It started out as jeffed.com, a website dedicated to dislodging then-Victorian premier Jeff Kennett. When the all conquering Kennett suffered a shock defeat at the 1999 Victorian election, Crikey was subsequently born with the overblown moniker “bringing down governments since September 1999”.
Those first five years were a tumultuous ride to say the least.
My family moved house five times in 30 months, I battled three defamation writs and built up an impressive black book of contributors, many of whom wrote under pseudonyms such as Christian Kerr’s memorable Hillary Bray columns, taking a moderate Liberal perspective of the Howard years.
Before Eric Beecher bought Crikey in February 2005 we used to catch up for fireside chats where he would say our greatest asset was simply surviving.
To survive three years was unlikely, to notch up 20 is quite remarkable, particularly in this rapidly changing era of social media and big tech disruption.
We made some reflections on how it all began on Crikey’s 10th birthday in 2010. Fast forward another 10 years and the media market is as tough and competitive as ever, albeit with even more challenged business models and thousands less journalists on the beat.
And all the while, Crikey survives and thrives.
At its heart Crikey is fearless and independent — prepared to have a go at all comers.
We certainly copped some hits from powerful people along the way, whether it was Glenn Milne at the 2006 Walkleys, a 6000 word spray from Terry McCrann in 2004, the Steve Price litigation, “Dollar Sweetie” Peter Costello banning us from budget lock-ups or Kerry Packer asking at a PBL AGM: “Do you deliberately set out to be offensive or is it just natural?”
Kevin Rudd once rang the office in 2003 and delivered a foul-mouthed tirade at the bloke who picked up the phone who was the brother of the tech guy flatting with us at the time. Our sin was including his daughter on our trail-blazing political nepotism list after she’d done some work experience with him in the office.
The Crikey lists were indeed a quirky and often controversial feature of the early years whether it was “lily white” journalists who’d never sold out to politics or PR, journalistic couples and dynasties, honorary doctorates, defamation battles or even unionists who crossed to the dark side.
The early strategy of having anonymous contributors or insiders using pseudonyms also produced some cracking unique insights — such as the 2002 battle for control of the Victorian ALP which included 40,000 words from various insiders using the names Delia Delegate, Harry Hack, Reg the Representative and Betty Branchmember.
A very senior ABC person had great fun penning “The Egan Diaries” about Michael Egan, which used to trigger faxes to the office from the then-NSW treasurer opening with lines like: “Crikey, you little creep”.
We even briefly had legendary ABC and Fairfax investigative reporter Nick McKenzie as the volunteer editor of our “yoursay” pages back when he was still studying journalism at RMIT.
Over these past 20 years, many great names have contributed to and edited Crikey and Private Media has used its experience with Crikey to launch a raft of other publications — like The Mandarin — which have added to the diversity of Australian media.
Some of the earliest contributors, such as Glenn Dyer, remain on board to this day and Crikey certainly wouldn’t be where it is today without the amazing insights of Bernard Keane who started off writing pieces under the name “David MacCormack, failed public servant” way back in 2007.
From small things, big things have grown — but it was only possible thanks to the hard work and dedication of dozens of people.
Finally, as we reflect on 20 years of Crikey and what lies ahead, here are links to few favourite Crikey scoops and stories from over the early years:
- Pissing in the sink: a profile of Murdoch editor Col Allan from the first edition of Crikey in February 2000.
- How Crikey saved IAG $300m ahead of 9-11: a tipper, Jason Groves, outed himself as a source for good in 2006.
- Rupert’s secret $50 million Bermudan tax dodge: a 2005 leak about Murdoch family tax avoidance associated with the move to Delaware.
- Hillary Bray and the Democrat letters: a series of Crikey leaks in 2002 that saw the Democrats implode.
- The Llewellyn affidavit and Eddie McGuire’s boned comment: the explosive 2006 leak that undermined Eddie McGuire’s stints as Nine CEO
Keep the tip-offs and leaks coming, folks! The secret to Crikey’s ongoing success will be the same as ever — compelling original content, fearless commentary, genuine independence and a splash of irreverence.
Thank you to everyone who had made Crikey what it is these past 20 years, and with Peter Fray installed as the new editor-in-chief and bold new initiatives such as Crikey Inq, I’m excited about the period ahead.
Despite Jeff Kennett’s frequent Twitter refrains about a life wasted, we thank him for Crikey and all who have sailed with her.
Stephen Mayne founded Crikey in 2000 and remains a contributor