Quadrant’s funding problem

Yesterday I received a ‘we wuz robbed’ letter from Quadrant complaining that its Australia Council literature grant had been cut from $50,000 to $35,000.

Quadrant editor Keith Windschuttle is calling the decision ‘patently political’. Given that left-leaning periodicals have had their funding maintained – particularly Overland which keeps its $60,000 despite coming out only four times a year instead of Quadrant’s ten, and having a far less distinguished poetry editor (Keri Glastonbury to Quadrant‘s Les Murray) – that looks like a fair call in the absence of any contrary explanation from the Australia Council. [Update 21/12: Crikey reports the Australia Council saying Quadrant was cut for having too small a group of literary writers.]

On the other hand, I’m not a big fan of these kinds of subsidies. It’s not just my usual philosophical objections to big government (and in the scheme of big government, a few hundred thousand dollars for magazines doesn’t make much difference). The Australia Council props up nine little magazines serving a small audience for literary material. Arguably this makes it harder for any of them to get the critical mass of contributors and readers needed for a high-quality, self-sustaining literary magazine. A few of them going out of business could help the rest. Continue reading “Quadrant’s funding problem”

Policy survey

As regular readers know, wearing one of my hats I edit Policy, the quarterly journal of the Centre for Independent Studies.

If you read Policy – even if only occasionally or online – I’d like to hear your views on it via a short survey on the Policy website.

Also online from the Spring issue is Henry Ergas on government as a risk manager, Eric Crampton on public health and the new paternalism, and me on what economic liberals believe (using the political identity survey results many blog readers contributed to, but combining classical liberals, libertarians, and social conservatives and economic liberals into one ‘economic liberal’ group).

How ‘brain-sex’ with Robert Doyle led to the Quadrant hoax

Yesterday I went along to a Melbourne Writers Festival session on Australian hoaxes, from Ern Malley to Quadrant (one of the panel was my friend Simon Caterson, whose book on hoaxes is out later this year).

Session chair and Meanjin editor Sophie Cunningham began by quoting from an article she had published by Quadrant hoaxer Katherine Wilson, an article I had missed (perhaps because I miss everything that is published in Meanjin).

Wilson briefly rejects a point I made at the time, that this wasn’t a good hoax because it didn’t attack a position associated with Quadrant. In her article as ‘Sharon Gould’, Wilson used her own obsession with GM foods, rather than Quadrant‘s obsession with climate change scepticism.

But another point I made is supported by Wilson’s Meanjin piece. I said that

she wants to discredit Quadrant and Windschuttle in particular not by directly taking issue with what they publish, but by making them look foolish by publishing an article she had booby-trapped with errors and false statements

The real surprise in Wilson’s article is the bizarre source for her political strategy – the English classes of former schoolteacher and Victorian Opposition leader and current Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.
Continue reading “How ‘brain-sex’ with Robert Doyle led to the Quadrant hoax”

The Monthly goes young

After last month’s editorial meltdown at The Monthly, I wondered who would volunteer to do the job.

Now we know – the very youthful Ben Naparstek, aged 23, has the job. Having googled him this morning (I was not the only one – I’d got as far as ‘Ben Nap..’ and google was already correctly suggesting that I wanted ‘Naparstek’) he’s done some good journalism about big-name intellectual and literary figures. Apart from doubts about whether someone so young will be able to stand up to Morry Schwartz and Robert Manne and win the respect of the many contributors old enough to be his parent or grandparent, he seems to have the right background for the job.

In any case, he’s clearly not lacking in confidence. I liked this part of the Weekend Australian’s version of the story:

He applied for the job when he was 18,” Mr Schwartz told The Weekend Australian yesterday.

“I said, ‘no you’re too young’. He said, ‘I’m not too young’ and I said, ‘yes you are’, and so I appointed Christian Ryan instead.

“Now it’s his turn. He starts Monday morning.

Update: Monday’s Australian says that Naparstek has been dubbed the ‘boy Manne’. There could be many variations on this theme: Manneservant, Manne Friday… but let’s give the guy a chance.

Did Katherine Wilson (aka Sharon Gould) hoax the wrong magazine?

As Jason Soon and Don Arthur correctly predicted yesterday, ‘Sharon Gould’ is left-wing activist Katherine Wilson.

Jason and I have a bit of a history with Wilson, having been involved in a lively 2006 debate at Lavartus Prodeo on think-tanks and the significance (or otherwise) of who funds them. Wilson tried to wipe her past by getting LP to delete her posts and comments, but it all lives on in the National Library’s archives.

The pieces of the story are really starting to fit together now. Wilson knows the right is evil, but she hasn’t actually read very much of what they say, and is vague on the differences between the various right-of-centre groups and magazines.

