Slattery in charge. And this is the second time it’s died under his watch.

  6. Michael O'Donoghue

    The Australian Book Review and the Times Literary Supplement are worth the subscription expense. If the Australian and News are fair dinkum about literature they would not be dependent on subsidies from other sources.

  7. Stephen

    Nooo! Omigod, not the demise of this ultimate navel-gazing exercise of 3.5 interleckshuls talking among themselfs in wanky articles of 1000s of words. ALR was always better paid than writing for the review pages of the Oz papers, which in my long experience rarely pays more than 10c a word, but it wasn’t better copy.

  8. Margaret Kerr

    “What we were trying to do — which created some disquiet in literary circles — was to create a public intellectual journal, a journal of ideas,”

    “A journal of ideas” – published by The Australian? Doomed from the start to be anything but an extension of their neo-con propaganda arm.

  9. greg adler

    The ALR suffered from becoming too close to the politico-cultural war waged elsewhere in The Australian – prime example-Michael Costa of all people- the man who travelled from Trotskyist to union apparatchik to being a key member of the catastrophic NSW Labor Gobvernment to part of the rabid right wing commentariat- being given the “literary” task of canning the Greens.

    It is a shame to see a literary outlet go but the niche of reactionary culture warrior has already been
    filled by Quadrant.

  10. Gavin Moodie

    My previous comment is still in moderation over 2 hours after posting. Sigh.

    Stiofan: I think part of the problem is that Slattery felt constrained to commission writers from the Go8 which were supporting the mag. Altho I don’t read it much, Griffith review seems to find good writers for its admittedly different brief.

  11. Stiofan

    A mercy killing. Under the aegis of the Go8, the ALR had become dull as ditchwater, and some of the writing was just not up to par. A large part of the problem is probably that Australia doesn’t have a very deep pool of writing talent or even of people blessed with good communication skills (although Slattery himself is a major exception).

  12. Gavin Moodie

    @ Holden Back

    I agree. I haven’t been a close reader of all 3 publications but I haven’t understood how the Australian Literary Review has been much different from the London and New York reviews of books aside from being thinner.

    I think the Australian Literary Review was published each month on a Wednesday – I got it only cos the Australian’s higher education supplement published on Wednesdays is required reading for higher education policy analysts.

    The obvious alternative publisher is Andor Schwartz who publishes the Quarterly Essay and is the proprietor of Black Inc. However, in its current form it might be too self referential for him.

  13. John Newton

    Sad, but one of the reasons I hardly ever saw it was because it was in that pernicious organ The Australian Monday to Friday. Would there be a way of stand alone publishing the ALR – with the universities and others chipping in – a la New York Review of books TLS et cetera? How about it publishers?

    Even moving it to the less malodorous Weekend Australian (you don’t have to turn to the toad Pearson) might have saved it’s arse.

  14. anthony tan

    At laast The Australian gets off the public teat.

  15. Holden Back

    One of the ALR’s many problems, Gavin Moodie, was those two publications’ ready availability, and relative quality of writing.

  16. Gavin Moodie

    I will be sad to see it end. However, it always seemed of marginal financial viability. So now we are left with the London and New York reviews of books.

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