As reported in the Crikey email today, there is a stoush going on between The Monthly magazine and Asian-based freelancer Eric Ellis. It’s all about an article commissioned by editor Ben Naparstek on the refugee camps in Sri Lanka. Ellis delivered, but Naparstek decided the piece wasn’t up to the magazine’s high standards. It has since been accepted for publication in the Spectator.

The correspondence below was sent to me first by Ellis. Then, when I contacted  Naparstek for comment, he sent me some of it as well. Apparently both sides in this dispute think that it favors their point of view.

You decide!

From: Ben Naparstek
To: Eric Ellis
Sent: Sunday, October 18, 2009 8:51 AM
Subject: story for December

Eric,

I’ll pass on the Indonesian idea, but I would be keen for a story to
run in the December issue that gives us some background to the current
boat people drama, and that tells us who the asylum seekers are, what
they’re fleeing, and what they’ll be facing if they return home. I’d be after 3000-3500 words (at $1/published word) by November 9. Would that suit? If not, we can talk about maybe doing something for early 2010.

best,
Ben

On 18/10/2009, Eric wrote:
Sure, I could do that, Ben. In terms of what they are physically fleeing,
that would be better and more compellingly described with an actual visit
to the IDP camps, which few have done (no-one that I know of, maybe the
BBC, certainly no-one in Oz yet) and I could possibly do that in first week of
Nov, with a re-routing of my travel from London..the rest I know well, and I
will also input from my interview with Rajapakse, only the third he has done
since the end of the war (NYT/BBC). I used abt 20% of it here, in a story
that was onstensibly about the economy, and have lots of non-econ stuff left
over, plus observations from the encounter  http://www.forbes.com/global/2009/0907/people-economy-rajapaksa-sri-lanka-next-battle.html

Eric
From: Ben Naparstek

To: Eric Ellis

Sent: Monday, October 19, 2009 3:43 PM
Subject: Re: story for December
Hi Eric,
Sorry the tardy reply. The November issue goes to press tomorrow, so
I’ve been caught in production madness. If you could visit the IDP
camps, that would be really excellent, and I’d be keen for you to
write up to 4000 words. Making use of quotes from your Rajapakse
interview, which haven’t previously been published in Forbes, is also
a great idea. When would be the earliest you could file? Meanwhile,
did you mention that you’ll be in Melbourne in a couple of weeks?
Let’s certainly have coffee if so.
best,
Ben
From: “Eric Ellis” <[email protected]>
Date: Sun, 25 Oct 2009 19:11:31
To: Ben Naparstek<[email protected]>
Subject: Re: story for December

Ben…just to advise..I am making my back from Europe/Qatar tmrw and will
try to route through Lanka. I have asked to see the IDP camps so am in
the hands of the government so will advise there..
Eric

From: Ben Naparsthek >
To: Eric Ellis
Sent: Sunday, October 25, 2009 10:41 PM
Subject: Re: story for December
That’s great, Eric. Did we say 3-4k by 9/11? Ben
Eric Ellis
Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2009 03:59:54
To: <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: story for December

That’s what I am aiming for, Ben. Would the following month not work? I
just know how difficult it can be in Colombo ..
The other stuff – my Le Carre-like trawling through the Tiger networks in
Oz, Canada and the UK, the background, the Raja intvu all good, its just
the camps that would be great and updated.
Eric
From: Ben Naparsthek
To: Eric Ellis

Sent: Monday, October 26, 2009 5:22 AM
Subject: Re: story for December
Hi Eric — I will really need it for this month, unless something else
magically appears to fill the space, in which case I’ll let you know. Is
it unlikely you’d get to the camps within that time-frame?
— Ben

From: Eric Ellis

To: Ben Naparsthek

Sent: Monday, October 26, 2009 11:43 AM

Subject: Re: story for December

Camp-wise Ben, I really cant say. They are HUGELY sensitive about that stuff
as you can imagine, it really does go to the heart of the post-war
relationship with the West per aid et al (the Oz refugee drama is an
afterthought in that context) but I have very good relations with the palace
after my Rajapakse intvu and they just might do it for me, that’s what I’m
hoping for and I’m working that theme for the upcoming week, period between
now and when I file..access to the camps would also give it exclusivity…
Eric
On 02/11/2009, Eric Ellis  wrote:
Ben…FYI..have probably a 36 hr window here for real time access..otherwise we go with what we have..
From: Ben Naparstek
To: Eric Ellis
Sent: Monday, November 02, 2009 1:31 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: IDP et al
Thanks for the update Eric.

On 02/11/2009, Eric Ellis wrote:
Ben… I have spoken just now to the SL Pres private secretary. He said he
can arrange access for me to visit the camps on Wednesday, Nov 4. I would
likely fly there via military helicopter from Colombo. This would require me leaving Sing tomorrow/this evening and returning midnight Wed for overnight return to Sing coz I have to be in Sing Nov 5 evening for dinner with my long pre-arranged dinner with my editor. The exercise will cost around $A1000 – being flight, overnight hotel and
sundries. Its a unique opportunity if they do it but, I caution, Lanka being Lanka and I know it very well, it may not come off, either because they change
their minds or simply inertia and everyone’s time and money will have been wasted and I will have permanent jetlag.
Your call.
Eric

From: Ben Naparstek
To: Eric Ellis
Sent: Monday, November 02, 2009 5:53 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: IDP et al
Eric, sounds exciting. Go for it, and thanks for the effort. – Ben
From: Eric Ellis
To: Ben Naparstek
Sent: Monday, November 02, 2009 6:04 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: IDP et al
OK Ben..I’ll see what can be done ASAP…I do caution again that they may
just pull then plug on it at a moments notice…would not at all care if we blew
$1000 on a wild goose chase..but I told him I needed to book flights ASAP
to meet his Wednesday promise and he said ‘go ahead’ …that’s about as good as it gets..

From: Ben Naparstek

To: Eric Ellis

Sent: Monday, November 02, 2009 6:21 PM

Subject: Re: Fw: IDP et al
Those expenses sounds fine, Eric. Keep me posted.

