My Bulletin obituary may have been premature. Reports in several papers over the last few days – the most detailed was in the Weekend Australian – reveal that businessman Peter Hall is considering buying the masthead and turning it
into a weekly magazine of comment and analysis, like The Spectator or the New Yorker. “I believe Australia needs an intelligent weekly magazine of comment and analysis.”
But surely we have more than enough ‘comment and analysis’ already, at least of party politics. While The New Yorker comes out weekly, the articles that make it worth buying have nothing to do with the previous week. Often they are the results of months of research, and written and edited so well that they could not have been rushed to meet a weekly schedule. A magazine with a circulation of over a million can sustain the expenditure needed to reach such excellence. The Australian market cannot.
The Spectator perhaps highlights the problem. Its home market is three times as big as Australia’s, but it has a very patchy history. It’s currently going through a bad phase, with its star writers of the 2000s gone (Mark Steyn) or irregular (Theodore Dalrymple). And even the early 2000s were a long way from its golden period in my magazine reading life, the mid to late 1980s. As many magazines have, The Spectator seems to have partly turned itself into a lifestyle magazine to attract more lucrative advertising, but the journalism has deteriorated.
Hall does however have some background in magazines, being an investor in Prospect (which is consistently good, but from the advertising levels doesn’t look very profitable), and Monocle, which describes itself as a ‘briefing on global affairs, business, culture and design’. I’m not quite sure who Monocle is aimed at; how many of us (from the issue I bought) really need a guide to the 20 most liveable cities in the world or 50 things to improve our lives with suggestions as diverse as German underwear and Toyko’s airport limousine bus?
I was sorry to see The Bulletin go, but I don’t think it can be revived. Australia doesn’t have the scale necessary for a weekly magazine of high journalism, even if it is mixed with lifestyle features.