much of a market is there for “heavy” social and political journalism
and commentary once it is separated from the media behemoths and reader
habits that have supported it? Recent figures suggest the market is
large enough to sustain a worthwhile journalistic effort.

One of Australia’s oldest internet-based journals, Online Opinion, is boasting a record month, with 431,867 visits and 1,053,005 page views. Online Opinion
has been going since 1999. In a report sent to sponsors, yesterday
editor Graham Young said that “while we don’t make the same noise as
Crikey, when it comes to site stats we are just as large”.

Meanwhile the internet-based magazine New Matilda– less than two years old –is
claiming 4,216 paid subscribers and rising. Crikey, which operates
primarily as a
daily email but also has a free website with limited content, has more
than 9,000
paid subscribers and about another 26,000
“squatters” who receive an abridged version. In February 2006, Crikey’s
website clocked 848,836 visits and 1,576,606 page views.

Reader research (here,here and here)
suggests that there is a fair bit of crossover in the readership.
Perhaps all these readers are the same people, assiduously surfing
between sites. But even allowing for crossover, the figures suggest
that serious internet-based journals are beginning to build significant
numbers of influential and high-income readers.

Hold the
celebrations for now. Most internet journals either don’t pay their
contributors, or pay below industry rates. Most either don’t make a
profit, or don’t aim to do so. Online Opinion is supported, as
Young has put it, by “civil society”. Sponsors include a number of
universities – but he is now looking for commercial sponsors as well. New Matilda has some way to go before it breaks even.

is the exception. Publisher Diana Gribble says the business “has
underlying profitability” but money is still being invested. “If we
stopped doing that we’d have a profitable small business, and even with
investment I expect us to make a profit next year.”

news – finding things out – is expensive work. So far there is no
Australian based internet publication doing consistent daily
ground-breaking reportage. All the internet-based publications are
dependent on the broadsheet newspapers, linking to them and bouncing
off them with comment and opinion, and adding occasional nuggets of new

Nevertheless with internet advertising booming and
readership figures growing it’s easy to believe that these sites will
soon come of age.

Declaration: Margaret Simons receives a retainer from Crikey.