On 02/11/2009, Eric Ellis wrote:
OK, Ben..I just called him again and he confirmed it, said to call him again
on arrival in Lanka tmrw morn so that’s a double confirm, so I shall proceed
on that basis..
Just so you know, exps-wise, the Sing Air flight is $S871 ($A690)..the hotel
will be about $US130 ($A150) and I would imagine $A100-$A150 or so of sundries – cabs, this and that – as I anticipate I will need to be in people’s faces tmrw again so it comes off, which means seeing people at the pres palace and a quick run arnd town to do some intvus..

From:Eric Ellis

Date: Wed, 11 Nov 2009 13:51:54 +1100

To: Ben Naparstek

Subject: final

Ben…did my last intvu…I dont this needs any more adds, at which point its getting too long though, that said, I think it zings along..One could add more camps, or the stuff about the Oz UN guy behind the lines, or I could ask Rudd – I’m seeing him at a breakfast in Sing on Sat – abt all this…Anyways, in the interim, go with this this..and delete all previous

Eric

From: Ben Naparstek

To: Eric Ellis

Sent: Wednesday, November 11, 2009 3:26 PM

Subject: Re: final

Hi Eric, can you add more on the camps — if indeed there is more you can say — and shoot me a new draft by tomorrow morning? – Ben

On 12/11/2009, Eric Ellis wrote:
Ben,
Was this the Spec piece – back in April! – you were referring to, about
Australia and Asia? I think I got it right…it amuses to hear people now saying they know nothing of what was going in places like Sri Lanka…it might help them to read a little wider, and mags like The Monthly, when at their best, might facilitate the process in providing the necessary perspective, balance and ballast, rather than chase the news cycle
Eric

From: “Ben Naparstek”
To: Eric Ellis
Sent: Thursday, November 12, 2009 2:27 PM
Subject: Re:

Thanks Eric. I think that was the piece I read, but will reread it. Any chance of an ETD for the new paras on the camps? best, Ben

From: Eric Ellis
To: Ben Naparstek
Sent: Thursday, November 12, 2009 11:02 PM
Subject: Re: Re:
Frankly, Ben, having gone through my notes, this is my take;
I dont know there is a great deal more that can be said abt it, in terms
of the observation than I have. I have discussed the sanitation, the
tents, the living conditions, the facilities and so on, and the spin
either side. The point of the camps is that these people are not escaping
from the camps per se, they are escaping real or imagined wider persecution. The SL government insists says they are not, they have the moral power of incumbency and Australia is in the middle, forming policy on the hoof abt stuff the voters know very little about, and they certainly dont know these people already live here, All of which context to that is absolutely crucial and, as I have moved around Oz in the last week, I have found quite unknown. What is clear that is also unknown, because it is under the radar of ‘whitebread’ Oz, is that the LTTE were, are and will continue to be very active in Oz. People here do not know that, as I have discovered. That is the point.
I know Sri Lanka extremely well. If you want/wanted an opinion piece of
‘what Rudd should do about the refugees’ (per your phone call) that is not the story, and further it is not different to the blizzard of material already out there, and none of it is reportage, a distillation of 20-odd yrs of getting to know the place intimately. I have sent that piece to a number of very close friends and academics and each have said its a very important story that needs to be published, because Australians do not know this stuff, and it informs this context. Were this to be crunchedinto a 2K word opinion piece, it would be an utter waste, and I would be very reluctant to be published on that basis. Ive already done thoseopinion pieces, for The Age and The Spec..I suggest you go to The Atlantic and see what Rob Kaplan has written. Mine is perhaps an Australian version of that with my direct contact with the LTTE. NO-ONE in Oz has has such contact, and thereason why I know that is because LTTE Tamils the world over told me. I also traded off my very intimate contact with the Presidents office, to get this access and co-operation. Again, no one in Oz has intvued the Pres of SL..
Frankly, it is a perfect time to run that, against the backdrop
of the gathering refugee crisis. I dont much want to advise Rudd/his
handlers on what to do, or tell readers what I think..I would much rather
people read this, and form an informed view..that is why that story,
right now, will separate The Monthly from the other stuff out there, coz
NO-ONE in the Oz media has done what I have done in Lanka, now or over recent times..
Eric
From: Eric Ellis
To: Ben Naparstek

Sent: Friday, November 13, 2009 7:43 AM
Subject: Re: Re:
Further to this, Ben, I hear that various hacks have now been to Menik
Farm, with John McCarthy, describing it pretty much as I did. I was there
10 days ago. I got access trading off my goodwill and connections with the
president’s office based not on The Monthly, which they had never heard of
(I told them mid-visit who I was writing it for) but based on my personal
connections and via Forbes/Fortune). That I was Australian was of zero
interest to the camp officials – they thought I was American (ie coming
earlier via US mags), and that was what was important to them –
international opinion and publicity, in DC and London, not in Canberra.
Australia was an afterthought, as it often is in Asia to Asians and any
refs to OZ were forced by me in my questions of them, notably the boat
stand-off of Indonesia, whcih they’d barely heard about.
All of which reinforces my point is that the essential story in Lanka is not abt the camps, it is the claims of abuse of
the Tamil ethnicity by the Sinhalese who won the war, as you may have
divined again this morn by news that the general who prosecuted the war is
not a political opponent of Rajapakse for the presidency..and has
criticised how the Tamils have been treated….whcih means that Australia
will be receiving more of those people, whose relatives are already here
and will be pretty pressure on a naive Oz to do so..
Eric

On 13/11/2009, Eric Ellis <[email protected]> wrote:
Ben..I presume Lateline is not happening…I had kept the morning free for
that – at the expense of 1-2 other appts but I have to move to the apt at
1400 to fly to APEC in Sing …I am bfasting with Rudd tmrw morning..
Eric

To: Eric Ellis

Sent: Friday, November 13, 2009 10:17 AM

Subject: Re: Re

Hi Eric, I haven’t heard anything from our publicity manager, so no, I
guess it’s not happening, at least for now. Will let you know if I hear otherwise. Thanks for your other emails. Will get onto your piece shortly, and get back to you.
best,

Ben

From: Ben Naparstek
To: Eric Ellis
Sent: Saturday, November 14, 2009 1:25 AM
Subject: Sri Lanka essay
Dear Eric,
Unfortunately, we won’t be able to run this essay. What I can offer is
a kill fee of $1500, and you will, of course, be free to publish the
essay elsewhere. My thanks even still for all your hard work in
gaining access to the camps.
Best,
Ben

On 14/11/2009, Eric Ellis  wrote:
You are kidding? Why not?

