Interview: Graham Young, Director &
Editor, Online Opinion - 11th May 2003
are the prime aims and objectives of Online Opinion?
Line Opinion wants to create a space for robust public
debate where Australians can interact with each other
on political and policy issues at a level with which
they are comfortable and to be provided with the tools
to do this.
when and why was Online Opinion established?
first published On Line Opinion in April 1999 on my
laptop from my two bedroom unit in Coorparoo because
I thought there was room for a magazine in Australia
that represented all points of view, not just narrow
sectoral interests. And also because I could.
Hogg is the co-founder. When I originally had the
idea I sent an e-mail to a few friends and Lionel
responded positively. We've known each other for about
20 years and done a lot of things together, but never
anything this intense or grand before. I also got
a lot of support from Peter Baume and Chris Sidoti.
is the most important aspect of the website?
the moment it is the Journal. That will change over
time as we develop the site, but to develop the site
we need to raise more funds, and we are doing that
at the moment.
kind of business activities do you do, that are not
elaborated on the website?
mean me personally? I think the site is pretty comprehensive
on that score. My main line of business is developing
property, but that is not where my passion lies.
many visitors and impressions to you get per month?
gets somewhere between 60,000 and 70,000 individual
site visits which translates to around 100,000 page
the biggest news story you ever covered, and how did
it come about?
news story? We don't really cover news stories, the
journal is more reflective. Our philosophy is that
we want people who are experts in issues to write
for the general public, rather than employing journalists
who will interview the experts and then try to précis
what they have written.
the most revolutionary thing we have done is to turn
the focus group into a way of covering elections.
By interviewing groups of swinging voters in an Internet
chat room we have been able to predict things in general
and state elections that mainstream journalists have
just walked right by
innovation was covering the bombing of Belgrade by
finding someone who lived there who was prepared to
write us despatches.
the highs and lows in the business?
sure what you mean by this. It has been pretty hard
grind so far, but it keeps trending in the right direction.
The best part is when you get feedback from a reader
saying that you have helped them with something, or
just asking for advice. That means that you have become
part of their social circle, which is one of the key
things that the site is about.
do you delegate different tasks to your team?
a small team consisting of Hugh Brown and me. I generally
call through the glass between us. We do have a team
of volunteers who help. The Editorial Advisory Board
is chaired by Brian Johns. We get together with them
via the 'net generally. We also have around 20 volunteer
sub-editors. We talk via e-mail, and also using www.eprojects.com
But virtual meetings aren't enough, so we have also
been organising meetings in each capital city. Unfortunately
we don't have the budget to bring them all together
in the one spot.
also have a group in Brisbane, including Joanne Jacobs,
Terry Flew (both from QUT),
Peter Spearritt (Brisbane Institute)
and Bruce Muirhead (UQ)
who meet regularly to talk about strategic issues
for the whole site.
the biggest issue you have ever had to deal with?
don't think there is any "biggest issue".
The hardest thing is keeping all the balls in the
air at one time - finance, editorial, development,
and doing some writing myself.
what % of time and effort do you spend on running
the business, as opposed to writing code, moderating
forums or FTPing upline?
of my time is spent running the business. Hugh is
the one who gets caught up in the technical issues.
did you decide you would run a portal for your career,
and in what year did you become profitable?
not profitable. In fact, OLO is a not-for-profit,
so it won't ever be profitable in the conventional
sense of the word. But it is ambitious, and I can't
ever see money being a comfortable thing for it, because
there will always be more things to do.
you have any mentors, and if so, who?
Baume has been great, but I don't know that I would
call him a mentor. The group that meets regularly
in Brisbane provides a lot of moral support as well
as guidance, and Lionel Hogg and I have spent a lot
of time chewing over the issues and coming up with
the concepts, but again, I don't know that this is
mentoring. I certainly have inspirations, although
they are mostly dead. Dead white males, actually,
like George Orwell, the unofficial patron saint of
the site. John Stuart Mill, Milton, Wycliffe, Voltaire,
Tyndall, Socrates, Boethius.
you ever "pissed off" another company or
person to the extent that they sued you, and if so,
what was the outcome?
much notoriety has Online Opinion given you, and are
you famous (or at least well known in certain
not after notoriety or fame for that matter. And if
I was, there are probably better ways of getting it
than publishing OLO.
anyone attempt to avoid being mentioned on your website?
that I've noticed.
you met any politicians that got a "caning"
on your website?
try not to give anyone a "caning", it's
not that sort of site. But I have been critical of
various politicians in some of my writing, and yes,
I have met some of them. The essence of the site is
the clash of ideas, and I normally offer a right of
reply to anyone who has anything said about them on
the site. I think most understand that this is the
case and know that anything they put up will get as
much prominence as the original, so critical opinions
aren't a problem.
much time and effort, and money, have you put into
time and effort, but not a lot of money. We had some
problems at first when the dot.com boom was on because
the business model (as much as a not-for-profit can
have one) was so modest. But we're still in business
and a lot of other sites aren't. As a developer I've
learnt to minimise risk and to keep costs as low as
possible. Also to try and give the customer what they
want and need, and that isn't necessarily five star.
your return on investment?
your business plan changed much over the years, and
have there been any elements that you dropped, which
were not profitable or practical?
had one major change when we moved away from a model
which depended on governments providing most of the
funding to one where civil society was financially
supporting the site.
many supporters do you have, and who is the most "powerful"?
between 50 and 100, but I have no idea what you mean
the biggest compliment you have been given?
is the best advice you have received?
worry about what everyone else is doing.
you have done anything different, in hindsight?
think the biggest mistake is that we didn't spend
some money on some more sophisticated software earlier
in the peace. The time saved by doing it would have
been more economical than the money saved.
do you do to relax?
piano or organ. Work out. Surf. Cook a meal and then
site around with friends and enjoy it.
has traditional media reacted to you, and do they
see you as a threat?
have a good relationship with traditional media. There
is no reason for them to see us as a threat. We actually
make it easier for them to find and research good
stories. A number of our authors have made appearances
as a result of publishing in OLO, and we often make
a point of sending their work to other outlets.
what ways are you controversial?
publish all sides of a story, and often stories that
the main media miss, for a variety of reasons. We
try to find material that is fresh, but valid. When
we succeed you have something which is going to arrest
are your competitors?
all international. The only Australian journal doing
anything like what we do is Crikey!,
but his style is much racier. There is a journal called
in the UK which is similar. The IndyMedia
sites are also competition in some ways, but they
really have a quite different audience. We aim to
provide a credentialled outlet for material. If it
appears on OLO, then it is suitable to be quoted in
an essay and footnoted. We don't publish a whole stream
of similar essays, and we don't publish a lot of what
is submitted to us. Our model is halfway between the
completely self-organising model like say a SlashDot,
and the heavily centralised one used by the major
What's the worst (or best) "slanging
matches" you get into with people of different
views, or perhaps even other online sites?
try not to get into slanging matches. I only get involved
in the forums on our own site when I think they need
a kick along. I don't get involved in discussions
on any other sites as a general rule.
gives you the edge?
edge is that we now have a large resource of authoritative
articles on a wide range of issues from multiple perspectives.
You could call it customer convenience. We aim to
develop this one-stop-shopping concept further.
is the relationship between Online Opinion and Internet
Thinking publishes On Line Opinion under contract.
else you would like our readers to know? (we get many
media types here).
unless you jog my elbow and suggest something.
more information and websites of revevence examine:
Opinion (Australian Politics)
Tingle interviews Rob Malda, Founder of Slashdot -
8th April 2003