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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.

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