From: Ben Naparstek

To: “Eric Ellis”

Sent: Saturday, November 14, 2009 6:29 AM

Subject: Re: Sri Lanka essay

Sorry, Eric: after trying to edit it, I just decided that it is not up
to the standard we require. But I’m sure you’ll have no difficulty placing it elsewhere. – Ben

From: Eric Ellis
To: Ben Naparstek
Sent: Saturday, November 14, 2009 1:53 PM
Subject: Re: Sri Lanka essay

What, Ben – specifically – wasnt ‘up to standard’?
I write and have been a staff member of some of the world’s leading and
most tightly-edited magazines, I know the SL story extremely well and
there is not a fact out of place, it is a unique piece of reportage (journalism,
not an essay, like what you claimed The Monthly wanted more of)
unlike any other published in Australia on this topic, it is written clearly
and cleanly and to specification, after our discussion, and I spent – or
was it wasted?  – two weeks and invaluable personal goodwill with close contacts in the SL president’s office, which I kept you apprised of, to deliver unique and sole access, and you traded off my earlier interview with Rajapakse, also unpublished in Oz. A former editor of mine thought it was ‘outstanding.’ And yet, here we are, you telling me it is sub-standard after only two days earlier wanting to promote it on Lateline..I look to move things fwd, and strive for constant improvement and am very curious so what was it that was not up to standard required, as you put  it?
Eric

From: Eric Ellis

To: Ben Naparstek

Sent: Saturday, November 14, 2009 7:44 PM

Subject: Re: Sri Lanka essay

Ben…would you please respond to my questions…and these as well.
During the week, in an email to me, you described the piece as ‘very good’
after reading it. Now it is not ‘up to the standard we require.’ You are
reading the same piece. So which is it? Very good or sub-standard?
And how do you intend to deal with the considerable expenses I have incurred
on your behalf, that you approved, as I rather navigated – by association-
The Monthly through the thicket of the Sri Lankan president’s office at
perhaps its most senstive time in recent history? (I reserve legal rights in  this matter)
Thank you

From: Ben Naparstek>
To: Eric Ellis

Cc: Stephanie Williams

Sent: Sunday, November 15, 2009 5:26 AM
Subject: Payment for Sri Lanka article

Dear Eric,

Can you please send receipts to the address below in order for us to
reimburse your expenses?
The non-publishing rate of $1500 will also be processed next month.
Best,
Ben
From: Eric Ellis

To: “Ben Naparstek

Sent: Monday, November 16, 2009 6:59 AM

Subject: Re: Payment for Sri Lanka article

Ben,
1. During the week, in an email to me, you described the piece as ‘very
good’ after reading it. Now it is not ‘up to the standard we require.’ You
are reading the same piece. So which is it? Very good or sub-standard?

2. How have you arrived at a figure of $1500? Which currency? I operate in
$US.

3. Do you intend to write to the various SL govt officials I engaged and
whose goodwill I expended on your behalf, with whom I need to have an
ongoing relationship but whose valuable time was wasted, explaining why
their time was wasted, on such a very serious matter for them?

4. You claim the piece as filed was not up to the standard you require. I
always look to move things fwd, and strive for constant improvement and am
very curious so what was it that was not up to standard required?

5. After we met last week, I fwded you details of story ideas from a recent
effort I was involved in to revive The Bulletin. How do you intend to deal
with these ideas?

From: Eric Ellis

Date: Mon, 16 Nov 2009 07:42:06 +0800

To: Robert Manne; Morry SchwartzCc: Rebecca

Subject: Ben Naparstek

Morrie/Robert..
Greetings from Singapore.

I write to advise about a particularly puzzling, unpleasant and unprofessional encounter with the editor of The Monthly, Ben Naparstek, that I am quite furious about and about which I think you both need to know.

My engagement with Naparstek began a month ago in an email from me to ask if he would be interested in a story I was preparing about Indonesia. He wasn’t – fine, no dramas and that was the end of that subject. It was a very normal engagement in the first time I’d had any contact with him. (You will recall I had asked for his email address.)

A few days later, unprompted, he mailed me to ask if I would be interested in writing a 4000 word story about Sri Lanka. I do not know how he knew that I know Lanka very well. But by design or accident, I suppose I was a good person to ask, in the Australian media context. I have reported from Lanka for 20-odd years for international media. I had recently interviewed the President in my usual job – as a correspondent in Asia for Forbes Magazine. I own property there and I have developed very intimate contacts across the political, business and ethnic divide in a manner which I know is unique to an Australian journalist, as the attached story explains. Indeed, I have spent much of this year in Lanka, reporting and monitoring the end of the civil war, as I finish a book.

It was a good commission, and I was happy to do the piece, a distillation of my collective knowledge and experience of the island at a crucial time, in the Australian context of the refugee crisis there. Duly, I moved aside – at considerable cost to me – various other assignments in the region for Forbes to make room for Naparstek’s commission, because I believe it is an important story in Australia,  that I had a unique and revealing take on it, that I had been a fan/subscriber of The Monthly (which had handled the earlier Wendi Deng matter very professionally) and very much supported its existence for the diverse voice it seeks to provide, a diversity which I felt suited this very story he and I were discussing.