For a hoax using gullibility for pro-genetic modification views – Wilson is an anti-GM activist – the target should have been the IPA Review. The IPA has published lots of pro-GM stuff over the years (eg this). The more conservative Quadrant contributors, as I argued on Tuesday, are much less likely to be pro-GM, and indeed likely to be worried about the way genetic science is developing (Quadrant doesn’t have much on its website, but this is the kind of thing I am thinking of).

Of course, IPA Review editor Chris Berg does not have Keith Windschuttle’s reputation as a footnote fetishist, but to make the political point on GM foods he should have been the target. Wilson hoaxed the wrong magazine.
Continue reading “Did Katherine Wilson (aka Sharon Gould) hoax the wrong magazine?”

The strange Quadrant hoax

Crikey, in one of its rare (if minor) scoops, reports that Quadrant editor Keith Windschuttle was hoaxed into publishing this piece on scare campaigns and science reporting by mythical biotechnologist Sharon Gould.

But what point is this hoax intended to make?

According to the Crikey article,

In a ruse designed to lampoon Windschuttle’s historical research, which began by checking the footnotes of leading historians, the article contains some false references.

Maybe there is a very small irony here, but there is not much of an analogy. Academic historians writing on their own subject should be held to high standards of accuracy. Editors of generalist magazines publishing tens of thousands of other people’s words a month on a wide variety of topics cannot be expected to check every claim and every reference.

From a reader’s perspective, it’s hard to see the difference between the hoax article and the error-ridden piece Crikey published on think-tanks a few weeks ago, except that “Sharon Gould” lied about his/her true identity, and Crikey‘s Andrew Crook used his real name (I assume; I had never heard of him prior to this). They are both non-credible pieces that ideally should not have been published, but in a world of limited editorial resources they both slipped through the net.

Nor is it at all clear that this hoax has the meaning attributed to it by Crikey journalist Margaret Simons on her blog:
Continue reading “The strange Quadrant hoax”

The daily disaster – climate change in the media

Harry Clarke isn’t happy that Quadrant rejected his article criticising the ‘denialist’ perspectives that have been getting plenty of space in its pages. Quadrant editor Keith Windschuttle’s reasoning goes like this:

We find that the pro-IPCC position is very well represented in almost every media outlet in the country, including academic journals and websites, but it is very difficult for sceptics to find any outlet for their voices to be heard. Hence, in the interests of balance, we believe the sceptics deserve a fair go in a little journal like ours.

My month of media monitoring shows that the alarmists do indeed get a lot of coverage. I counted 47 alarmist stories in the media over the last month, so an average of about 1.6 different predictions of disaster per day. This underestimates the saturation coverage this issue receives – I did not count multiple versions of the same story in different media outlets, and decided against including most borderline cases, where pessimistic projections were reported in a neutral way without accompanying calls to action. Maybe the prophets of doom were working extra hard in the lead up to the Poznan conference, but overall it confirms my impression that the alarmists are relentlessly on-message.

The NIMBYists were, however, closely pursuing the alarmists for numbers of stories in the media until late last month, but it seems we ran out of industries that were going to be devastated by an ETS. The NIMBYists finished well behind the alarmists on 31 stories. This might also have been higher than usual, in the lead up to announcing the detail of the ETS.
Continue reading “The daily disaster – climate change in the media”

Will the Australian Spectator succeed?

In the 1980s and early 1990s, I was a dedicated reader of the London Spectator, which has now launched an Australian version, the English magazine with a 12-page Australian supplement in the middle, edited by Oscar Humphries.

With a circulation of 77,000, according to The Australian‘s write-up of the magazine’s local launch, it sells many more copies than it used to. But the magazine seems to me to be much weaker than it was 20 years ago. A couple of regulars from that time are left – columnist Paul Johnson, and ‘high life’ columnist Taki – but the stars are long gone: writers such as Christopher Hitchens, who of course went on to much greater fame, Timothy Garton Ash who wrote superb articles from then communist central Europe, Jeffrey Bernard with his ‘low life’ column, Auberon Waugh with his weekly ‘Another Voice’ column (the latter two have since died), and many others. In more recent times Mark Steyn and Theodore Dalrymple made it worth reading occasionally, but Steyn has gone and Dalrymple appears infrequently.

It was always much lighter, more personal, and more opinionated than other news magazines, and still is – but this only works if the writers have the style, substance or humour to carry it off, and it is the lack of these that makes much of the current Spectator at best moderately interesting. Oscar Humphries is really only (slightly) famous for being his father’s son, so do we really care that he has a small art collection? But at least I know who Oscar Humphries is, which is at least the starting point for possibly being interested in what he has to say, if only in the hope that he tells us something interesting about his dad. Reading the magazine on a plane without Google I had no idea who the diarist Charles Waterstreet was, and even now that I do I don’t care that he had a mid-life crisis aged 12, or that he thinks that at 60th birthday parties the trouble is that there are too many candles and not enough cake.
Continue reading “Will the Australian Spectator succeed?”

A reborn Bulletin?

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. Continue reading “A reborn Bulletin?”