The Australian today reports an extraordinary rant by Eric Beecher, the fellow who paid $1 million to buy lefty email newsletter Crikey a few years ago and has spent at least that much again on the loss-making concern.
On his watch, the newsletter has become a bland lite-version of Crikey that once used to break a few yarns and crack a few skulls on behalf of its mostly male, inner-city left-wing readership of public servants and neâ€™er-do-wells.
VEXNEWS has previously reported that Crikey is struggling to pay its own way. Beecher is thought to subsidise the operations of Crikey using the theoretically separately owned Busines Spectator in a variety of â€œsly waysâ€ according to one observer familiar with the ramshackle operation.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
Beecher is enjoying slightly more success with flogging ads on the BusinessSpectator which cynics see as a way of getting a repackaged version of the Fin Review without having to pay for it. The cost of getting the Fairfax finance daily online is around $1500 per annum, pricing many potential readers out of the market.
Business Spectator has some good columnists but its Fairfax competition believe their business model is based on plagiarism. Fairfax Business Media publisher Michael Gill told The Australian in 2009:
â€œPeople have websites that are based on rewriting AFR copy,” he said. “(Business Spectator) is the one I’m noticing. They … use the abstracts to populate the site with what appears to be a lot of content. My understanding is they abstract every single story (from the AFR). Their model for the world is to plagiarise things.”
Beecher has gone ballistic about the ABCâ€™s The Drum opinion website for a number of reasons he fails to explain in todayâ€™s yarn.
According to sources familiar with Beecherâ€™s increasingly sullen mood, he was very unhappy about Crikeyâ€™s editor Jonathan Green being poached by them originally for all the normal human reasons that would normally cause concern: jealousy, sadness, fear.
SPLASHING AROUND THE GREEN: THE STORY BEHIND BEECHERâ€™S SCREECHING
Green speaks to the small â€˜lâ€™ liberal crowd well, hailing from The Age where he wrote free-and-easy pieces about inner-city concerns; he knows the lefty opinion market â€œlike the back of his self-abusing handâ€ according to a harsh former colleague who has promised us â€œfilthyâ€ stories about Green for years but hasnâ€™t yet delivered.
And as a former Crikey editor, he had a good Rolodex of comrades who â€“ for a couple of hundred bucks would churn out a couple of couple words of lefty opinion or argument on whatever you wanted from climate change to whale welfare.
In his new role, supported by a reasonable budget from the ABC hierarchy who wanted to make The Drum work, Green has systematically poached most of the best of Crikeyâ€™s writers using cash and the prospect of a bigger audience.
Greenâ€™s methods are driving Eric Beecher, the eccentric millionaire, barking mad.
Beecher canâ€™t compete with the rates for writers paid by Green, who has even on occasion offered and paid retainers to Crikey writers to get them to stop writing for Crikey with additional payments for pieces they write for the Drum. Itâ€™s hardball and Beecher doesnâ€™t like it.
Itâ€™s competition of a kind that Beecher is struggling to handle. His fury has spilled out today in The Australian. It is clear his agenda is to have The Drum shut down.
It seems very unlikely that ABC management will listen and equally unlikely their minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, would meddle to do any such thing.
Maybe the Liberals would â€“ one day â€“ direct that the ABC broadcasting charter doesnâ€™t extend to churning out thousands of written words a week on a website, even if the cost is relatively small. But itâ€™s not exactly a pressing national priority for anyone. Except Beecher.
Beecher is perfectly comfortable with The Punch, the News Limitedâ€™s â€œCrikey killerâ€ free-site for the simple reason that it â€“ like VEXNEWS – doesnâ€™t pay contributors (other than the small, highly-capable staff) and rarely calls on anyone from Crikeyâ€™s own left-leaning stable of nags.
PHYSICIAN HEAL THYSELF
Beecherâ€™s ostensible complaint is that The Drum contains â€œwacky personal opinionsâ€ that are â€œmainly from the Leftâ€ is an egregious case of the pot calling the kettle black.
His real worry is that The Drum is slopping up for free what he charges around $100 a year for: left-leaning opinion and argument but with sometimes more established writers and a much more vibrant comment/argument space that is probably the best part of the ABCâ€™s website.
He cites the example of Marieke Hardy, an arty-lefty writer Beecher would love to have on-board but cannot afford so he instead vilifies her for writing mean things about Christopher Pyne on The Drum that were certainly a little silly but are definitely well within the very broad parameters of indecency that have prevailed at Crikey in the past. Pyne is a popular punching-bag in political circles, his quirky personal style and feisty approach guarantees him a reasonable amount of attention which he has used to build one of the highest national political profiles on the conservative side. We doubt he worries too much about what Marieke Hardy has to say.
One of the few Liberal voices in Crikey is a chap called Charles Richardson who has previously argued in Crikey that pedophiles enjoying â€œvirtual sexâ€ with imaginary children is a perfectly harmless thing and writes very supportive commentary about the Greens party while maintaining a business partnership conducting dodgy ballots in student elections with a Greens party activist Stephen Luntz. The rest are mostly anti-Labor left-wing types who either support the Greens or other strands of the extreme-left.
Of course, Beecherâ€™s not the only person to have raised the issue of state-sponsored journalism and content muscling out the private sector. Many others are worried about it too.
Beecherâ€™s complaints would mean a lot more if Crikey served a useful purpose, if it broke news. It very rarely does these days, notwithstanding the impressive work of young leftist scribe Andrew Crook who recently managed to dig up some old memos from within the dying dinosaur The Age explaining the full extent of its circulation rorts and distorts.
Crook, we hear, is contemplating departure from Crikey soon anyway, leaving the cupboard very bare indeed. No wonder Beecher is getting screechy.