I told him at the outset that story would work better, logistically, with a visit to the camps, which I felt I could arrange, thanks to my intimate contacts in Colombo, built up and secured over 20 years. www.ericellis.com/srilanka.htm
I warned him of matter he clearly had no idea of, that it also was a long shot as the matter was extremely sensitive in Colombo and in some cases life-threatening for journalists. I explained that foreign journalists are particularly unpopular there but that I would use my reach on The Monthly’s behalf inside the presidential palace. As I painstakingly requested access, I forwarded all correspondence on the matter to him. I was in Qatar, Spain and the UK on assignment as I was doing this.

I returned to Singapore on November 2, whereupon I again pursued a close contact, the president’s private secretary. As I explained to Naparstek, I had a limited window to execute this assignment – in the unlikely event it came off – and which was narrowing by the day, as I had long committed to being in Australia from November 6.
Late on November 2, the president’s office agreed, somewhat unexpectedly but pleasingly nevertheless. I was advised I would be provided with an armed escort to the camps from Colombo for a day visit on November 4.  I mailed Naparstek and he was thrilled, and agreed to fund the expenses for the assignment.

I told him such ‘approval’ from Colombo doesn’t necessarily mean I will go, Lanka being bureaucratically quixotic at times, and that it would be highly possible in the political atmosphere there that the approval could be withdrawn at the last minute. I asked him to make a judgement call, mindful it was his budget, though I advised that it ‘felt’ like it would happen and was worth making the trip.

Naparstek instructed me to proceed and I hastily left for Colombo that evening from Singapore, making arrangements on the run. I spent Tuesday seeing contacts in Colombo building the story, and re-confirming the Nov 4 visit with close consultations with long-standing contacts in the palace. During Tuesday, as I networked in Colombo, I was advised by many observers, including the Australian High Commission, various diplomats, the senior UN representatives in SL and highly-placed Lankans that it was ‘extremely unusual’ for a journalist to be granted sole access – ie not part of an organised media tour – and to have such high-level approval and escort, directly from the President’s office. This, I was told, was likely because of the earlier interview I had done with Mr Rajapakse. I communicated to Naparstek how unique this opportunity was, and that I had spent considerable goodwill in doing so.

I left Colombo in a SL government escort for the camps on Nov 4 at 4am, arriving at the Menik Farm IDP camps, where I was taken on a tour of the facilities by senior govt officials and military, notably the former national chief of police, given a briefing as I conducted a series of interviews. I returned to Colombo that evening, to return to Singapore in order to transit for the long-planned journey to Australia.
I advised Naparstek of every step of the process, as professional foreign correspondents do. He seemed very pleased and I proceed to prepare the 4000 word story, with the exclusive camp visit as the backdrop to a wider story about Sri Lanka and the ethnic issue, as was explained and agreed with him. He suggested that if were in Melbourne, I should drop by his office for a coffee, which I did on Monday Nov 9.

Though keeping me waiting for 30 minutes, for which he apologised, it was a cordial enough exchange during which we discussed the state of the Australian media, among other topics. He seemed very keen for my opinion on the quality of his editorship and lavished compliments on me as “someone who I respect immensely.’

He was keen to ‘pick my brains’ on how what stories I thought The Monthly should be publishing. I said that though I’ve been abroad as a foreign correspondent for 25 years and I am not close enough to the industry for a particularly informed view, I lamented the industry’s decline on rare returns to Australia and that I thought magazines like The Monthly were at their best when it undertook penetrating longer reportage of nationally-defining topics, that in my experience readers preferred absorbing involved informative stories, rather than being told what to think, per the recent rise of the aggressive commentariat in Australia.

I told him of my involvement in an aborted effort to revive The Bulletin magazine last year, and said I would be happy to discuss with him some of the story ideas then generated in dummy editions. He seemed excited by that and asked if I would be prepared to research and write some of them, as he lamented the lack of journalist talent in Australia, remarking this was inhibiting his editorship. Naparstek also pointed out, with some glee, a profile of him in a recently published magazine, which I had not read.

We also discussed the Lanka story, and again I mapped out where it was going, and described what I had prepared thus far. He seemed very enthusiastic.

On November 10, after an intensive two days of writing, eating into the separate reason why I was in Australia, I filed a 5200 word story, which I have attached. I regard it a good solid piece written to specifications, as attached. I had privately consulted with various editors, analysts and academics familiar with Lanka and the response ranged from ‘outstanding piece’ to ‘this is an important story that needs to be aired.’

On November 11, Naparstek mailed me to compliment the story as ‘very good.’ He asked me if I could add more detail from the camps, if I had any more to add. I noticed there were more and more journalists visiting the camps, and said to him, mindful of the length, that I had pretty much exhausted the eyewitness material I had, in that context. He asked if I would be prepared to appear on the ABC’s Lateline to talk about the story. I agreed, time permitting.

On Friday morning, November 13, Naparstek called to say that now he wanted me to write a 2000 word piece “giving your opinion of what Kevin Rudd should do with the refugees in Indonesia”
I said that I thought the stronger and more unique story was the one he already had and had commissioned, mindful there was a welter of commentary about Rudd’s political dilemma in the daily media and that the story he commissioned was separate and unique and would not necessarily be overtaken by events, mindful of lead times. I said such a piece would not have required the involved effort to go to the camps, nor the goodwill spent, the arrangements made.

The exchange was cordial but it was clear something had changed. He would not elaborate. I would also now not be required to appear on Lateline.

I returned to Singapore, to receive a mail from Naparstek telling me that far from his description ‘very good’ of two days earlier, my piece was now (an insulting) “not up to the standard we require.” He would pay a kill fee of $1500 and said he thought I would have no difficulty placing the story elsewhere.

I have since asked Naparstek on numerous occassions as to what prompted this sudden change, and he has refused to respond, indeed on one occasion hanging up on me like a petulant teen. The only thing he said was that he was unable to edit it, which seems an odd remark from an editor. At no time in any actual editing process was there any consultation between me and he, as is very normal and appropriate.

I’ve never been ‘in love’ with what I write and Naparstek can edit The Monthly in the manner he sees fit, and I’m sure he will become more experienced as a journalist as he does.

