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May 27, 2010

New media death watch: New Matilda to fold

Australian online comment website New Matilda is preparing shut its virtual doors, after funding for the venture dried up.

Andrew Crook — Former <em>Crikey</em> Senior Journalist

Andrew Crook

Former Crikey Senior Journalist

Australian commentary forum New Matilda will shut its virtual doors next month, after funding and advertising revenue for the venture dried up.

Several contributors were told the news yesterday that their services were no longer required. The site will cease publishing new articles on June 25.

In an editorial posted on New Matilda after Crikey broke the news this morning, editor Marni Cordell wrote the financial problems that had beset the venture since its inception in 2004 had become too much to bear:

“We’ve now come to realise we were being too optimistic and that we’re unable to continue publishing into the next financial year. This is in large part due to the sheer difficulty of selling online advertising in the current media environment.

“…as the site has increased in popularity, so have our running costs — and with them the knowledge that we are unable to subsidise the project indefinitely. The big media players are struggling to find a workable online business model that allows them to pay their writers and maintain high standards — and so are we. Since we already run a very lean operation, cutting costs is not an option and we are taking the only path available to us at this time. “

Former Gough Whitlam private secretary John Menadue set up New Matilda in 2004 to counter what he called an institutional failure in the contemporary media.

In February 2007 the site was sold to mysterious Gold Coast businessman Duncan Turpie for $10, after its original shareholders had ploughed in $315,000. Turpie was an initial New Matilda board member who made his money in mathematics.

After beginning with a subscription business model, the site moved to an advertising-funded site soon after Turpie took over that provided all content free to readers. But that approach failed to generate enough revenue to keep the business afloat.

New Matilda‘s resident satirist Ben Pobjie was devastated when told the news this morning.

“It’s just really sad,” he told Crikey. “Basically New Matilda gave me my start as a professional writer; no one would know my name if it wasn’t for New Matilda.

“It’s just sad that another alternative outlet is closing. The landscape is going to be that little bit smaller.”

National affairs editor Ben Eltham, who is travelling to Sydney today to discuss the upheaval “over a few beers”, was more sanguine: “It’s sad, but I’m not shocked because these things happen.

“Still, it’s very disappointing because we were doing some really good stuff. I think the website was maturing and it was starting to establish itself as the mainstream media started to hollow out. The publication was starting to stand out as an actual site that was providing quality analysis and fresh angles and fulfilling an important niche in the media-scape.”

Eltham said the New Matilda brand was valuable and that another white knight may emerge to save it. “I believe the site could have been viable, particularly with the ongoing shift of media to the internet,” he said.

The respected former AAP correspondent said he would focus on completing his PhD and raising a family.

“I’d like to pay tribute to my colleagues who have done a wonderful job on a shoestring budget,” he said.

Cordell — now out of a job —  told Crikey the momentum to close the site was “building over a period of months”.

“I’m really disappointed that it’s come to this,” she said, but hinted the website could still be saved. “It’s almost breaking even, and I’d be open to it being bought by someone else.”

Head of the Sydney-based Centre for Policy Development Miriam Lyons, whose work grew out of New Matilda before the connection was severed, said the news was sad but not entirely unexpected.

“Australia has a long tradition of excellent independent publications falling over, and it would have been difficult to pay the staff even a quarter of what they’re worth,” she said.

Since its inception New Matilda has mostly published left-wing opinion and commentary, with contributors paid between $100 and $200 an article. It was believed to be operating on the smell of an oily rag, with insiders telling Crikey its operation had become a month-to-month proposition.

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52 comments

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52 thoughts on “New media death watch: New Matilda to fold

  1. David Sanderson

    This is a pity but not a surprise as it was apparent that its readership was far less than hoped.

    It was not intellectually rigorous enough and too inclined to pander to the prejudices of its left-wing readership. For example, they ran big with the ‘story’ that Sarah Palin was the true mother of Bristol Palin’s child. This story was always transparently nonsensical and unfair but when I heavily, and in detail, criticised their promotion of this story they refused to admit any fault in the way they revelled in this muck.

    So, in their own way, they were as prepared to go into the gutter in a similar manner to their political enemies such as Bolt or Akerman and that contributed to them lacking the credibility and heft they needed to become a sizable voice in the Australian political and cultural scene.

  2. NickE

    The advent of the National Times and the Punch probably wouldn’t have helped. I always kind’ve wondered how they operated, as advertising on the site was never prominent or numerous.

  3. JaneShaw

    NM may not have been perfect (and please, point me towards a media outlet that is) but that is no reason to be sanctimonious about its demise.

    Every time something that provides thought provoking commentary and forum for sensible discussion dies, our intellectual world gets a bit smaller. Have a look at any commercial “news” outlet and you’ll know why this is NOT a good thing.

    Vale NM, you will be missed.

  4. David Sanderson

    Just a correction to my previous comment – the ‘story’ was that Bristol was the mother of Sarah Palin’s child Trig. I never was much good at memorising idiotic gossip.

  5. Peter Phelps

    Air Aimerica dies and and yet Fox News continues to go from strength to strength…

    There’s a lesson to be learned about the vialbility of latte Left media, Mr Beecher?

  6. paddy

    What bloody sad news. 🙁

  7. David Sanderson

    If you’d like to see for yourself what was wrong with NewMatilda’s editorial standards the read the argument between readers and editors after this article:

    http://newmatilda.com/2008/09/01/grandma-washington

  8. Miriam Lyons

    I think what I said was that it *was* unexpected, but not shocking given Australia’s small domestic market for independent media. It would have been hard to raise enough from advertising alone to pay New Matilda staff and contributors even a quarter of what they’re worth, and it’s to Duncan Turpie’s credit that he subsidised the publication for as long as he did. Australia needs a couple more Morrie Schwartz-style philanthropists! I hope that projects like the Foundation for Public Interest Journalism can help fill the NewMatilda-shaped hole in the Oz media landscape.

  9. Keith is not my real name

    OMG! we knew this firstist!and and like OMG! we like told …everybody about this beforist even they did! and and … I mean OMG Crikey!

    Grow the f-ck up

  10. Miriam Lyons

    …and for it to be ‘almost breaking even’ is a triumph – I didn’t know they’d got to that point. New Matilda has been playing an important role and clearly has a lot of support amongst its readers – there are people putting their hands up to help keep it going already: http://www.rlemay.com.au/2010/05/27/an-open-email-to-newmatilda/ (also see the discussion on twitter and in the comments thread at http://newmatilda.com/2010/05/27/new-matilda-fold

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