Sep 8, 2009

Annabel’s Been Captivated

The news that Sydney Morning Herald reporter and columnist Annabel Crabb will not be renewing

The news that Sydney Morning Herald reporter and columnist Annabel Crabb will not be renewing her contract and will instead move to work at the ABC opens up another interesting area of conversation in the subscription based online media discussion, the role of public broadcasters.

There’s a long tradition in the Australian broadcast media of journalists earning their chops at the ABC before being poached by commercial broadcasters where bigger budgets allow them to cash in. Sometimes they stay in the commercial world, while occasionally they return either to Auntie or SBS to do some more public service. Annabel Crabb’s defection to the ABC is interesting because not only did she begin her career in commercial media, but she is primarily a print journalist. Although ABC online provides an enormous amount of news content, it is almost all leveraged off of the TV and radio networks, with the text in stories often quite close to being a transcript of a broadcast story.

The hiring of Crabb explicitly for the digital space is a bold sign that the ABC wants to bolster its online presence beyond simply providing a record of its traditional media. It is a timely development in the wake of James Murdoch’s much publicised criticism of the BBC’s impact in the online space, and raises the question whether we will see a similar attack on the ABC from News Corporation’s Australian arm should they try to encroach on the online space traditionally filled by newspaper content.

I argued yesterday that News Limited is in a position to build a successful online subscription business based on the breadth of content that it has access to, but what impact will public broadcasters have on that business in the Australian market? Is the ABC a threat to News’ online plans, or are their audiences different enough to make the public broadcaster irrelevant? And where does Fairfax fit into this discussion? Does the AB demographic that Fairfax has cherished for so many years make it vulnerable to having its audience move to the ABC when it institutes its own paywall?

Over to you.

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38 thoughts on “Annabel’s Been Captivated

  1. Fran Barlow

    Annabel is slightly less vacuous than Fran Kelly and Michelle Grattan, but with the bar set down there, that’s not much of a claim.

  2. john2066

    She’s a professional idiot. She is the epitome of the ‘look at me’ gossip columnists who fill out the press gallery – she never writes about policy , just lots of clever clever look at me crap. Her ‘kitchen cabinet’ show sets a new low in the trivialization of politics.

  3. sickofitall

    I find her insufferable, and she’s worse on tv. Only Viggers Trioli or Wil Anderson look more lost in a conversation… sorry, I’m supposed to like her… and I’m sure she’s a really nice person to know. But her depth of ignorance seems bottomless…

  4. silkworm

    Greenfield snookers himself again, shoots himself in the foot, and then kicks an own-goal with his shot-up foot. He calls those who are obsessed with ideological labels Leftists, yet his posts are filled with ideological labels of his own. He then lamely attempts to defend “neoliberalism,” thereby proving that he identifies with that label. I think what Greenfield has shown is that neoliberalism is motivated by pathological hatred.

  5. John Greenfield


    I can’t see how I have “snookered” myself now, or at any other time. Surely, you do not deny that Leftists, particularly bloggers, self-identify as left-wing explicitly, proudly, and often. In doing so they inveigh against alleged right-wingers, conservatives, fascists, neconservatives, neoliberals, or whoever is their “other” du jour.

    One thing my time as a marxist/socialist taught me is that the whole obsession with ideological labels is a Leftist projection onto the rest of the world.

    Because Marxism grew out of Xianity and its vicious sectarianism, heresies, and schisms, Leftists presume everybody else does. That is why it was Leftists who came up with the nonsense that western political leaders, journalists, public servants, and academics from 1973 to 2009 all worshipped in a church the Marxists call “neoliberalism”. Curiously none of the alleged church-dwellers ever said so themselves.

  6. Andrew Lewis

    Doesn’t really matter to me where Annabel works, I will read her stuff. Without question the best ‘new’ journalist for decades. In fact, is there anyone else under 45 in political journalism? Annabel appears so fresh in her writing precisely because the usual group are so moribund. (How old is Rundle now that I think about it. Is he the next youngest political journalist?)

    She is a good writer, but the previous correspondent who praised her analysis is right. She is actually a better thinker than most of her colleagues, and a different perspective from a different generation can only attract new readers/viewers.

    No doubt she will be writing Maxine McKew style exposes in future having beguiled a naive pollie into saying too much.

    Finally, the idea that ABC ‘head-hunts’ anyone is a bit laughable. If the ABC are offering her any more than about 75-80% of what she was getting paid at SMH, then the SMH have a lot to answer for. Perhaps she hasn’t dropped pay to go to the ABC, again, if that is the case, the SMH were under-paying, and have been rightly burnt.

    ABC cannot compete on commercial terms, so ‘head-hunting’ is a bit of a misnomer.