But this is beyond irregular. I write for, and have been a staff member of, some of the world’s most prestigious and tightly-edited magazines. At no time in 20-plus years in this business have I been dealt with in such a bizarre, cavalier and unprofessional manner.

My visit to the camps was no casual stroll to a Fitroy café to interview some artist. This was a hasty but well-executed trip by a sole foreign journalist to one of the world’s trickiest countries for journalists, to a recent war zone, while engaging with officials on the most sensitive matter before them. I cannot underline stronger the gravity of that, a gravity the inexperienced Naparstek seems unable to grasp in his glib and casual emails, that is the insulting ones he wrote before he ceased communication.

Naparstek and The Monthly have jeopardised my personal goodwill with contacts with whom I have a 10-15 year relationship, and with whom I must have an ongoing relationship, long after my unfortunate encounter with him has passed. I am not at all happy with that, and yet he refuses to respond to my inquiry as to how he will explain to these contacts crucial to this piece of the sequence of events that they put themselves out for us, to no avail and to my ongoing cost.

I prepared and wrote the story at considerable expense to me, at an extremely sensitive time for journalists in a difficult country. Journalists have been killed preparing lesser stories than this one. And in his cavalier manner, dealing in topics he clearly knows very little about, Neparstek has been particularly insulting to me professionally, and dismissive of the logisitical and personal difficulties and risks as to how one conducts such assignments. This is nowhere near good enough.

I would like to know the sequence of events that took place in Australia that led him, in less than 48 hours, to go from describing as “very good” the very same piece delivered to him precisely as commissioned and discussed to being ‘sub-standard.’ Was there any other hand in the editing process? Naparstek’s Monthly preaches transparency – where is it?

I apologise for burdening you with this, and I have not written to you lightly. You as proprietors/directors of The Monthly need to know the appalling manner in which he has mishandled this matter. I am told by colleagues who have dealt with them that this is not a one-off, professionally. He may well have been a wunderkind, a title he seems to revel in but if he continues to behave in this manner, he is doing serious damage to your masthead and the diversity we all crave will be harder to achieve, as will the brilliant career he seems convinced is his birthright.

I look forward to any corrective suggestions you may have, and reserve my legal rights in this matter.

Many thanks and kind regards

From: Morry Schwartz

To: Eric EllisRobert and Anne ManneMorry Schwartz

Cc: Rebecca Costello

Sent: Monday, November 16, 2009 7:53 AM

Subject: Re: Ben Naparstek

Dear Eric,
I am respsnding from my phone to confirm receipt. I won’t be able to read nd respond untill tonight or tomorrow morning.
Best Wishes,
Morry

From: Robert Manne

To: Eric Ellis

Sent: Monday, November 16, 2009 12:32 PM
Subject: RE: Ben Naparstek

Dear Eric, Just to let you know Morry will be responding to your emails on
behalf of the Board, best wishes, Rob Manne

From: Stephanie Williams

To: Eric Ellis

Sent: Monday, November 16, 2009 3:31 PM

Subject: Re: Payment for Sri Lanka article

Dear Eric,

I hope you’re well. I would like to organise for you to be paid for

The non-publishing rate of US$1500. This payment will be made in

mid-December,via cheque.

Could you please let me know your ABN number, and if the cheque

Should be made out to you personally or if you have a company name?

Also, if you could please send your receipts for reimbursement to me

At the address below, I’ll organise this payment as well.

Very best,

Stephanie

Stephanie Williams

Production Manager

The Monthly

From: Eric Ellis

Sent: Monday, 16 November 2009 6:52 PM

To: Stephanie Williams

Cc: Morry Schwartz; robert Manne

Subject: Re: Payment for Sri Lanka article

Thank you, Stephanie. I’m not particularly well, since you generously

asked, actually I’m rather furious and I can’t see that phase passing

any time soon given that I am an unwitting victim of ‘editorship’ (if

that’s how his bizarre behaviour could be described). Then again, it

may have been gross immaturity or, perhaps, something quite different.

Whatever it is, it is beyond unprofessional, and then some, and I

Will find out and consider if it should be more widely known in the

industry,so as colleagues don’t suffer the same fate, inconvenience, losses andlibel as I.

Duly, my engagement with The Monthly remains a (legal) work in

Progress and I will advise of the various details as and when I deem that it has been ended to my satisfaction. There is an elegant solution to this,and I’m sure someone will arrive at it.

In the interim, I shall prepare and forward the various receipts you

request for reimbursement, which are to be dealt with separately.

I am disappointed I had anything to do with this fellow, which has

utterly polluted my previously high regard for The Monthly. I

apologise for any involvement of yours in this unfortunate matter. I hope he willlearn a lesson from this.

It didnt have to be this way..

Thanks and all best

Eric

P.S: If you could be so kind as to fwd me details of the subscription dept, so as to cease my subscription, I would be most pleased.

From: Morry Schwartz
To: Eric Ellis
Sent: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 4:14 AM
Subject: RE: Payment for Sri Lanka article

Dear Eric,

I have read all the correspondence regarding your Sri Lanka piece, and I
am sincerely saddened by the whole affair.

It was a great pleasure to publish your Wendy Deng piece, and it’s a
pity that your current essay is not right for the magazine. I am always
awed by the skill and courage of journalists in extremely dangerous
places, and I must admit that I am very uneasy when we put a writer into
a risky situation.

I have talked to Ben about the issues you raise, and he maintains that
he came to your piece with goodwill, and his praise referred to aspects
of it that he liked, but that the whole did not work for him, and that
in the end he couldn’t reshape it to suit The Monthly.

Not running a commissioned piece is not unusual, and I hope that we can
resolve this spat amicably. I have mentioned your Quarterly Essay idea
to Chris Feik, but he doesn’t feel that it’s right for that journal (in
any case, it’s booked out until the end of next year).

We normally pay all expenses plus a third of the fee for pieces that we
don’t run, which I believe is the acceptable level in the industry. I
hope, given your confidence in the essay, that you can place it
elsewhere.

