Look. Money. It’s not a pleasant topic, is it? And, it is one that has become so frequently demanded and discussed. Everyone is asking for some for their newest project or not-for-profit or story of heartbreak, and you and I are both sick to the back of our crumbling denture of these requests for our cash.
So. I apologise very sincerely for joining the army of digital charity muggers. I must also declare that I do so in self-interest — after all, Daily Review pays me a wage for my work. In one sense, it feels plain wrong to be asking you, or anyone, to fund me and my interests directly. But in the present, it also happens to be the only recourse.
It comes down to this: if you don’t fund arts writing in Australia of the present, nobody will.
I anticipate that some will receive this note and think, “Well. If they can’t turn a great profit, they’re just a bad business. The market always rewards good ideas.” Well, this is not presently true, and I doubt it ever really was. Perhaps, for example, you’re a fan of opera. You would be well aware that this great and elaborate form would not have survived until the present without subsidy. And you would be aware that the recent ravages, inter alia, to the Australia Council have done their damage to arts.
Here at Daily Review, we are part of that damaged ecosystem — actually, we arose as a direct result of it. Our editor-in-chief Ray Gill started this thing, and continues to run it, knowing very intimately just how little review and comment around the arts in Australia survives. The new market hasn’t a place for it, even though we readers retain our great need.
And, it’s not just coverage of the finer arts that has suffered so badly, but good analysis of the low stuff, too — the stuff I write about. Let me tell you a story about how even our big media conglomerates were forced to lose their interest in good cultural coverage.
So, I met Ray when he was arts editor at The Age. Along with some other fine Fairfax editors — Jonathan Green, Gay Alcorn, Margie Easterbrook among them — he was the guy who really taught me how to write for a broad audience with intelligence and rigour. All of these editors, and others besides, would talk to me forever about a story idea. Then, we’d send it to a copy editor and give it a good second draft. Then, the in-house subs would have at it and finally, we’d agree that the big thing we wanted to say about the culture had been said. It was great for me and all writers, obviously. And it was an essential service to the people of Melbourne.
Then, things started to change. Very quickly, actually. The per word-rate went down. The number of places and ways in which one’s byline was used shot up. The time we had to write a piece was reduced to almost nothing and some of the editors — most of them in fact — who knew this old rigour were delivered their redundancy papers. Oh. And the subeditors — let’s hear it for this excellent and antique profession — were outsourced. As for copy editing. Well. I doubt that there are many in Australia who even knows what this process means anymore.
By the time I had turned forty, the old and meticulous way of doing things was no longer possible. Even writing about complex ideas was largely impossible, and it was a sad day that the Australian Literary Review, to which I also contributed, was forced to shut up shop. Steve Romei, another marvellous editor, this time from News Corp, used to have hour-long conversations with me about introductory paragraphs, about how we could describe French psychoanalytic feminism to a wide audience. I had that conversation in 2007. At The Australian!
I continued to write for Fairfax, chiefly around culture and the arts. I didn’t really know what was happening, because no one does when they’re in the middle of it, so when I was asked to write puff pieces, I just put it down to a bad week or one lazy editor or one fleeting impulse by the board. I went to Ray’s goodbye party. I started to write “TV recaps” for the paper, which was now no longer a paper but a pamphlet directing people to online, and I wondered when someone would let me compare, say, Ibsen and Big Brother again.
Suddenly, one day I knew that there was no going back. I knew that there was no possibility of treating popular culture with seriousness — always my personal passion — again when my editor took a reference to Harold Pinter out of my work.
It was a Masterchef recap. Everyone was doing Masterchef recaps and I reasoned, not unreasonably, that Fairfax readers wanted something more than they would get from the Herald Sun. I had even had this conversation with the editor — I had asked “You know that I am a wanker, right? That I will address an audience with intellectual curiosity?”. She said, yeah, sure.
If you are familiar with Masterchef, you will likely agree that it is the most comfortably middle-class of all the commercial reality programs. It is an exploration of manners, and is often edited to show the chasm between a contestant’s pleasant public face and their private fear. I even once mentioned this to Matt Preston, another former Fairfax writer, and he said, “Well, of course, Razer. It’s utterly Pinteresque.”
So I mentioned in this recap that the show recalled Pinter, and to the words “Harold Pinter” I had linked to a site reliably describing “Pinteresque”. Which is to say, I wasn’t being a snob, but doing the work of the television reviewer set in train by Clive James: educate your audience, or affirm your audience’s education, while making them laugh.
And so I asked the editor why this thing had been removed. And she said to me, “I don’t think our readers are interested in painters.”
Long story short, I haven’t pitched to Fairfax in years.
We will never again have the opportunity as writers and readers to engage in carefully crafted public conversations about culture and the arts as we once did. There is no time to talk to an editor at length and there is no money to fund it. And, importantly, there are few opportunities for artists and readers alike to measure their views against a critic’s.
Daily Review provides one of those rare opportunities. And it has done so only through stubbornness and a commitment by old media guys like Ray and me, and new media aesthetes like Ben Neutze, to the culture. None of us expects to make a huge profit out of this. We just want criticism to survive.
And, we’re doing that with this direct appeal. And, again, I am genuinely sorry for the charity mugging. But, I would say that even a small investment will be leveraged by us with great force. Because we are wankers, old and young, who retain our commitment to the culture.
Read Daily Review Editor Ray Gill’s piece explaining why we’re asking for your support, and find out more about how you can help by clicking here or clicking on the ‘Support Daily Review’ button, wherever it appears across the site.