  7. confessions

    A commentator like Annabel doesn’t need to be Bolted

    There was however that episode when Bolt got Crabb’d over his misrepresentation of climate data. That one is a keeper!

  8. Barry Everingham

    Hopefully Annabel will drop her “Insiders” appearances. I really think she’s superb but when she’s slotted in withb the egrergous Andrew Blot he takes great delight in trying to patronise her…but he doesn’t realise he makes himself look more foolish than ever. A commentator like Annabel doesn’t need to be Bolted…come to think of it neither does “The Insiders”. Why do they bother?

  9. AR

    Sisyphis – but George often uses Big Words. And always correctly, almost as he knew that ABC audiences knew what they meant, unlike volitilaty ore wotever Khazing thought he was saying

  10. Sisyphis

    The only member?

    Fortunately it hasn’t crossed Annabel’s mind to flash her member.

    Gerard would if he knew what anyone was talking about.

    Andrew would if he had a cheer squad to arouse him.

    Piers would if the former Member for Bennelong asked him.

    Milne would but he still has brewer’s droop from a previous Walkley Award appearance.

    And we’re all waiting for George’s MEGA logenis.

  11. Marek Bage

    The only member?
    What about George Megalogenis?


  12. Susan Timmins

    I wish her well with her move to the ABC.

    Hope whatever she does is done in writing. She can write well. However her ums and arrs on radio and even the Insiders – sooo annoying.

  13. baldrick

    I have to agree that I would read her regardless of which company/organisation she worked for. She is witty and takes shots at ALL political parties and persuasions. Who she works for is irrelevant.

    The bottom line is – if you want to pay, then pay. If not, then watch the free-to-air. I can’t recall News Ltd in Australia attacking the ABC. Remember Australian media content is but a drop in the ocean compared to the rest of the News Ltd company sphere. We are only 21 million people in an isolated corner of the world. We don’t matter that much (something which I discovered when living overseas).

  14. Pedro

    I’ll miss her on Insiders. She was the only member of the “couch collective” with any objectiveness.

  15. Bloods05

    John Greenfield

    That would be only the second time Latham has been spot on about anything.

  16. Stephen Stockwell

    @John Greenfield: Hang on, you’ve gone and snookered yourself again. You can’t accuse other commenters of ‘Manichean obsessive left/right reductionism’, then smirk at the idea of “90% of the Leftist blogosphere” falling silent. Keep swinging, chief. You’re going to knock yourself out before I finish my coffee.

  17. John Greenfield

    John Newton

    I think Mark Latham’s characterisation of Michelle Grattan as less a journalist than a race-horse caller is spot on.

  18. John Greenfield


    I agree with you. And Insiders gave her an opportunity to present Australia with her charm and vivacity. My point is merely to point out those tedious Culture Warriors and their Manichean obsessive reduction of everything to left/right or left/conservative or Murdoch/non-Murdoch. In fact, if News Ltd. ceased publication tomorrow, 90% of the Leftist blogosphere would be silent within a week.

  19. Stephen Stockwell

    @John Greenfield: Well I just had squiz back upthread, and to me it looks like “some above” are more interested in celebrating Crabb’s well-written intellect than trying to claim her migration to Aunty as some victory for The Left. She gets stuck into all types, left and right. No sneering Marxist-figurehead straw men necessary. You’re punching at shadows.

  20. Sisyphis

    Annabel’s political stance/position (and I wouldn’t presume to slot her into any ideological box – only she knows) is irrelevant.

    You write well or you don’t.

    You communicate well or you don’t.

    You engage or you have the audience pressing the mute button.

    My mute button is currently (and has always been) in overdrive when that nonsense segment on Insiders hits the airwaves.

    “We are now crossing to a nobody from an ABC regional service who will be vox popping members of the ‘Society for the Preservation of the Goodooga One Legged Maoist Tap Dancing Troupe’ for their erudite comments on the efficacy of
    wrapping the education revolution within the parameters of the fiskal simulation package.”

  21. Bloods05

    Catshide? Did you mean that John?

  22. Catsidhe

    Ah… my bad. I don’t read the SMH, and lost track.

    So it’s a loss for Fairfax, then. And still serves to show up the ABC as less partisan and of higher standards than News Ltd.

    And she is not a Lefty radical firebrand, any more than she is an CIS fellow. It actually takes a bit of work to figure out her personal politics, which is the mark of 1) a thinking centrist, and 2) a good reporter.

  23. John Greenfield


    Actually, Annabel’s move to the ABC is a plus for News. For you see, she currently works for News’ main competitor, Fairfax.

  24. John Greenfield


    She is hardly the Rosa Luxemberg or Madame Mao painted by some above.