I can assure you that we have not talked to anyone outside the magazine
about any of this, and that your concern about libel as absolutely
unfounded.

I would be happy to discuss all this with you on the phone (or in fact,
face to face, if you happen to be in town) – please let me know where
and when I can call you.

I hope that we can resolve all this amicably, and continue a pleasant
working relationship.

With best wishes,

Morry
From: Eric Ellis
Sent: Tuesday, 17 November 2009 11:31 AM
To: Morry Schwartz
Subject: Re: Payment for Sri Lanka article

Thanks for your mail, Morry. I accept your correspondence with good
grace.

I would also have liked to continue a pleasant working relationship. As
I explained to Ben when I met him – but I don’t think he quite understood
– thanks to my working with the non-Oz media in the region, I get excellent
access to Asia’s leaders and events (as he exploited with the access to
the camps) and that provided an excellent ongoing opportunity for him, per a
regional topic of great interest to Australians -Asia, a rich seam of stories and commentary. That relationship would be greatly enhanced by Ben responding properly, correctly, honestly and professionally, as editors do, to the very valid
queries I had made of him after his inexplicable about-face.

Thanks again
Eric

From: Morry Schwartz

To: Eric Ellis

Sent: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 11:49 AM

Subject: RE: Payment for Sri Lanka article

Dear Eric,

Thanks for your gracious response. I will talk with Ben, who is in the
midst of putting an issue to bed, and ask him to respond as soon as he
can>

Best wishes

Morry
From: Eric Ellis
Sent: Tuesday, 17 November 2009 2:34 PM
To: Morry Schwartz
Cc: Robert and Anne Manne; Rebecca Costello
Subject: Re: Payment for Sri Lanka article

Morry..per below…five days on, I still have not heard from Naparstek,
per the matter under discussion. As I await that response in order to – as
you put it – ‘continue a pleasant working relationship,’
I trust that it is understood by you that I do not regard the matter as
being closed by our exchange of emails below.

A start, in resurrecting that relationship, would be for him to explain
his unprofessionalism and actions, and how he intends to remedy matters, in
the good faith you – and I – seek. Hanging up on commissioned writers with
such a sensitive and, as you correctly point out, dangerous assignment where
he has traded off my goodwill, is not the way to do so, or to protect the
ongoing viability of your title.

Naparstek has a series of questions before him. They have been before him
for five days. I still await his response, and on receipt of which I
will consider my next appropriate action.

Thank you

Eric

From: Eric Ellis

Date: Tue, 17 Nov 2009 13:09:06

To: Morry Schwartz

Cc: Robert and Anne

Subject: Re: Payment for Sri Lanka article

Thank you Morry…

For what its worth, these developments today are why it was a mistake

Of histo re-commission yet an(other) opinion piece abt what Rudd should do with the refugees in Indonesia, when he had my unique reportage about the Tamil issue before him..and that remains the case, and will continue to be as the wider drama of Sri Lanka continues…Its known as ‘judgement’ and ‘experience’ and, from what I observed of

himin recent weeks, and from what I can gather in asking around to seek

explanations as to his dysfunctional behaviour toward me, he seems to

lack both in some considerable measure, assuming it was in fact his own

decision-making that a wasted week of my life fell victim to. I trust

he will learn lessons from this. It seems there are a great many

disillusioned contributors – and I am but the latest – who wish he

would learn them rather quickly.

I look forward to his response to my questions….

All best

Eric

From: Morry Schwartz

To: Eric Ellis

Sent: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 2:18 PM

Subject: Re: Payment for Sri Lanka article

Hello again Eric,

To the best of my knowledge there is no comment piece on the refugee

situation in the coming issue. Ben has indicated that he will respond

to

your questions.

With best wishes.

Morry

From: Eric Ellis]

Sent: Tuesday, 17 November 2009 5:32 PM

To: Morry Schwartz

Subject: Re: Payment for Sri Lanka article

I’m sure that is correct, Morry. He asked me to do it, or rather he requested that I transform the unique/involved/expensive/difficult/dangerous-to-execute essay of 4000 words-plus he commissioned and that I delivered, entirely within his specification and, for a time, obvious approval and enjoyment, into one.

That is my point, and somewhere in between is where his judgement and experience is sorely lacking, not least his bedside manner and interpersonal skills on those he impacts.

Something happened in between, and I would like to know what, and why he was insulting and unprofessional in his limited communication of that.

I think by now you have determined that I will pursue this matter, until such time satisfaction is reached, whatever that is.

I do not believe I am an unreasonable or irrational person. I just had the misfortune of encountering one – and then some – at my cost and peril, and it seems I’m not the first.

We were all wunderkinds once, though most of us chose not to believe our own reviews.

I trust that further clarifies matters.

Eric

From: Morry Schwartz

To: “Eric Ellis” <[email protected]>

Sent: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 5:50 AM

Subject: RE: Payment for Sri Lanka article

Dear Eric,

We made a serious effort yesterday to reduce the tension between yourself and The Monthly, but sadly the tone of your last email has made it obvious to us that you have no intention of allowing this matter to be settled on any terms that we regard as reasonable.

We wish to make it clear that we fully support Ben’s decision. He made the tough call to not proceed with your article, even though that put him in a very difficult position of being short an article just days before going to press.

Following your last email, we have advised Ben not to respond to your correspondence. Please submit your invoices as agreed and they will be paid by return.

Yours sincerely,

Morry Schwartz,

Publisher, The Monthly

Robert Manne,

Chair, Editorial Board of The Monthly

From: “Eric Ellis”

To: Morry Schwartz

Cc: “Robert and Anne Manne; Ben Naparstek

Sent: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 7:09 AM

Subject: Re: Payment for Sri Lanka article

Thank you for your mail, Morry.
I think you and I both know what you have written below is nonsense, and
that is very disappointing. I had hoped and imagined you were better than
that.I know its a preposterous notion but maybe, just maybe, this unfortunate  matter just might be something as simple as Naparstek doesn’t know what he’s
doing, and blames others for his deficiencies. Just a thought.
My matter will pass, but when it does, Naparstek will still be your
‘editor,’ your employee.I wish you all the best at The Monthly.
On the basis of my experience, I suspect you will need it in some measure.
Good luck
Eric

P.S: FYI, the piece was edited in about an hour yesterday by a competing
publication, one Naparstek relished in panning when we met last week, a
relish only surpassed by his zeal in pointing out to me the article about  him in whatever throwaway publication it was published in.

