There is a dust-up in thinking and literary Adelaide, with leading editorial contributors to the Adelaide Review severing its connections with the publication amid disputes over payment and allegations that their copyright has been breached.
Meanwhile, the Review today has been removed from the online publication service Informit, after Crikey sought comment on the apparent copyright breach.
Last week the Review’s political commentator and general columnist, Michael Jacobs, wrote what was effectively an open letter to fellow contributors, friends and contacts saying that he had declined to write for the publication.
I do not accept that the terms of a commission are variable at the unilateral discretion of the paper after the work has been done and after the copy has been submitted. Further, I regard the offer of pieces from the paper, on a pay-for-read basis, on the Informit website, without either seeking the consent of writers or offering them a share in the proceeds, as a breach of copyright.
Jacobs’ move follows the departure of another contributor, Ron Dent, late last year. Dent also wrote an email to fellow contributors saying:
“My fellow contributors
I advise that I have “withheld my labour” from the current regime at The Adelaide Review.
I like to think I wouldn’t have worked for Hitler either.”
It’s a sad turn of affairs for a publication that has held a special place in the sensibilities of the one daily newspaper town. The Adelaide Advertiser surely holds the record for the number of front-page leads written on the basis of one telephone call, or one leak of convenience from the state government.
While the Review could never have claimed to fill that gap, only a few years ago its current owner, Spanish newspaper magnate Javier Moll, had big plans for his Australian foothold. Now the sniff of decline is becoming a bit a stench.
Founded by Christopher Pearson, then a big fish in the Adelaide pond (now a medium-sized fish in the national pond), the Adelaide Review for more than 25 years has served as a focal point for thinking South Australia. It is free in the city’s cafes and runs ads for everything foody, winey and bohemian.
It has published new fiction, waspish political commentary and at one stage was so critical of the Adelaide Advertiser that the then editor of the daily, Piers Akerman, is said to have banned his reporters from reading it. Which, if true, was surely pointless. At its best, the Review has been a kind of literary Crikey by the Torrens.
There was a time when greater things were dreamt of. The Review was bought in the 1990s by Moll, who also holds investments in South Australian wineries and real estate. There were plans to launch a second daily newspaper, if the then government relaxed foreign ownership restrictions.
When those plans died, there was more big talk by Moll’s Adelaide-based man of business, Manuel Ortigosa. The street publication Rip it Up was added to the portfolio, and there was talk of a national network of Reviews and street press. The Adelaide Review moved from monthly publication to fortnightly amid the buzz.
It was in this atmosphere that Lachlan Colquhoun, son of the iconic Adelaide journalist Des Colquhoun, was hired as editor on what is now described by those in the know as an “exuberant” salary.
But that came bitterly unstuck when the big plans and big talk came to nought. The Review moved back to monthly publication, and early last year, in one of his visits to South Australia, Moll informed Colquhoun that his contract would not be renewed.
Colquhoun was replaced by Luke Stegemann, a Brisbane-born English studies academic and writer, who had worked in newspapers in Spain but was an unknown on the Australian journalistic scene.
It was from that moment that the relationship between the Review and its contributors began to come unstuck. The wordage rate was cut from the modest 50 cents a word to a paltry 40 cents.
To add insult to injury, writers who had been commissioned to write longer pieces and who had filed to the commissioned word length, had their work cut to ribbons, and were paid for the published length, rather than the commissioned length.
The last straw was when contributors found their work had been sold to the RMIT online service Informit, and was available for sale — but they had not been consulted, let alone offered a cut.
After Crikey sought comment from Informit this morning, we were informed that RMIT publishing sought assurances from publishers that they were authorised to sell the material before carrying it on Informit. I was told that as of today, The Adelaide Review would be removed from Informit until the dispute with contributors was resolved.
Dent told Crikey this morning that he had made a formal complaint to Informit. “It is not about the money.” Rather it was about the way in which contributors had been treated with low rates being imposed, followed by copy being “butchered” and copyright breached without any consultation.
The Adelaide journalistic scene is a small one. This imbroglio can be expected to create a fair bit of heat in the usual pubs and cafes. Other Review contributors are also understood to be seriously fed up at their treatment.
Crikey tried to contact Stegemann and Ortigosa this morning. Neither had returned calls asking for comment before deadline.