February 1, 2013

Editor’s Note

February 2013 Editor’s Note

By John van Tiggelen
John van Tiggelen.

This week marks the end of my rookie year as editor. It’s been an interesting time for such an apprenticeship.  Left, right and centre, magazines and newspapers are going under. Print is finished, as the electronic media keeps reminding us. Meanwhile the Monthly crew has blithely dipped and surfed through the storm.

There were covers that sold, covers that bombed. The top-selling issue of last year was November’s, featuring Julia Gillard on the cover, looking relaxed, hands folded, no ring on her finger, beneath a simple, deadpan title: An Honest Woman. Our tongue, lest anyone missed it, was not so much in our cheek as poked straight out at the “Ju-liar” shock-jocks, online bullies and, yes, Tony Abbott, for urging her to “make an honest woman of herself”.

How some hated us for that cover. Of course, we didn’t need the Macquarie Dictionary to update its definition of misogyny for us to see their hate for what it was. People spotting our cover poster in newsagent and bookstore windows felt compelled to vent. Here are some of the more polite responses, taken from michaelsmithnews.com:

“She is an honest woman. Just like the magazine, the honesty comes out about once in a month.”

“Where is the outrage, this is an outright lie? We must pressure this magazine for printing such rubbish. This really offends me.”

 “Julie Bishop’s photo should be here & not Gillard who should be labelled as ‘Wanted’.”

“The monthly, shame, shame, shame. By the way I have never heard & read the monthly in my life.”

Ah, the democracy of the internet – always refreshing. The second-best selling cover, incidentally, was March’s Kevin Rudd. April’s Malcolm Turnbull was a close third.

Of course, there are only so many popular politicians. This month’s cover features David Walsh, the creator of Hobart’s incredible Museum of Old and New Art. Though it’s hard to conceive of someone more devilishly Australian than Walsh, he’ll never be Australian of the Year, if only because he’d tell the award committee to get stuffed. The man abhors myth-making. His MONA, as he more or less likes to say, is all about affirming that a life stripped of myth, of romance, of spirituality, of anything but chance vicissitudes and visceral biology, is a life worth honouring.

A few readers will recognise that a shorter version of Richard Flanagan’s brilliant profile appeared recently in the New Yorker, the magazine that remains Exhibit A for the case that print will never die. We’d like to be Exhibit B. This month’s issue, I hope you’ll agree, is setting the bar where it needs to be. The Nation Reviewed features a brace of new writers. Alice Pung’s essay on the routine coaching of young Asian students to slip them into the best schools, to be extracted in the Weekend Australian, will create much titter. Meanwhile James Button, Robyn Annear and John Hirst head a stellar cast in Arts & Letters.

The past year saw us defy the downward trend in print, with strong average circulation gains. Online we’re making similar strides, to the point we’ve now acquired an online editor, Nick Feik, and three new bloggers: Mungo MacCallum, Michaela McGuire and Rhys Muldoon. We’re planning to stick around a while.

John van Tiggelen

John van Tiggelen is a freelance writer and the author of Mango Country.

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