From: Eric Ellis

Date: Wed, 18 Nov 2009 09:42:41 +0800

To: Stephanie Williams

Stephanie..greets…invoice as attached..

All best

Eric

Eric Ellis

Correspondent

From: Stephanie Williams <

To: Eric Ellis

Sent: Thursday, November 19, 2009 12:22 PM

Subject: Re: Please resubmit your invoice

Dear Eric,

I hope you’re well.  I received your invoice yesterday but require you to resubmit it at the rate of US$1500. Your current invoice is for US$4000 (full publication rate) however, as we are not publishing your article, we will be paying the non-publishing fee of US$1500 as previously discussed.

I won’t be in the office tomorrow, so I will organise your trip reimbursements early next week.

Best,

Stephanie

From: Eric Ellis

Sent: Thursday, 19 November 2009 4:01 PM

To: Stephanie Williams

Cc: Morry Schwartz

Subject: Re: Please resubmit your invoice

Stephanie, thank you for your mail.

I had already submitted the correct invoice.

As I reminded Morry, and as he correctly agreed…I undertook a life-threatening assignment for The Monthly, which in turn treated me very shabbily. At no time prior to this past week was I advised there would be a kill fee. The only time ‘kill’ was mentioned was in the context of the perilous undertaking I made – in vain – for The Monthly, aka journalists being killed preparing lesser stories.

Perhaps it boils down to this, which may be difficult to imagine from the comforts of Melbourne, but I would ask you and your colleagues to try to do so – how much is my life and experience worth? $1500 or $US4000? I and others think its worth rather more than $US4000, but on this occassion I will settle for the settlement as agreed by Naparstek.

I look forward to this payment, and my expenses reimbursement, being made post haste. At that point, I will consider my next step.

If The Monthly chooses not to pay its due in full, then I am very determined and prepared to have that conversation publicly and/or via lawyers. Murray said he wished to resolve this ‘spat’ amicably. Here is the opportunity.

All best

Eric Ellis

Morry Schwartz, Nov 17, 2009 – “I am always awed by the skill and courage of journalists in extremely dangerous places, and I must admit that I am very uneasy when we put a writer into a risky situation.”

From: Morry Schwartz

To: Eric EllisStephanie Williams

Cc: Morry Schwartz

Sent: Thursday, November 19, 2009 1:23 PM

Subject: Re: Please resubmit your invoice

Dear Eric,

We are willing to pay your expenses of US$1200 plus a third of the fee that would have been paid should the piece have run – which would have been between AUD 3-4000, depending on the final edited extent. We have. offered you US$1500, which is well above our normal kill fee. That is all we will pay, on receipt of your invoice. Please correspond directly with me on this matter – no one else is authorised to deal with it from now on.

Yours sincerely
Morry Schwartz

From: Eric Ellis

Date: Thu, 19 Nov 2009 13:46:17 +0800

To: Morry Schwartz

Subject: Re: Please resubmit your invoice

Thank you for your mail, Morry.

It seems that yet again there is an inexplicable volte-face in your empire. First, you express your admiration for journalists who put themselves in harm’s way for you, as I did in undertaking this assignment for The Monthly, at considerable cost and peril.

Now it seems, barely two days later, you have very little regard for that.

I have obtained legal advice that I am due $US4000, and that is quite clear, and I have communicated that to you. I guess you have to decide the value of your magazine’s reputation, as well as my life and career you imperilled – it is $US4000 or $US2500?

It disappoints me greatly that you have reduced this matter to this – to ‘filthy lucre’- but such is the way of modern society I guess, or perhaps of The Monthly and its associates – it seems that money is more important than morals and professionalism.

With respect, I am not bound at all by the rules you seek to impose. I shall share all and any details of your magazine’s sad and unprofessional conduct with those who I deem appropriate, at the appropriate time.

I await the full payment of the invoice I have forwarded, at which point I shall consider this unfortunate matter too be at an end.

How does that sound?

Thanks, kind regards and all best

Eric

From: Morry Schwartz

To: Eric Ellis

Sent: Thursday, November 19, 2009 2:12 PM

Subject: Re: Please resubmit your invoice

Dear Eric,
My offer stands, and you are welcome to accept it or otherwise. It’s important that I put you on notice that we will not hesitate to take legal action should it come to our attention that you are defaming us.

Yours Sincerely
Morry Schwartz

From: Eric Ellis

To: [email protected]

Cc: Robert and Anne Manne

Sent: Thursday, November 19, 2009 2:38 PM

Subject: Re: Please resubmit your invoice

Thanks Morry.

I’m curious. Where’s the defamation? I only see embarrassment, unprofessionalism, avoidance and a reneging on agreements on your magazine’s part, and inconvenience, financial loss and having my life imperilled, on mine.

And where would you sue for this real or imagined defamation? I don’t live in Australia, and haven’t done so since 1989, and don’t imagine doing so for, well, forever.

I suppose you could launch actions in Indonesia (good luck there), or Sri Lanka (there too) or the UK or Spain or Singapore (I’d suggest Singapore, as it has a highly-refined defamation regime that favours the plaintiff, as you probably know) – all places I move between but I imagine that would rather expensive for you, conducting an international legal campaign over a story your editor handled unprofessionally. My website is hosted in Costa Rica, so I guess that’s another legal option for you. Hablas Espanol?

Indeed, I suggest it would cost more than $US2500 to pursue such follies but if you want to throw good money after what is due to me, I can’t prevent you compounding the previous wrongs your staff has perpetrated. Anyways, good luck with that. I’m advised I’m in the stronger position, legally and logistically, on defamation and professional and reputational injury, should that route be chosen.

