Digital news means we’re never far from the headlines and journalists give up-to-the-second updates on breaking stories. Social media means readers watch news unfold and new services are replacing traditional newspapers.
Hear Sophie Black (Editor in Chief at Private Media), Tim Duggan (Content Director and co-owner of the Sound Alliance) and Paul Daley (author and journalist) discuss how journalists and publishers had to adapt to the digital age in order to survive in a faster than ever media world.
*Host: George Dunford (G)
*Speakers: Sophie Black (S), Tim Duggan (T), Paul Daley (P)
* Typist’s notes: unclear caused by unfamiliar word or by overtalking
G: Hello, and welcome to the National Library of Australia. I am George Dunford, the Director of Digital Engagement. As we begin, I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I thank the Elders, past and present for caring for this land that we are now privileged to call home.
Today's talk is a digital culture talk that looks at news online and how we shift from page to pixel, and how that's affected journalism and journalists. Today, you're more likely to get your news from Buzzfeed than the Australian, and that news won't ... you won't be pointed to that news by a newsagent, you'll probably get it through Facebook. Joining us to sort through the new news is Sophie Black, the former Editor of Crikey, Australia's preeminent online news service. As well as serving as the director of the Adelaide Festival Ideas, Sophie has gone on to become the Editor in Chief at Private Media, which publishes Crikey, Women's Agenda and the public sector journal, The Mandarin.
Also, joining us all the way from Canberra is Paul Daley. Paul is a Walkley Award winning journalist and novelist whose recent political novel featured the National Librarie’s own Petherick Reading Room, which we always like to see. He writes about Indigenous affairs and national identity for the Guardian online after a rich career in print media.
And finally, joining us on the end, all the way from Sydney is Tim Duggan, who is responsible for all of those irresistibly clickable images of cats and intriguing lists that distract you every day on Junkee. But Junkee's an interesting story because they had a unique take on the Sydney siege in December 2014 that I think Tim will talk some more about as we go to our conversation. It's one of several sites including music sites Mess+Noise and FasterLouder that has created the ... that Tim has created at the Sound Alliance. Recently the Sound Alliance has also launched a travel title called AWOL in partnership with Qantas, which Tim will tell us some more about. But first of all I'd like to get each of us speakers to talk a little bit about where they see themselves in relation to online news. And we'll start with Sophie Black.
S: Thanks George. Yes, as George mentioned, I am the former editor of Crikey and now Editor in Chief at Private Media, which publishes Crikey and six other titles. The Mandarin is our latest title based here in Canberra and serves the audience of the public service and is everything to do with the public service but we also have a couple of business publications such as SmartCompany and StartUp Smart and the other titles that you see up there. But in thinking about the sort of topic around this talk, I thought about the fact that I've recently been consumed with working on Crikey's 15th birthday campaign. Internet years work a little bit like dog years so that means we're about 103 years old now and so this is the first Crikey that you can see here. Pretty basic. Had some great stories, though, incidentally. So, and to mark the occasion we've been constructing a bit of a timeline of the past, present and future of online media starting with our birth year of 2000. And looking back at the innovations in online media over the last 15 years has been a really fascinating process.
Does anyone remember Second Life? That was a thing. It's still around, but yeah. And Thefacebook? So there's the first iteration of the face book up there. Now better known as Facebook. But, you know, looking back this forces us to think of a world without Wikipedia, without Twitter, without Google News or Grumpy Cat, which is really quite unimaginable. All innovations that have landed in the last 15 years.
But then we got to the hard bit which is writing the next 15 years. And the truth is we have no idea and neither does anybody else. The Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, recently said that 20 years down the track when the internet of things becomes our reality, the internet will seemingly disappear. We will be so absorbed in the digital connectivity of our lives that we'll no longer notice it at all. So media experts are warning brands at the moment to prepare for a post-screen world, and there are examples like venture capitalist Fred Wilson who declared at the end of last year that social media is now dead, in case you didn't get the memo. So what does this unimaginable pace of change mean for the media? And how can we possibly keep up? The funny thing about Crikey is that we are pretty much the same as we were 15 years ago, only with many more readers across a few ... several different platforms that didn't exist 15 years ago. But essentially we're an email newsletter. Lucky for us the email is undergoing something of a renaissance. Quartz's daily brief is the must have inbox item at the moment and so too the podcast is having its time in the sun again. NPR's serial over in the US was the most talked about form of story-telling of the summer. So what's happening here? There's a trend emerging in the types of stories we want to consume and how we want to consume them. A recent story published on the story-telling platform Medium by Rex Sorgatz called Surfing, Drowning, Diving, pointed out that media innovations in recent years have shifted away from an obsession with capturing everything to a fascination with exploring something. To quote, we are now in the era of the deep dive. The think piece longform, recap and binge watch. Think the New York Times’ amazing Snowfall and all the iterations that have come after that. Vox's explainers, Twitter's lists and Vice's video. Working along these deeper forms of journalism are the faster, meaner sugar hits like the Listicles or the live blog and the terrible but let's face it horribly addictive Daily Mail's sidebar of shame. So what unites the successful media outlets? They experiment, they create a space where people want to come back. They talk to and use their audience. They risk failure and if they do fail they talk about it. Their most valuable commodities are trust, transparency, connection with their audience and community.
