Probably Australia’s best-known independent online news service, Crikey was founded in February 2000 by journalist and shareholder activist Stephen Mayne (1969– ). Crikey covers politics, media, business, social issues and international affairs. It comprises a daily email edition of around 25 original stories, which has some 17,000 paying subscribers, and an open-access website that carries blogs, aggregated content, news stories and video and has a monthly audience in excess of 400,000 unique viewers.
Crikey takes a vigorously independent view of Australian public life, with a particular emphasis on investigating and explaining how important political decisions are made, how power is exercised, the relationship between government and media, and the ‘stories behind the stories’ that are often left untold. It is often leaked information and documents that reveal confidential activities which shed light on how power is exercised. In his expose of politics, The Latham Diaries (2005), former federal opposition leader Mark Latham described Crikey as ‘the most popular website in Parliament House’.
Crikey started as a bold experiment in new media when it was launched by Mayne as a weekly email newsletter. It was the successor to an earlier online newsletter, jeffed.com, which had been created by Mayne as part of his campaign to stand for election to the Victorian parliament in the seat of Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett, for whom Mayne had earlier worked as an adviser. Crikey soon became a daily email publication, and began building a growing subscriber base and reputation.
Mayne’s editorial philosophy was to publish material from all sources—often anonymous, personal or unconfirmed—which gave it a ‘larrikin’ image. Even though Mayne’s policy was to immediately correct mistakes or apologise for causing offence, this approach drew critics and litigation. In 2002, Mayne was forced to sell his family home and other assets as part of defamation settlements with radio presenter Steve Price and former Labor Senator Nick Bolkus, although the resulting publicity generated a large increase in subscriptions and a greater awareness of the site.
As Crikey grew, Mayne found it more difficult to manage on limited resources, and in 2005 he sold Crikey to Private Media Partners, owned by publishers Eric Beecher and Diana Gribble, for $1 million. ‘After five years of struggle, including moving house five times in 30 months, we really couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,’ Mayne said when the sale was announced. Beecher said the new owners intend to ‘ensure that Crikey remains mandatory reading for anyone interested in politics, media, business, professions and other areas of society that matter to thinking people’.
Since then, Crikey has grown significantly in audience size, advertising and subscription revenues, staffing levels and editorial output. Under its new ownership, a more responsible editorial approach was adopted, a network of blogs was created, the free website was expanded, editorial management, marketing and advertising sales staff were added and it became a larger, viable business with turnover of several million dollars.
Crikey’s talent includes Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane, roving international correspondent Guy Rundle, business editor Paddy Manning and arts editor Raymond Gill. Stephen Mayne continues to write for Crikey as a business and media commentator. Crikey also expanded its arts coverage, launching a stand-alone arts and culture website, the Daily Review.
After acquiring Crikey, Private Media continued to grow its presence as a leading Australian independent digital publisher, launching websites Smart Company, StartUp Smart, Women’s Agenda, The Mandarin and Property Observer.