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The Drum beaten by ABC management

By Malcolm King - posted Thursday, 7 July 2016

Across this great brown land, whether you are on the left, right or centre, whether you're black, white or green, give praise because the ABC's online website, The Drum, is dead.

The axe fell recently as ABC management embarked on round 154 of its latest cost cutting exercise, which should have also included its ridiculous afternoon news with James McHale. Maybe next time.

I was published twice on The Drum when Jonathon Green was the editor. At the time I was working in DEEWR's Labour Market Strategy unit. The Australian Public Service was not happy but happiness is a relative quality. I felt happy.


After Green left, the editor's seat was taken by Chip Rolley, the former Artistic Director of the Sydney Writers' Festival. Mr Rolley's artistic CV is impressive. Less impressive was his gatekeeping and agenda setting skills.

I wrote four articles on my specialist areas (population and generational change) after my first two publications over and never got a reply. Never heard a word.

I need to put a caveat in here. Mainstream opinion editors get far more stories they can ever place. Maybe one story out of a short list of 20 make it on any given day. Some stories have no currency or impact. Others lack style. Many are just plain odd, crude or defamatory. So if you don't hear anything after a week, you know the story isn't going to get up.

Because I write for a living (I write freelance opinion and run a professional writing business), I have got to know many other writers, who, like me, never made the grade at The Drum under the new regime. They were subject specialists, like me.

Some included well-known members of the political right, one was a strident environmental activist in the 1970s (dead now) and others were specialists in their various area such as the economy, federalism, the mining industry, etc. I published my articles elsewhere. I don't think of myself as a writer of the left or right. I'm simply trying to come up with new ideas and new vectors of analysis.

Gaven Morris, head of news content at the ABC, said, "Currently we are reworking how we approach this type of content on our digital platforms, shifting our emphasis from traditional opinion writing towards more of the essential context and analysis audiences need in order to fully understand and interpret the major stories and important issues."


But surely good writers provide the context and analysis. What struck me about the new regime was that it appeared to market itself as an alternative voice to On Line Opinion, Crikey and New Matilda. Actually, it appeared to market its self against these commercially run (some on the smell of an oily rag) online mastheads.

The Drum stated that it gave readers 'thought-provoking perspectives, ideas and commentary, with diverse and robust opinion from some of the country's leading thinkers and writers.'

Yet The Drum rigorously excluded voices from the centre and the centre right; from people who had a beef about immigration but who could express their arguments cogently; from people whose opinions were just plain interesting. After Green left, The Drum became a publicly funded mouthpiece for the Cultural Left, although it found Greg Jericho, whose critiques I am much thankful for.

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About the Author

Malcolm King is a journalist and professional writer. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide. He runs a writing business called Republic.

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