I look forward to the $US4000 being deposited forthwith, by the close of business November 30. That gives you a comfortable 11 days to consider the consequences this sad and needless affair. International bank transfers take just one day, and you have my details.

Thanks, all best and kind regards

Eric

From: Eric Ellis

Sent: Thursday, 19 November 2009 10:46 PM

To: Morry Schwartz

Subject: Re: Please resubmit your invoice

Just wondering, Morry, if you need any help locating defamation lawyers in any of those places? – London, Colombo, Singapore, Cadiz, Jakarta or even San Jose, for that matter.

Costa Rica I’m a little hazy with, my only connection to it is via my study of Spanish, and my website host in San Jose as I say. I’ve have never actually been there, only around it, but I hear good things.

Still, I’d be happy to help with any translation of paperwork and the like, as best I can. I studied Castellano Spanish, which is the basis of the official language in much of colonised Latin America as you know, so that should be fine for both there and, of course, in Cadiz, from which many of those conquistadores sailed. I hope you don’t lisp, though – speech impediments can make communications tricky between the Latino lands.

The legal system in Indonesia is always tricky to navigate – decisions often come down to the size of the backhander being offered poorly-paid judges, so I guess you being wealthier than me, you’d win that one should you descend that route, but it would definitely cost you more than $US2500 to do so, and the beauty of settlements in Jakarta for those that lose them – me, one anticipates – is that they are often ignored, which is probably what I would do if your bribe was bigger than mine. In any event, I don’t do corruption but I’m guessing I understand more Bahasa Indonesia than you do, Bapak.

Colombo can appear to be familiar, its legal system being notionally British in character but, as in Jakarta, cynics contend it can come down to who you know in the legal fraternity, and I know Lanka pretty well, having navigated its courts extensively in recent years in a property matter. I guess I’d have the edge there, though Ben would doubtless disagree, pace his clear regard for what I know of Lanka, but I would advise against his wise counsel.

London? Expensive, long way away but famously solid as a jurisdiction, which would mean it favours me. But who doesn’t love London? That said, I notice there has been this trend of ‘libel tourism’ to the Royal Courts of Justice in recent years, largely by corrupt Russian oligarchs, so I guess you could combine that with a wander through Madame Tussauds for the Kylie waxworks. Nazdorovya!

Honestly, your best bet in suing me for defamation is Singapore. I’ve written things there over the years which I know some people weren’t happy with, including stories about the legal system, so you would definitely have an advantage, if I could find you a skilful local lawyer with access to Factiva, so they could build a near-guaranteed cause and malice argument. And the libel payouts are of world-record size, so you’d have the satisfaction of not just avoiding your $US4000 obligation to me, you’d financially cripple me for good measure. Singapore is also close to Oz – direct flights to Melbourne, as Ben noted last week as he was gleefully showing me, fresh off the plane, the gushing article about him in the Melbourne Magazine – and it has great hotels, superb food and is quite cheap these days of the muscular $A. And you could pick up a new Play Station for your wunderkind for those quiet moments when you proprietorially edit The Monthly.

Good luck with it.

Eric

________________________________

From: Eric Ellis Date: Mon, 23 Nov 2009 10:06:35 +0800

Subject: Fw: FYI

To: Robert and Anne Manne, Ben Naparstek

Food for thought, Morry, from a very senior and respected writer in Oz…

How’s that defamation action going?

You want my address?

Eric

—– Original Message —–

From:

To: Eric Ellis

Sent: Monday, November 23, 2009 8:21 AM

Subject: RE: FYI

Eric,

This confirms my long-held hunch about that narcissistic little

enclave.   I think they are overdue for the whack you delivered so

beautifully.   I think you should publish your correspondence and be

damned — and if he tries to sue, you’ll have hoisted him on his own petard.

As for the kid: obviously a tosser. Like a lot of people (admittedly some twice his age) he doesn’t understand that real stories about real people written in a direct and conversational style is better than all that commentariat crap.  Therre is more truth, wit and wisdom in a Jeremy Clarkson car review or a Rod Liddle rant than in most of the ‘serious’ commentary slopping around.

I totally agree with your editor friend: it’s an excellent piece and the decision to spike it is bizarre.  You have every excuse to be

frothing at the mouth.   One consolation is that you’ll be doing your

job long after the kid gets a ‘Ben has decided to pursue other projects’ ultimatum some time in the next 18 months.  He who laughs last etc.

——————————————————————————–

From: Eric Ellis

Sent: Monday, 23 November 2009 10:27 AM

To:

Subject: Re: FYI

Here’s your insider knowledge, as attached…but yes, yes, and yes it would seem…its called journalism, which I’m not they understand much there…

Been doing this too long to ever be in love with my words but there is a way to deal with such things, and The Kid didnt do it…and that has consequences

—– Original Message —–

From:

To: Eric Ellis

Sent: Monday, November 23, 2009 7:20 AM

Subject: RE:

Without the benefit of any inside knowledge I would observe:

1. Monthly has child prodigy editor (22 years old?)

2. The above appointment could be a reflection of  the economic downturn  on Maurie Schwarz’s income as a property developer. He’s amusing himself with publishing and the novelty might be wearing thin as the bills get thicker.

3. Maybe it’s not earnest enough for all the tossers who commission things.

——————————————————————————

From: Eric Ellis

Sent: Monday, 23 November 2009 10:12 AM

To:

Subject: Re: FYI

Thanks mate….was commissioned by The Monthly, at 4000 words plus, who then inexplicably spiked it…go figure..

—– Original Message —–

From:

To: Eric Ellis

Sent: Monday, November 23, 2009 7:08 AM

Subject: RE:FYI

1. I didn’t know you mum knew my aunty Joy.

2. I didn’t know that when my newsagent told me they didn’t have the Speccie in yet, I was missing out on such a refreshingly direct

yarn on Sri Lanka.    Be careful: it could catch on.

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