If you asked me  in 2000 whose crikey would have greater longevity, I would have bet my house on Steve Irwin over Steve Mayne.

Thankfully, Stephen is the only person who’s actually bet a house — or two — on Crikey.

In 2002, I demonstrated my confidence in the Crikey project by publishing an obituary of Stephen Mayne in The Chaser newspaper (1999–2005, R.I.P).

Independent publishing in Australia has a long history of short histories[1]. Noble and/or worthy and/or stupid projects are created on the venture capital of hope and enthusiasm, only to peter out for lack of audience and/or money, or because their creators find a new vanity project.

In that context, the only thing that prevents me from celebrating the decade-long survival and success of Crikey is envy. When you’ve worked in independent publishing, it’s impossible to look at Crikey’s buoyant subscription numbers and advertising income without being jealous (or assuming the figures are completely inflated, in accordance with industry practice).

But Crikey’s infuriating persistence is instructive in several ways.

The significance of establishing an internet pay model that is viable or better has already been noted by Mark Scott, on tax-payer dime.

Crikey also proves the fundamental importance of a lively and independent editorial culture. From day one, Crikey’s content has been compelling in the widest, most amoral, sense of that word. The credit for this must go to Stephen Mayne, one of Australia’s leading exponents of ratbag chic.  For all his erratic zeal, Stephen has stamped the publication with an enduring spirit of irrelevant — if slightly gossipy — scepticism.

(Correction: “irreverent scepticism”. Fairfax executives take note: in-house subediting has its value.)

At the risk of heresy, this is arguably more important even than accuracy. Many have moaned that Crikey, especially in the early years, was unreliable, a publication based on the sort of groundless scuttlebutt and false intelligence that might justify a war, but not an email. Often they’ve been right, with costs.

But for all the corrections, clarifications and c-ck-ups, what shines through is something you might call an authentic voice, which stands in dynamic contrast to the often blandly formulaic and stultifying fare of mainstream newspapers. Crikey is the Barnaby Joyce of Australian journalism, now aiming — under Eric Beecher — to be its Tony Abbott.

(Thankfully, no one aspires to be the Kevin Rudd of Australian journalism).

While its first proprietor set the tone, under its second Crikey has grown up, without losing the original spirit. Eric reminds me of a legendary proprietor: not of a newspaper, but of the shaver company Remington. For Crikey journalism, he’s been a sort of anti-Victor Kiam: “I disliked it so much, I bought the company.”

There’s a lot of unhelpful nostalgia in media circles about benevolent proprietors. It’s better, and more important, to recognise Eric Beecher’s contribution to Crikey as that of a principled and committed entrepreneur. The Australian media needs more people who, rather than dwelling on the tension between commerce and quality content, see synthesising the two as a business opportunity.

One result of “all of the above” is another distinctive feature of Crikey. People seem to love writing for it. You can tell, not least because they bang on so much … what Crikey reader hasn’t looked at the scroll bar in exasperation, only to find that they’re not even half way through the damn thing yet? To gauge what an achievement this is, compare it to the generally dispirited, embittered workplace vibe of “real” newspapers, factoring in — of course — the genetic predisposition of journalists to bitchiness.

Finally, it might also be worth reminding the copyright crusaders in the music and screen industries just how beneficial IP piracy can be as a promotional and marketing tool.  Or am I the only one who’s ever been forwarded (or auto-forwarded) an edition of Crikey on the sly? As well as being inevitable, a porous pay wall has its advantages.

Indeed, if Crikey keeps going the way it is for another 10 years, I might even pay for a subscription one day.

Happy birthday,

Julian Morrow

[1] Plagiarism alert: this line appeared in the editorial by Charles Firth in the first edition of The Chaser newspaper. But to my self-serving recollection, it was my line. So back off Media Watch.