The Bulletin ~ theatre notes

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Bulletin

Back again. That didn't take so long, after all - nothing that a slick new computer couldn't fix. Thank you to the Germans, who subsidised this shiny machine; when I think of the times when my computer could have crashed and didn't, I'm inclined to think the gods have been smiling on me.

While the Croggon cyberworld was in shopping mode, we were rocked by a couple of local losses. There was the well-publicised death of Heath Ledger, to which I have nothing to add; I was saddened and shocked, like everyone else. And then my old alma mater, The Bulletin, was, without ceremony, shut down after 128 years of colourful, if not always admirable, history.

As some of you know, I was theatre critic for The Bulletin in the early 1990s, back when it was an interesting weekly news magazine and had a circulation. What most of you won't know is that it also was the place where I was first published as a poet. When I was about 15, the poet Geoffrey Dutton was appointed as editor of the short-lived but, as I recall, quite classy Bulletin Literary Supplement, and he published two of my poems in the first issue. So I feel like a bit of my personal history has bitten the dust.

The bean counters have blamed the internet for The Bulletin's demise. Me, I don't buy it: that's just an easy excuse. Sure, Time and Newsweek have been feeling the pinch as the market changes, but if news magazines are doing so badly, wherefore the increasing circulation of mags like The Nation, the New Yorker and others? No, I blame unimaginative editorial management, which began shaving The Bulletin's editorial policies back even when I was working for them, and gradually reduced its substance over the past decade until it was a shadow of its former self. To illustrate: when I began reviewing in 1989, a theatre review was 800 words; shortly before I left in 1992, it went down to 600 words; two years later, it was 400 words. And then theatre reviews went altogether, in favour of an "entertainment guide".

It's a familiar declension, one you can see writ large in tv programming (today's wired young adults are a tv executive's nightmare: few of them watch tv at all, although many are welded to a screen, whether for gaming or internet or DVD. And is a diet of ear-bashing ads and cheap reality tv going to win them back? I don't think so...) Ditto the msm's dilemma: the more they cut costs and editorial substance, the less there is to attract readers. And arts coverage is always the canary in the cage.

It's one more nail in the coffin of Australian media diversity, and a mighty big one, irrelevant though The Bulletin had become: it was one of our few indigenous national publications. We are ill-served in the variety and depth of our mainstream media here, with long-reaching effects - think of the fuss, for example, over the Melbourne Festival. Much nasty toad to munch on in the implications of this casualty, I think. Meanwhile, there are the blogs... speaking of which, Ms Alison is still a little under the weather, but if all goes well, will be gradually returning to normal decibel levels.

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