The Global Mail: Australian not-for-profit news site launches

By Toby Manhire In The Internaut

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8th February, 2012 Leave a Comment

The front page of the Global Mail, launched this week

Probably the least interesting thing about it is its name: The Global Mail. The new site, launched this week in Australia, is remarkable principally for its founding – and funding – principles.

The Global Mail is the brainchild of Graeme Wood, co-founder of the enormously successful late-deal website Wotif.com. Unusually for the philanthropically minded, Wood has judged journalism to be a public good, and so, among other projects, poured a reported 15 million beloved Australian dollars over five years into the new online venture. But he will have no editorial input, he insists.

The mission statement, from the site:

The Global Mail is a philanthropically funded, not-for-profit news and features website. Our mission is to deliver original, fearless, independent journalism.

We will strive to inform, provoke, expose — and entertain. Our audience is our only agenda. We have no advertisers to answer to, nor shareholders who seek to profit. And our generous philanthropic benefactor has no interest in what journalism we produce. What The Global Mail produces will be the evidence of that.

The Global Mail has suffered from a few teething problems, with tweaks to font and layout already introduced. Its design is elegant, but a little clumsy, with the horizontal – left to right – navigation clearly designed to privilege tablet users. On my laptop it’s frustrating, however.

The site has also faced criticism for its failure to embrace the “2.0” approach to journalism – there is no comment facility, no effort at crowd-sourcing, and so on.

Here’s Charis Palmer from Australia’s Business Spectator:

The Global Mail’s stated desire to step back from the “breathless 24/7 news cycle” is admirable and should help ensure a high standard of quality. But applying old media models that drive one-way conversation to a new media platform won’t help the Global Mail build a loyal following …

Journalism is no longer one-way street and that’s as true for philanthropically-funded journalism as it is for commercial media.

But however nebulous the “audience is our only agenda” slogan might be, the model will have plenty of rival journalists squinting with envy. And there’s already plenty of strong content on the site, from correspondents in Australia and abroad.

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One of the early highlights at the Global Mail looks at how the mining boom has transformed previously sleepy backwaters of Queensland and Western Australia.

Reporter Bernad Lagan (a New Zealand expat – he also interviews Australian PM Julia Gillard for the launch week, though it’s a bit of a damp squib) travels to Moroanbah, one of 16 boom towns in the Bowen Basin:

The effects on the town and its permanent population of around 9,000 of such an unprecedented boom in economic activity deftly illustrate the paradox of a resources boom: shops, restaurants and essential businesses such as vehicle repair shops are being strangled because of staff shortages.

And not just because people are flocking into the mining jobs; in towns such as Moranbah, those not on mining wages and in employer-subsidised houses are increasingly being driven out of town by the cost of living.

One local activist tells Lagan:

At the moment in Moranbah we have crippling rents, skyrocketing FIFO [fly-in-fly-out] work forces, huge mining camp developments, housing unaffordability and unavailability and businesses struggling to retain staff.

And it’s only going to get worse. Moranbah’s population “is forecast to explode, with at least 11 new mines in Bowen Basin on a fast-track construction programme”, with predictions of “huge gaps” in essential services as “the coal rush accelerates to warp speed”.

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