Community is a particularly important aspect as a way that online media has developed. How you cultivate it, grow it, talk to it and serve it. A private media will serve a number of niche audiences and we're striving to turn them into communities. Crikey was very good at this from the start. The founder, Stephen Mayne, was particularly adept at using his audience and he did the very unthinkable very early on and asked his readers who he called the ‘Crikey army’ to help fill in the gaps. He by‑passed the hubris of the traditional mastheads of the day by admitting when he didn't know something and asking his audience to help, and they immediately felt part of the project and that's an approach we see mirrored across outlets today.
It turns out there's a deeply social aspect to online news that has evolved in all sorts of unforeseen ways. It started with the journalist as salesperson. All good online reporters know that their story doesn't live and die in a day, they hit publish then go about distributing their own yarn on social media. They promote it and the really good ones talk back to their readers. The interaction with the audience is immediate and it is certainly not finite. But we're also seeing a small section of audience who are hungry for even more for the real world meet-up. For a community that extends beyond the comment section and into a space to meet and exchange ideas in the horror of horrors flesh. The serial podcast that took iTunes by storm over the summer is a good example of a seemingly solitary exercise that became a deeply social activity. A little like binge watching your latest favourite TV series. The act of listening to a podcast itself is solitary but then people absolutely had to write about it, talk about it, pay homage to it and then bag it out. But this also mutated into something very strange and very lovely in the form of listening parties. For the serial finale, I along with hundreds of well meaning nerds around the world sat in on a listening party. This involved joining about 60 people in a café early before work to sit around, drink coffee and listen intently for an hour in absolute silence. We ate cereal, get it, drank coffee and had a wonderful time not talking to each other, we were essentially gathering around the wireless and we loved it. So we may all be glued to our screen these days but there is still a deeply social aspect to ourselves that means we want to share and tell and commune over stories. That means media companies need to be more than mastheads now. And in a new media world populated by countless news aggregators, you have to work harder to convince people to come back. And the value placed on belonging, membership, subscribing being part of something is morphing into media companies creating stories, events and products of their own. Witness the Guardian UK opening a complex the size of an aircraft hangar in the UK to host events. Looks a little bit like second life. We are offering similar services Private Media, albeit it more likely in a broom cupboard, with breakfasts awards, monthly meet-ups and education offerings across all our mastheads. So in short, the way we tell stories, consume stories, tell stories and sell stories has changed fundamentally. Please, somebody, tell George Brandis. But the way we dig for stories remains fundamentally the same. Good stories take time and patience, all of which equals money. The reality, of course, of that can be out of whack with the reality of journalism in the digital age. Media companies and journalists have to work harder, smarter and faster for less money, and these days with even more risk attached. As the government starts a retention bills are set to be considered in the senate today and late into the night, it's worth remembering that our journalists and their sources are threatened like never before. The contradiction of the great potential that the internet offers us to reinvent the way we tell and find stories, is that it also offers up a myriad of ways for journalists and media outlets to be tracked and potentially silenced. We live in an era in which governments, both here and abroad, rhetoric around free speech is dangerously out of step with their aggressive surveillance agenda. Journalists in the digital age already had a hard slog ahead of them, it just got harder. Anyone who values a free and independent media and buy extension internet must ensure that they educate themselves about the risks, not just to the media but to themselves as citizens. And if nothing else, take inspiration from one of the great innovations of the last 15 years, the iconic Grumpy Cat, and angrily, or is that grumpily, demand accountability and scrutiny around this legislation.
P: Hi. Thanks very much for having me here today. On this topic I thought perhaps the best way for me to deal with it was to tell you something of my own story and my own journey through the changes in print media where I've worked over the past 20, 25 years. So I'll start on the very first day of my journalism cadetship on a Fairfax regional newspaper. That was in 1987. I was shown my desk in a big dark office that was piled almost to the roof with old copies of newspapers and boxes containing sheaves of brittle yellow copy paper. If you can imagine the place was lit by green desk lamps, there was no overhead lights and it was filled with smoke. Most journalists in those days smoked at their desks permanently then.
There were two seats facing each other at my desk and two telephones. I was obviously going to have to share the desk with another journalist who I hadn't yet met but I saw a problem. There was just one typewriter there. The group editor had come from the head office at Footscray to Melton where I was working to welcome me on day one and I said to him, well there's only one typewriter on the desk and he said, that's because only one of you will need it at any one time, the other one will be out on the street getting stories or working the phone. Today as the resources for all newspapers, and not least regionals are being cut beyond the bone, it's hard to believe what I'm going to tell you about that newspapers but there were four fulltime journalists on this newspaper and a fulltime editor as well. There was also a fulltime photographer. There were six or seven titles in the group served by four or five different newsrooms across the western suburbs. Bear in mind I'm talking about suburban newspapers here. The papers often had 80 or 90 pages about 50 percent of which was editorial. Each edition carried hundreds of display ads and thousands of classifieds. Today, most of those titles have folded. Those that haven't would be a fifth of the size probably and perhaps employ one journalist who does everything including writing, subbing and taking photographs.
