16 February 2006

Crikey sacks Hugo and becomes half as interesting - Time for an alternative? [ + Bonus: the voice of Hugo Kelly]

| johnboy
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The Age and the Australian are reporting on Crikey’s sacking of Hugo Kelly.

Having from time to time contributed to Crikey, I have to say I’ve been finding it an increasingly boring re-capitualtion of other people’s work for some time now. Hugo and Christian Kerr have, in my view, been the only reason to keep reading. (one less reason now)

We had Hugo in to record Insatiable Banalities the day before he was sacked and I hope to have that recording online later today. [It’s now online here, waiting on a track list before a separate post and updating the feed]

There’s a significant cross readership between Crikey and this site so I’m going to ask:

Is Crikey in terminal decline, and does that mean the time has come to take something like RiotACT onto the national stage?

UPDATED: The Australian is now running a reply by Crikey owner Eric Beecher which oddly describes Hugo as a freelancer. Crikey’s “man in canberra”, with a Crikey press gallery pass, just a freelancer! That’s a strange spin from a man ostensibly on a mission to raise standards.

FURTHER UPDATE: Having another crack at it, Stephen Mayne has run the following in today’s Crikey, reproduced below [and now, finally, online:

6. Vale Hugo Kelly — a Crikey “madman” to the last

By Stephen Mayne

The fifth and now definitely final sacking of Hugo Kelly from Crikey this week has turned into another classic chapter in the history of our little ezine after the “mad but brilliant” contributor dumped all over us in The Australian’s Media section this morning, plus spun the story of his departure to The Age.

Crikey publisher Eric Beecher produced a small right of reply in The Australian, but there’s a few important points which need to be made.

First – and even Hugo admits this – our circulation is stronger than it’s ever been. Instead of suggesting that Crikey’s lost its edge, what it means is that Crikey has more readers and more influence. Second, if subscribers think we’re boring, we’re only a click away. We still welcome feedback, and yarns. Especially yarns.

My old flatmate, workmate and political campaign manager had more than used up his nine lives before his final indiscretion last week in crashing the Gavin Anderson drinks party at Old Parliament House and then reporting a private conversation with Jeff Kennett’s former senior adviser Alister Drysdale as if it was an on-the-record interview.

Sacking Hugo was literally almost an annual event at Crikey, but it usually related to his personal behaviour rather than anything he wrote. Whilst I’m a bridge burner par excellence, Hugo is even better at accumulating passionate enemies than me but he always managed to wangle his way back into Crikey on the strength of his sometimes brilliant writing and my forgiving nature.

He’s produced some great pieces over the years, some under the cover of anonymity, and my personal favourites included this magnificent demolition of John Howard’s press secretary Tony O’Leary and a thoughtful piece on being press secretary to then deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe, although we didn’t properly disclose that he was sacked and sued Labor for unfair dismissal.

That said, there’s plenty of inaccurate spin in his account of Crikey’s history today. Firstly, to suggest he “co-founded” Crikey is laughable, although it’s a myth repeated in the expansive multi-volume Wikipedia entry he wrote about himself.

Go back and read the full page story in The Australian’s Media section just before the launch and you’ll see that the four co-founders are listed as Con Christov, Andrew Inwood, David Terrazas and yours truly. The other three had all completely departed and settled by the middle of 2003.

Hugo would probably have been a co-founder, but an appalling performance in Sydney six weeks before the launch on the Millennium New Year’s Eve – which involved a near punch-up with my best mate and running up and down Victoria St, Potts Point, at 3am with a hockey stick – put paid to that.

Today’s piece demonstrated once again that Hugo has been largely out of the loop ever since he sat in the editor’s chair in mid-2003 when I went overseas for three weeks. I returned to an upset staffer and a stinging four page memo from Mrs Crikey documenting a litany of complaints and demanding he be sacked – yet again.

However, revenue and traffic was up over this three week period as Hugo once again demonstrated those “mad but brilliant” characteristics.

