"New Matilda was launched two and a half years ago on the back of donations from a bunch of well-meaning lefties, led by former senior public servant John Menadue AO. Others included former Labor Minister John Button, publisher Hilary McPhee, speechwriter to Labor luminaries, Graham Freudenberg and businesswoman Janet Holmes a Court.Yes, Menadue is right on that last score. The policy thing was a bit odd in a straight publishing context.
"Menadue said at the time that New Matilda was planned as a response to the media’s failure to hold government to account, which he described as "one of the greatest institutional failures of our time".
"As well as putting out a weekly publication, largely consisting of opinion pieces by unpaid contributors, New Matilda also attempted to act as a forum for the development of policy, a mix that Menadue acknowledged in a letter to shareholders last week "on reflection… didn’t fit easily together"."
I had my own brush with New Matilda very early on. I was approached to consider the job as founding editor. I had a couple of very pleasant meetings with Hilary McPhee before meeting with Menadue and a couple of other board members in a plush office suite in South Melbourne one afternoon in mid-2004.
It was an interesting experience, even more so in retrospect. I was uncomfortable with a few things, but one of the real warning signals to me was that they didn't have any web knowledge or experience between them.
They appeared to be going down an online route simply because they thought it would be cheaper than actually printing a magazine. So they weren't really interested in hearing how they might use the medium specifically. They had their business model - paid subscriptions - and they had their target subs numbers to reach.
In the end they decided not to offer me the job, and that was that. At the time I was working at The Age and I guess they thought I was either too obviously part of the media problem that New Matilda was designed to counteract, or too much of a political lightweight to drive a serious opinion journal. I can't say I was upset.
Still, one of the things that interests me about New Matilda's efforts to date is that they could have done with a bit of fun. It's quite possible to publish a journal/site with a serious intent without being completely earnest all the time. A little bit of light with the shade would have done wonders.
That, and a better designed site.
It's easy to be critical, but I do think the project is/was worthwhile. However, there's a problem with independent publishing that, whether they knew it or not, always stood in their way. It's well articulated by the chairman of the New Matilda board, Mick Kelly, who is quoted in Crikey today: “I have been quite frank with [prospective owner] Duncan Turpie. I think all small magazines in Australia are in some way subsidised, and New Matilda will need that indefinitely”.
It seems to me that if you start from this position you're buggered.