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Thursday, 30 January 2014

Massacre at the Global Mail

So the Global Mail is to close. Begun just on two years ago, the website lost its founding editor, Monica Attard, in May of that year after some kind of executive putsch. The SMH story linked to above says:
The site began in February 2012 with 97,000 unique visitors but this audience halved in the second month of operation to 47,000, according to Nielsen figures.
Clearly these numbers didn't improve after Attard left, despite an expensive redesign (I personally preferred the original, horizontal design and saw no benefit from what came later). So Wood has sacked all staff after only two years despite the original plan to go for five. I think it's disloyal.

In the US, gazillionaire Pierre Omidyar of eBay fame cut his teeth on Honolulu Civil Beat and now he's setting up First Look Media and appears to be taking a more sustainable approach by learning the ropes and building on his experience. As for Wood, he seems to have taken a hit in his main business and decided to cut his losses - even though the Global Mail was never designed to be a for-profit outfit.

Having never had enough time to settle and establish a unique brand, the Global Mail is now a footnote in the annals of Oz journalism, which is a pity. The editorial approach - to keep some things topical while working on more sustained journalism in other stories - has not translated into a substantial readership. But you can't have everything in such a short period of time; the website needed more of it to work out how to realise its potential.

One thing this exercise tells us is that strong, longer journalism is very expensive. I did one story for the website and they pay was at best ordinary - but at least they paid. To produce strong investigative stories you need to be paying about $1 per word - far more than this website offered - and so the backing of people like Wood or Omidyar seems nowadays to be a minimum proposition. So many journalism outfits pay so badly that it's a wonder they can deliver as much work as they do. As for the Guardian, reports are that the financial health of the Scott Trust, which bankrolls the outfit, was boosted recently due to a strategic sale of assets, but with websites now in three countries it is probably still losing more per year than it earns from its investments.

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