ABC has closed its opinion website The Drum, a decision said to be a branding and cost-saving attempt. ABC says that the decision was driven by Gaven Morris, ABC’s head of news, not by Michelle Guthrie, the new managing director.
The Drum online is an opinion and news analysis program launched by ABC in 2010. It is edited by Chip Rolley and publishes contributions from freelancers as well as ABC’s own journalists, including Annabel Crabb, Ian Verrender and Barrie Cassidy.
An official statement about the shutting down was announced to the staff on Tuesday. Other freelance contributors were also told about the news on the same day.
Despite ABC’s reason for the axing, the Guardian argues that shutting down the site will not save a huge amount amount of money because it only had very few staff and it did not even pay freelance contributors that much. As of now, ABC has not commented on this issue.
Since its launch, The Drum has been strongly criticized by other media outlets. Others, including those within the ABC, said that they would rather allocate the funds and give it to traditional news gathering instead of paying freelance contributors for opinion articles.
Other criticisms state that the biased and controversial personal opinions of many Drum contributors have degraded ABC’s editorial integrity. Political commentator Chris Kenny, who is also the associate editor of The Australian and one of the prominent critics of The Drum, claims that The Drum has also caused the demise of newspapers.
“But the ever-expanding provision of taxpayer-funded free content cannot be making the commercial climate any easier,” said Kenny, the Guardian reports. “As we have documented here, apart from copious news copy, ABC runs extensive online commentary and analysis on The Drum and now SBS is commissioning long-form text profile pieces online. Apart from the direct competition, it also conditions the marketplace to expect something for nothing.”
The Drum website’s sister program on ABC TV is not affected. While ABC reduced its reliance on freelance contributors, it will still publish online pieces from Insiders host Barrie Cassidy and Annabel Crabb.