  25. John Newton

    As long as she replaces the unspeakably boring michelle Grattan on Fran’s morning show on RN, she can do anything she likes. A funny political commentator – as scarce as an honest NSW Labor polly

  26. Stephen Stockwell

    She’s not that conservative, John. Annabel cuts her own groove. That’s why she’s good.

  27. Catsidhe

    Mr Greenfield, thanks for playing, but…

    a) says you.
    b) from the Government line. From the Commercial Media (which, with trivial differences in tone for their respective target audiences, have a disturbingly inter-consistent, simplistic, reactionary and conservative editorial line). From PR spin and lobbying body lies. From error and ignorance.

    1 & 3. Actually, it says a lot about our opinion of Ms Crabbe that we think she has a place in the ABC. Mark Scott certainly thinks so, from the report. I think that it’s less ‘catching up’ to the standards of News Ltd, than it is simply News Ltd’s loss.

    And the hiring of a conservative does not bolster the ABC’s cred as a ‘dissenter’ so much as it bolsters its cred as a serious news organisation which recognises talent no matter conservative or progressive.

  28. John Greenfield

    Annabel is merely the latest example of Australian public broadcasters headhunting conservative MSM print journos who have proved their chops on Insiders. A recent example being Karen Middleton by SBS.

  29. John Greenfield


    What on earth are you going on about?

    1. You must think really poorly of the ABC if you think it needs to hire commercial media journos in order to catch up to the standards of News Ltd!

    2. It is not the ABC’s job to provide “dissenting opinion”. Even if it were, from what do you propose a state-funded media corporation dissent?

    3. The idea that the recruiting of a conservative print journo from the commercial MSM somehow bolsters the ABC’s cred as a “dissenter” is a strategy to improve the ABC’s competitive position against News in weird.

  30. peter5044

    A great catch for the ABC – I reckon Annabel is one of the best most readable and entertaining journalists, and she doesn’t stray onto the path of fatuous opinion!

  31. Durutticolumn

    PPS yr news ltd in line to build successful pay for vew model is I think lacking in rigor

  32. Durutticolumn

    PS AB demographic is the one we all think we are in smart savvy intelligent high income high achiever socially mobile ……….in a word US!

  33. Durutticolumn

    Pretty clear she doesn’t want to be stuck behind the paywall with a bunch of foaming half breeds like Paul Sheehan and Devine. ABC gives her more scope and bigger audience. She truly multi media writes beautifully and is good on radio and television. Her “hidden” talent is her analysis. When she switches off her very funny vaudeville schtick she razor sharp commentator. Dig up the column she wrote about the lack of intellectual depth in the Liberal Party And her Turnbull essay was fantastic. Turnbull got wooed into thinking she was a lightweight and talked too much. She nailed him.
    .When News and fairfax out up the wall we will all be able to ignore them… Hands up who thinks people will pay for Bolt and Akerman? Judging by the posts on Bolt’s blog he writes for people who move their lips when they read. I not sure they wld be the sort of people who had access to more than pocket money from the carers.

  34. Dave Gaukroger

    A/B demographic is basically a marketing term used to identify a particular group of consumers, in this case upper middle class and educated. Fairfax has long held the bulk of these readers and framed their advertising business around them.

  35. Jean Webster

    I was reading Annabel’s pieces occasionally, in the hope that she would eventually be able to differentiate between wit and patronising smartarsedness, but I guess that style will fit the ABC as well as it fits Fairfax.
    Still, Fairfax now gets Mike Carlton back, doesn’t it? Very forgiving of him to go back to an organisation that gave him the boot.

  36. confessions

    Fairfax’s loss quite frankly, and with them about to launch their own Punch equivalent, Crabb’s move must be a major blow to them – surely she’d be among their top-read journos?

    What or who is the “AB demographic” btw?

  37. twobob

    Annabel will surely enjoy he new found social status upgrade as who you work for is a choice.
    And is the ABC a threat to News’ online plans, or are their audiences different enough to make the public broadcaster irrelevant?
    Yes the ABC is a threat to News’ online plans and Yes their audiences are different although it is only a matter of time until the reality of someone else getting something for free that they are paying for sinks in and starts to erode their subscriber base.
    And where does Fairfax fit into this discussion? Fairfax is sunk, its audience will move to the ABC.

  38. monkeywrench

    Excellent move by Annabel.
    Given the level of bias and outright mediocrity in the vast majority of News Ltd’s output, one can only applaud any move to bolster the ABC’s journalistic output in any stream of the media. News may well have the capacity to provide content for which people will pay….but is the quality and veracity of that content going to improve if we pay for it? One only has to look at the example of Fox News for your answer there.
    I see Murdoch’s whining as more of a symptom of the desire for the Murdoch empire to hamstring the public broadcasters’ ability to provide dissenting opinion than for any competition to their business model.

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