The biggest inaccuracy in today’s piece was the following line:

Another pre-sale problem for Mayne was that he still had two people working with him – Christian Kerr and I – who had also shouldered the burden of growing the business, and were stakeholders. His solution? A payout of just $1,000 each for the small group who had built the business, while he galloped off with his million.

Truth be known, I’ve committed to voluntarily give away more than half of what will be left after the taxman’s big hit and paying off the mortgage on our modest house in Melbourne’s east, which is valued at $130,000 less than the median for the suburb. Hugo also seems to have forgotten that he cost Crikey more than six-figures over the years.

His next mistake is to put himself in Christian Kerr’s league. We surveyed our readership at the time of the Crikey sale and 41% said Christian was their favourite contributor whilst only 4% said Hugo. Crikey wouldn’t be what it is today without Christian but it would without Hugo, whose rightful place in our history is “top four contributor.”

His paradoxical contention that I sold Crikey too cheaply but it has also lost its way is also laughable. The professional version of Crikey is far better than anything we produced out of the spare bedroom and all the subscriber numbers and reader surveys bear that out.

That said, you’ve got to admire the brazen way he’s gone out. It was a very Crikey thing to do and we’d have published exactly the same piece on any other outlet. I fully support the sacking of Hugo but do hope he falls on his feet.

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Despite the fact that I think Hugo’s sacking is over the top and against everything that is supposed to stand for, I don’t really think it’s too symptomatic of a greater problem at Crikey.

Though they’ve certainly been towing the line a touch more of late, they still provide an independent voice amongst the maelstrom of agenda followers that is the Aussie media.

And Kerr’s right wing bias? Well, he seems to hate the Greens and everything about them, but aside from that his writing still retains all the decency and credibility that it’s ever had.

If people like Hugo keep being thrown off the Crikey boat though, it might just start sinking, and that’s not good for anybody – surely even Beecher knows that he’s on a good thing, and what he might see as initially keeping a foothold on Crikey’s position will turn against him. He can’t just remove what’s good about the thing and expect it to stay afloat. But I really don’t think the problem’s quite as endemic as people seem to be saying.

I dont think I’ll be renewing my subscription when it comes due, either.

I got into reading Crikey because I could read about things in there that I wouldn’t get anywhere else – scoops, inside stories, leaks, things that would eventually get them dragged into the courts. Sure, they were mad, but they were writing about the things that nobody else was going near.

Under the new management/editorship, Crikey seems to be reactive to what other people are publishing rather than getting new stories. Rarely now do I read anything in Crikey that I didn’t already read about in the SMH, Age, or Aus earlier in the day.

That, to me, is not money well spent. It’s as though all of the good sources dried up when the owners changed.

AntheaMParry4:09 pm 16 Feb 06

Actually I think it was a preferential vote – I seem to recall doing that survey and putting Hugo and Christian Kerr in the number 1 & 2 spots – which might mean Mayne is playing a bit fast & loose with those figures.

As for the current bunch of non-entities… I doubt *anyone* voted for them.

or what they would have said in a preferential vote?

or if they’d known that they were voting people off the island?

And how did the current bunch of non-entities re-writing press release do?

AntheaMParry3:00 pm 16 Feb 06

And as for this:

We surveyed our readership at the time of the Crikey sale and 41% said Christian was their favourite contributor whilst only 4% said Hugo.

I wonder what readers would have said, say, this month?

Slinky the Shocker2:42 pm 16 Feb 06

And in his own words about his aims from a Crikey article in 2004:

“Explaining spin and media and politics,” he says. “Because there’s so much spin, so much taking the public for granted and treating people as idiots.”

And that’s exactly what the right-wing s*&t-tanks do!

Slinky the Shocker2:38 pm 16 Feb 06

At least one of Christian’s IPA pieces is held in the typical IPA blend of right-wing opinion and misunderstood science. That’s what shits me about ‘the institute’. Some of his Crikey stuff was entertaining, I have to admit.

