Foreign buyers silence The Bulletin Jan 24, 2008 10:40:01 GMT -5
Post by Flash on Jan 24, 2008 10:40:01 GMT -5
Foreign buyers silence The Bulletin
AN American chief executive working for a Scottish boss who represents a Hong Kong private equity fund yesterday closed an Australian institution with a 128-year-old publishing history.
Welcome to the brave, but soulless, new world.
When The Bulletin's death was announced at a 10am meeting in Sydney yesterday, it ended a tradition begun with the likes of Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson and Miles Franklin, survived through literary greats such as Donald Horne and given a new lease of life in recent years with the likes of Les Carlyon and Laurie Oakes.
Its last edition, which went on sale two days ago, features lengthy articles by Thomas Keneally, Frank Moorhouse and Richard Flanagan.
Having worked full time on The Bulletin in the late 1990s and continuing to write for it until last year, I gained a sense of what the magazine meant for both the Australian public and the Packer family. It says everything about who now controls what used to be the Packer empire - a private equity company called CVC Asia Pacific - that the matriarch of the family, Ros Packer, was not even given the courtesy of a phone call to tell her that the magazine that had been at the centre of her family's media empire had been closed. She found out, by accident, when she turned on her television at 2pm.
It was American Scott Lorson, the chief executive of Australian Consolidated Press who answers to Scotsman Adrian Mackenzie, who runs CVC Asia Pacific, who called staff together to tell them news that had been on the cards for several years - The Bulletin, founded in 1880, was closing. Editor-in-chief John Lehmann then led his troops in the drowning of their journalistic sorrows at a bar in Sydney's Darling Harbour.
For most of its 128 years it has been upsetting politicians, business leaders and union officials. That larrikin spirit was kept alive under recent editor Garry Linnell, who found himself locked in a mortal letter-writing combat with former prime minister Paul Keating.
Keating loathed The Bulletin and almost anyone who had anything to do with it. On one occasion, he sent Linnell a stinging - but brilliantly written - letter. Keating wrote that he found the publication "rivettingly mediocre".
Linnell not only published the letter, but promoted the fact that "Paul Keating Writes for Us".
He then awarded the Letter of the Week to "Paul Keating, Potts Point, NSW" - the problem for Keating was that the prize was a subscription to The Bulletin.
To Keating's great fury, for the next 12 months a copy of The Bulletin would arrive in his mailbox every Wednesday morning.
In the end, The Bulletin was overtaken by history. It was to publishing what telegrams are to emails. It wasn't poor content that killed it - if anything, in recent years, it had a resurgence as the Packer family invested more in it than they had done before. With writers of the calibre of Laurie Oakes, Les Carlyon, Paul Toohey, Tim Flannery and Julie-Anne Davies writing for it, it often set agendas and broke stories.
But the era of news magazines was in slow, terminal decline. This week's story on Heath Ledger was a case in point. News of his death broke on Australian television about 10am on Wednesday. Within minutes, Sky News had its "Breaking News" banner on screen. Within half an hour, live reports from the doorway of Ledger's New York apartment went around the world. For the rest of the day, it was wall-to-wall analysis.
The 6pm news services and 6.30pm current affairs shows had saturation coverage. Then yesterday's newspapers carried more analysis, reaction and theories.
How does a weekly magazine coming out seven days later compete with that?
But the Packers were prepared to subsidise the magazine, which lost about $3million a year. For them, it was a jewel that shone through the hundreds of other magazines they publish from The Women's Weekly to soft pornography magazines.
It gave the Packers a sense that they had influence in Canberra.
The Bulletin was a one-off in a sea of "lifestyle magazines". I remember my first day at The Bulletin when the lift door opened - just outside were large posters of various magazines.
The Bulletin's poster declared "Tax Reform - All You Need To Know" with an arrow pointing left towards The Bulletin office. Cosmopolitan's poster was more catching - "How To Orgasm Every Time!" Next to it was an arrow pointing right to Cosmo.
I took the safe option and turned left.
Coming out on Wednesdays made life almost impossible for The Bulletin. Unlike a Saturday, Sunday or Monday, there was nothing about a Wednesday that made people think, "let's go down the street and buy The Bulletin.
Publishing on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays was considered, but the contractual deal with the American magazine Newsweek meant it had to be Wednesday to coincide with that publication.
The economics also worked against it. At $6.25 a copy, the reality is that a person could buy three Saturday newspapers with about 30 sections between them for less than the price of one magazine. In the end, The Bulletin had about 35,000 subscribers. If it had a strong cover, which attracted publicity, its sales at news stands might reach 20,000. On any normal week, those would reach 10,000.
It's a sad day, but as far as The Bulletin is concerned, reaching 128 years of age was a very respectable innings.