Why Flat Chat moved house


After 13 years in the Domain section of the Sydney Morning Herald, Flat Chat has flitted to the Saturday edition of the Australia Financial Review and new readership, new challenges … but the same philosophy.

It’s not such a huge cultural change – moving from a property supplement to the Smart Investor section is just like finding yourself in different room in the same boutique hotel.

But for the first time we will have to address a national readership with all the myriad subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences between different states’ strata laws.  My mind is already boggling.

Life had become a bit of a struggle at Domain of late.  Being dropped earlier this year from the print section – which is basically just ‘property porn’ these days – was fair enough; it had not been a comfortable fit for quite some time.

The column could have survived quite happily online, but that was a shifting landscape too and regular readers will know it was moved around a lot – different days, different times – and sometimes even I couldn’t find it.

Ironically enough (or perhaps predictably) at the same time readership of this website has grown steadily to the point where it is consistently 10 to 20 percent higher than during the same period last year.  You join the dots.

There were, however, a couple of other incidents that had me heading for the door. A high-powered deputation from Airbnb visited the Herald and, I was told, accused me of being an “activist rather than a journalist”.

This may well be true; as one of the few journalists who wasn’t blindly accepting Airbnb’s “we are only helping ordinary Australians rent a room in their home” fantasy then I was always going to stand out from the crowd.

I was also accused of taking money from sponsors to attack the multi-billion-dollar online holiday letting agency – what utter, venal, disgusting, disgraceful crap. But that is the level the debate will descend to if you dare to stick your head above the parapet.

By the way, that entirely spurious argument was somewhat diminished when I pointed out that one of this website’s sponsors had, just the week before, had a piece published in Domain that largely supported Airbnb.

Perhaps it was being named in parliament as “one of the best writers in the Herald” was what did me in.  I’m not – far from it –  but, like a contestant in Survivor who is known to have a hidden immunity idol, I didn’t need that target on my back.

I’m joking, of course. Flat Chat had run its course in Domain and it was time to seek pastures new. I am delighted, therefore, that the AFR has given me the opportunity to appear in print again, as well as online.

For Flat Chat’s loyal readers who don’t take the AFR, the column and all the bits and bobs that go with it will still appear here every week.

If you don’t want to miss any of the fun, subscribe to the newsletter and it will be waiting for you in your email inbox every Tuesday morning. And send a link to a friend – the internet can give us problems, like Airbnb, but it also provides solutions

It’s early days at the AFR, and it will be interesting to see how Flat Chat evolves in its new home. I’m looking forward to it. Here’s to the next 13 years!

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