Here’s hoping

Three years ago, we published the first issue of The Saturday Paper. On the cover was a story about the murder of Reza Barati and the policy decisions that led to it. This week, we report on his killer, on the run for the second time, a former guard who continues to menace the men imprisoned on Manus Island.

“Nightmares have been a part of my life for long time,” Behnam Satah, a witness to the murder who fears retribution, tells Martin McKenzie-Murray. “I don’t want to die for doing right thing. I did testify for murder of my roommate and one of my best friends. Why should I be punished for doing right?”

The story of the mistreatment of refugees by our government has been the defining story of this paper’s life. It is the story of a world that could be better than it is.

We started The Saturday Paper to test the assumptions that pervade newsrooms. Journalism is built on the ersatz wisdom of cynicism. The Saturday Paper is built on the opposite. It launched not just to ask whether newspapers could be made to work but whether optimism could work.

In our first editorial, a mission statement of sorts, we wrote: “And so here we are, this young paper with tenacious vision; a paper defiant of trends and conventional wisdom, trusting in a country that needs sophistication in place of sophistry, that yearns for calmer debate and better journalism. This is a newspaper for a country more serious than it is often credited with being. Its complexity will be hidden in its simple aspiration: to chronicle, unsparingly, the age in which we live.”

The optimism we have is in our readers. The paper’s existence is staked on your seriousness and your humanity.

In the past three years, in almost every assumption made about newspapers, we found the opposite of what passes for conventional wisdom proved true.

The longer a story is, the better it is read. The more serious an issue – and the more complex – the better it is received. The more something is ignored elsewhere, the more people want to know about it.

The Saturday Paper has prospered since it launched. It has prospered because of the risk it took – the risk of optimism, of believing in an Australia unhappy with cruelty and unseriousness. That risk – the risk of hope – is the only way we will solve the problems of the world in which we live.

Since our first issue was published, the world has become meaner and more uncertain. Populism has become a byword for the destruction of protections and cohesion. Division has flourished alongside a paranoid desire for the world to go backwards, to undo liberal gains in the hope that a contented few might once again live in the past.

Cynicism is the obvious response, but it is an inert one. This new order requires the optimism to act without hesitation. That is what the paper tries to do each week, to get on with hoping that the world might be better, than it can be made sense of.

We live in an age without time for hesitation or inertia. We live in a world only optimism will save. Journalism will be a part of that, and The Saturday Paper will be there as it happens – yapping and growling, as our first editorial promised, and demanding we be better.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 4, 2017 as "Here’s hoping".

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