Opinion: why we do what we do

Time Out Australia was recently named Publishing Company of the Year, but what does that mean? Managing Director Michael Rodrigues gives his thoughts on a publisher’s role in an era of lockouts and lockdowns

In 2007, I abandoned seven years of legal practice in major projects to launch the Time Out brand here in Australia.

Why? Because I believe in the inspirational power of cities. And Time Out is to “city” as Google is to “search”. We love cities. Can’t get enough of them. We want to tell others about them, and want everyone to come visit.

I discovered Time Out while working in Dubai as a lawyer. And I experienced Time Out’s value first hand when it helped me navigate the Big Apple when I visited for the first time in 2004. Need a friend in a city you haven’t visited before that can take you where the locals go? Read an independent guide written by locals, for locals. That’s Time Out.

Why cities? Well, that’s because cities are the most exciting and inspiring places on the planet. Cities are centres of culture, of learning and knowledge. In cities we find inspiration. And what is the point of life, if not to be inspired? To be challenged? To evolve?

Cities are centres of creativity – the collision of ideas, experience, knowledge and imagining wrapped up in a bow of a possibility. Well, at least they can be. Sometimes they lose their way.

So when I see a city like Sydney lose its way, that doesn’t sit well. More than that – given my responsibility as custodian of the Time Out brand here in Australia with an audience in excess of a million, it’s my duty to go do something about it.


"Time Out began its active campaigning against lockout in Sydney in 2017"


It’s through this lens that Time Out began its active campaigning against lockout in Sydney in 2017. Though well intended upon its enactment in 2014, that suite of measures extended far beyond a few rogue venues in Kings Cross. Like weed killer sprayed indiscriminately in a garden, it would in time wreak havoc on our city’s creative flora, impacting not only our bars and clubs and restaurants but our cultural and artistic institutions and the livelihood of our creative community. We dimmed the lights. We collapsed the stage. We made it terribly hard for our creatives to stay. We put Sydney’s beating heart on life support.

To the outside observer, Time Out’s role, my role, in working hard to unshackle us from lockout, and harder still in the face of lockdown during Covid, might be summarily dismissed as being simply because we want our citizenry to have a good time. Let me assure you it goes far beyond that.

At this year’s Mumbrella Publish Awards we landed Publishing Company of the Year, and Publish Leader of the Year. Best Picture, Best Director. The award wins gave me cause to look up the definition of publishing. There’s a bunch of definitions but this from Wikipedia seems to be the most expansive:

“Publishing is the activity of making information, literature, music, software and other content available to the public for sale or for free. Traditionally, the term refers to the distribution of printed works, such as books, newspapers, and magazines. With the advent of digital information systems, the scope has expanded to include electronic publishing such as ebooks, academic journals, micropublishing, websites, blogs, video game publishing, and the like.”


"The role of a publisher is to engage with an audience either making it feel something, learn something, or challenge it to a new way of thinking"


In my opinion this and many other similar definitions should be reclassified as “content production”. Instead, the role of a publisher is to engage with an audience either making it feel something, learn something, or challenge it to a new way of thinking. Well at least, that’s what I think, and that’s what Time Out has done better than most this year.

First of all we made a swift pivot to Time In back in March. Our editorial charter switched overnight from the “best of the city” to the “best of the city – from your lounge room”. We dedicated ourselves to keeping our readers informed of the latest government restrictions and safety advice, how to support restaurants and bars by ordering takeaway, how to bolster arts organisations by live streaming; and we remained responsive to the rapidly changing world we all found ourselves in.

But we’ve taken on the role of publisher as city rebuilder not just through our consumer platform, but through our many B2B initiatives: such as the Time In Awards, which strengthened our audience’s commitment to community businesses devastated by Covid, through Time Out for Business’s strategy work on the Check. Check. Check. campaign designed to help 18-to-35s adopt new CovidSafe going-out rituals; or through our current Xmas Time Out campaign designed to bolster depleted venue coffers in order to improve the odds of their survival now and recovery next year.

So why do I do what I do? Why does Time Out exist?

Our motivation is to achieve a vision for our cities in which creativity is cherished and is encouraged to thrive. To our way of thinking that can only be achieved if the ecosystem of creative enterprises from arts and live performance, from bars and restaurants through to retail and the hotel industry, not only survives the pandemic but thrives thereafter. For these are the civic institutions that inspire us daily – they engage us, they challenge us. They teach us and entertain us. They make us feel. They do all the things that we at Time Out exist to do. And it’s for them that we will continue to fight.


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