It’s been the talk of the media for the past 18 months: what is the secretive “Project X” that Morry Schwartz, publisher of The Monthly and Quarterly Essay, has been cooking up in his Collingwood headquarters?
At a time when other publishers are abandoning print, Crikey can reveal the property developer is preparing to bankroll a new weekly newspaper — a weekend publication that will be tabloid in size but not in tone. The title for the soon-to-be announced publication is top secret, but multiple sources told Crikey that The Saturday Paper was a recent working title. The Schwartz vehicle, said to be a modern-day successor to the legendary National Times, is expected to focus on in-depth features, analysis, investigations and arts and culture.
This paper will be available on news stands in Sydney and Melbourne, meaning it will go head-to-head with Fairfax’s prized former cash cows The Saturday Age and Sydney Morning Herald. Canberra would be another likely market for the up-market title.
Erik Jensen, a former journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald, has spearheaded the project and is expected to be foundation editor. A former Walkley Young Journalist winner aged in his mid 20s, Jensen left his job at the SMH and relocated to Melbourne to become Schwartz Media’s director of special projects. Crikey understands mock-up editions are circulating and potential contributors are being sounded out about story ideas.
“They’re approaching writers and advertisers left and right,” a source familiar with the project said. “There are a lot of writers on the loose with other jobs that aren’t taking up all their time.”
The newspaper is expected to have a small full-time staff, with most copy filed by freelancers. The writing community is said to be salivating at the prospect of a Schwartz-backed newspaper given his commitment to paying writers fairly. The Monthly pays a flat rate of $1 a word, an amount few others can match. The Monthly, launched in 2005 as an Australian answer to the New Yorker and The Atlantic, has been a loss-maker through most of its life, but editor John van Tiggelen recently said the magazine is “as close as it’s ever been” to a continued profit.
The National Times was launched in 1971 and became renowned for its fearless investigative journalism under editors including Max Suich, David Marr and Brian Toohey. The paper closed in 1987 after the sharemarket crash and Warwick Fairfax’s failed takeover.
Jensen and Schwartz did not respond to requests for comment this morning.