From Margo to New Matilda – The continuing crisis in online journalism

For years I’ve watched people poke and prod at the internet, trying to get it to cough up enough cash to support careers in professional journalism. But in a world where even Rupert Murdoch complains about not getting paid, it’s no surprise that most fail. At Crikey Margaret Simons writes about the latest casualty — New Matilda:

… it joins a long list of independent commentary sites, from Margo Kingston’s pioneering Webdiary, founded in 2000 before the word “blog” was mainstream, up to the present day. 1 rejects the word “fail”, making the point that longevity is not the only measure of success.

It is a fair point. Kingston’s Webdiary, for example, not only worked out many rules of the game that others have followed or had to reinvent, but also led to the development of several writers who made their mark elsewhere. New Matilda can claim the same success.

The coming and going of independent sites is part of new media. All those commentators who periodically claim that blogging is dead (because so many blogs thrive for a year or two and then go quiet) are necessarily wrong. Individual blogs may die, but blogging is here to stay (although I suspect we will soon come up with a different word for the activity, or rather a range of different words).

Simons is right. Just because online publications like Webdiary and New Matilda failed to find a sustainable business model doesn’t mean that they failed to achieve anything of value. Margo Kingston’s achievement was to recruit her readers as participants in an online conversation. It’s a conversation that’s survived the death of the original Webdiary.

Margo’s experiment in public journalism began in 2001. Back then, readers’ comments weren’t handled by blogging software — they were handled by Margo. Everything was improvised using the tools at hand. If there was a plan at the beginning, Margo didn’t stick to it.

Instead of just writing short comments on Margo’s opinion pieces, readers started emailing her letters and then entire essays — contributions that Margo cut and pasted into Sydney Morning Herald’s web site.

For some of Margo’s Webdiarists it became a back door into the mainstream media. For others it was their an introduction into blogging. For Tim Dunlop it was both. He moved from Webdiary to his own blog The Road to Surfdom, and then on to Blogocracy — a News Limited blog. The last time I saw Tim’s work it was on the ABC’s Drum Unleashed.

The interesting thing about Tim is he’s adamant that what he does is not journalism. And perhaps Margo’s move to Webdiary signaled the end of her career as a journalist too. There’s a lot of opportunity here on the web — as long as you give up trying to do traditional journalism and you don’t expect to earn a living.

  1. New Matilda editor Marni Cordell[]
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Andrew Norton
13 years ago

Not many opinion publications have ever lasted long without a reliable source of subsidy. None that I can think of – all rely on donations or subsidies.

Andrew Norton
13 years ago

(The comment above was meant to refer to Australia – I don’t know enough about other markets, though even in the US donations and subsidies seem to be part of the business model of most opinion magazines.)

Andrew Norton
13 years ago

I have many such boxes. Indeed, I found copies of the original Matilda recently – which was very good, but like all the others ran out of money.

13 years ago

Makes you wonder who’s funding LP

13 years ago

“Makes you wonder who’s funding LP”

O noes!

Issa caspirasee!!!1!

I sling them a few bucks now and then.