AntheaMParry2:26 pm 16 Feb 06

Unfortunately, Crikey hasn’t lost half of its great writers, it’s lost both of them.

Hugo because they fired him for doing his job.

Christian Kerr because since Crikey’s new owners took control, his writing has become more and more bland and banal. Call it smart or call it gutless – it’s all in the way you spin it – but Kerr has clearly seen the writing on the wall about the direction Beecher et al want to take the publication in, and has adjusted his writing style accordingly.

Where once Crikey readers were treated to great bad puns followed by the invariable (geddit??) and stories written in Kerr’s lively, unique style, we’re now subjected to chunks of text cut-and-pasted from the SMH, with a few lines of conservative, dull commentary.

It’s a shame to see such talent going to waste. No doubt Hugo will find a new and exciting bailiwick – and it’s about time Christian Kerr does as well, since he’s obviously gone stale where he is.

Paying work for writers is hard to come by, i’d judge them by what they write, not what they publish.

as for christian’s writing on Crikey, yes he’s coming from a Liberal past, but if you choose not to even understand where they’re coming from (not the same thing as agreeing with them) then you’re hard pressed to debate them, let alone beat them in the marketplace of ideas.

moving right along.

If Stephen Mayne thinks we didn’t read crikey for the bomb-chucking madmen then he’s insane.

The new management has increased circulation by cashing in on the chic of the brand. They;ve done their marketing well.

But if they think the content is still as compelling I wish them much luck.

Slinky the Shocker11:49 am 16 Feb 06

Christian Kerr writes for the Institute of Public Affairs for x’s sake…

Absent Diane11:31 am 16 Feb 06

you could call it a hugog

Slinky the Shocker11:12 am 16 Feb 06

Is Hugo planning his own blog? That’d be fun…Hugo unplugged…

it was great when it all began…

I agree, Crikey is not becoming less original and interesting. I also agree with colsim’s comments on Christian Kerr but I figured he did actually sleep with a “greenie” and they told him afterwards it was not very good and sent him packing.

corrections and right of reply do not a good primary read make.

and being a prick solely to wind up david flint seems a little mean-spirited.

Seems a shame to let Hugo go – often found he had an interesting take on things but as for Christian Kerr, his o.t.t hatred of all things green marks him down as some kind of obsessed fanatic in my book. What’s the matter Christian, knocked back by some cute hippy girl because you (proudly it appears) worked for Vanstone back in the day. Or trying to set yourself up as prodigal son for a return to the party (aside from your penchant for fat jokes at Vanstones expense). Ever since he so emphatically jumped off the Labor/Latham bandwagon after the 2004 election, Kerr has come across as a sad, bitter old suckup with the occasional worthy take on things and a tendency not to provide attribution to sources for his tidbits.

As for Barry Everingham – most of the time I take his contributions as an entertaining windup of pompous old monarchist David Flint.

The stream of “authorative” articles from that envinronmental woman from the IPA was a bit of a worry.

At least Crikey does still maintain a good corrections and right of reply policy.

Agreed 100%, Johnboy,

I’ve subscribed for years and have definitely noticed it becoming much more risk-averse in recent times.

I may well let my subscription lapse when it comes up for renewal.

Charles’ frequent worthwhile contribution is balanced by the occasional bile of that spitefull turd Barry Everingham.

In my opinion.

That’s sad.

I reckon Charles Richardson is worth reading too though.

It has also become a forum for some “holier than thou” preaching from people with questionable authority.

barking toad9:36 am 16 Feb 06

Yep, it sure has become bland since Beecher took over. Less controversial snarky commentary, more links to news items ala the Reader.

Don’t expect the limited free version to be available much longer. Good thing I’m a tightarse and get the full version sent on from a subscriber. Why pay to subscribe when most of what is published is just links to news reports and blogs. The various blogs, including RiotAct, often scoop Crikey in any case.

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