In the age of transparency there are few places to hide your identity other than the comments section of your preferred website or by faking your RSVP.com profile. But Morry Schwartz, the property developer and publisher of The Monthly, is turning back the clock, and it’s not just because his new publication The Saturday Paper will be a printed product sold through newsagents.
The new paper scheduled to launch in early 2014 and to be distributed in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra (and also available in digital form) is devoted to long- form journalism and will include a hefty books section as well as reviews of film, stage, television, architecture and the visual arts.
But the editor of The Saturday Paper, Erik Jensen, has revealed that the names of his book reviewers — and only his book reviewers — will not be revealed. He says pseudonymous initials will “liberate” them from the “timidity” he says afflict his broadsheet competitors The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian.
“The idea comes from discussions with staff and those whose opinions I respect about trying to do things differently to what others have done, and I think there is some timidity in the literary pages of the newspapers,” Jensen said.
He says The Saturday Paper‘s guarantee of anonymity will allow his critics to write what they otherwise might be loath to express in the small world of Australian publishing. Jensen says he’s had an enthusiastic response to the idea from those within the literary community and from writers who have hitherto declined to review books for fear of tip-toeing around their colleagues’ feelings.
The anonymous byline was de rigueur decades ago in publications including The Times Literary Supplement, The New Yorker and Time. The Economist still runs stories without bylines.
In an era when marketing departments of media outlets believe readers want “brand-name” writers, columnists and journalists, Jensen’s anonymous byline idea sounds either bold or a quaint nod to the genteel past when writers didn’t like to get their names dirty in newsprint.
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“Quaint? Quaintness is not the intention,” Jensen told Crikey.”This will liberate critics to some extent.” He adds that one of the key differences to his competitors is that he wants The Saturday Paper to work against using “celebrity” names to write reviews. “Anyone can get big-name writers.”
But Jensen’s invisibility cloak will not be shared among those reviewing the performing or visual arts. “Reviewers of film, theatre and visual arts will be named,” he said, arguing that unlike book reviews, these art forms will primarily be included in The Saturday Paper because they offer the reader “access points”.
“By that I mean we’re going to offer readers ways of looking at things, ways of unpicking themes in a work. But it’s not their job to pass judgement. The fact that we are reviewing the work tells the reader that they are works of quality. And if a show is no good we will not review it,” he said.
“Books are different, because there’s a problem with book reviews in this country because I think there’s timidity. There’s no shortage of critics [of other art forms] telling people want to think.”
If Jensen’s plans are to put his print competitors on notice that The Saturday Paper will not be cut from the same cloth as their publications, he has succeeded.
Daily Review asked the literary editors of The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian and one of the busiest freelance literary critics in the country whether the reintroduction of anonymous bylines is a good idea. Read what they had to say on Daily Review …