So the newspaper I worked for, The Melton Mail Express, was written in the outer west of Melbourne but it was produced and printed in Dandenong, perhaps 80 kilometres away in Melbourne's outer east. So in Melton we gathered the news and typed it onto the little squares of copy paper and gave it to the editor who would either cover it in pencil markings or reject it. But it really went through unamended and these little paperclip piles of copy paper were then put into a satchel and George, who was a fulltime courier ... not this George, a different George, who visited the newsrooms, I think it was three times a day, drove them out to Dandenong where they were subedited on the desk of five or six fulltime subs and then placed on the page by the compositors, printed and then distributed by truck. All of this sounds Dickensian now and I'm not actually going to take you through every step on the road to convergence that brings us where we are today, except to say that about that time two big things happened in my little workplace; the first is that the newspaper introduced very basic computer technology whereby we could type our stories on a rudimentary word processor and transmit them via a very slow, but faster than courier, dial-up modem. The second was that a fax machine was introduced into the office. George, the courier, was made redundant, and he was the first of thousands of casualties of technological advancement that I would see in print media while I worked in it fulltime over the next 21 years.
I walked away from fulltime print journalism 21 years later when I was myself made redundant for the second time in my career. I was working as the national affairs editor of the culturally totemic Bulletin magazine, which had, despite its illustrious literary history, become a dinosaur of the journalism business. In its final decades, the magazine had dramatically dropped circulation to a point where it was selling less than 50,000 a week, despite having some excellent journalists who were writing high quality polished well researched and mostly long form pieces. Quite simply, this good journalism cost an awful lot of money to make and the magazine, in its current form, could no longer pay for it. For me, and the 10-year mid-careered journalists around me, there had never been any question. Advertising would always pay our wages and underwrite the costs of the expense of journalism that we produced. But advertisers didn't need to pay to put their ads in these print products anymore, and even the exorbitant cover prices of the magazines and papers couldn't go anywhere near to covering the costs. The signs were everywhere, of course, and had been for years but there was too much complacency amongst the traditional publishers.
James Packer wanted to invest in casinos, not old media, but it wasn't all his fault. Those who managed the Bulletin also killed it. Like the people that ran and continue to run Fairfax and News Limited, for too long they failed to acknowledge let alone take advantage of the opportunities presented by the advent of the World Wide Web, and when they refused to seriously compete with the young digital players on the field they failed themselves. They failed to commit properly early enough to online news products that carried their brand. These products were treated as separate poor relation businesses when they were eventually established. They were understaffed compared to the legacy print platforms with junior personnel.
I recall working for The Age in the Canberra bureau in 2000, I was a political correspondent there, and we had just received another technological update, a new computer terminal edge complete with email and web access. Crikey had not long been established, we were all reading it and we were all arguing about its long-term viability, and whether it was merely a frivolous gimmick or the vanguard of the future. I thought the latter at the time and something else gave me a glimpse of the future too along the corridor, a very accomplished journalist, Tom Burton, an old friend, had recently been exiled from the Australian Financial Review. He's now the Editor in Chief of Private Media's The Mandarin. Anyway, he was stuck in a small office away from the rest of Fairfax and he was the group's, the entire group's, that is, three or four newspapers, he was their political online guy. So the newspapers weren't taking it seriously but Tom certainly was. He broke stories on the web every single day, stories that were conveniently ignored by the legacy print products for the most part or appropriated and claimed.
At that time it was absolutely apparent to me that all print journalists would be working this way before too long. Still it would be another five, six, seven years before the old print players decided that they'd have to adopt an online first strategy, and even then they were still half-hearted about it, they were just so sentimentally wedded to the old products. So they adopted clunky siloed business models and they still paid too little detail to lay out quality and user-friendliness. They were a long way behind so many good innovative quality outfits that were producing online only products in Australia and overseas, outfits that were staffed with young, fast, equally clever and ambitious journalists, many of whom had never worked in old media. This was the only journalism they had known and many of them were very, very good at it and are. Some older journalists criticised the approach in methods of the younger counterparts. They say they're fast and loose, that they use speed ahead of accuracy and are obsessed with social media rich, especially through Twitter at the expense of depth and polish. Well there's always been fast and loose fly by the seat of the pants journalists, those who compromise truth and accuracy for an easy by-line. The web's accommodation of immediate filing and posting of stories and Twitter's capacity to spread the word, has perhaps made it easier for the fast and loose, but social media is an incredibly harsh critic too and it magnifies mistakes, sloppy practice and undeclared partisanship.
There's a tight compact with the reader these days, as soon as you file a story and have it posted online it is no longer yours, it is there for others including the subjects or other experts to immediately evaluate and criticise. It takes a while to get used to this but I would argue that journalists ignore this conversation at their peril. I won't go on at length about how the web has enhanced journalistic capacity; research tasks that could once take weeks, for example, can be accomplished in minutes and the simple act of filing stories from, for example, war zones, or other remote places is made simple by the smartphone and web access, which can usually be found.
I think the current crop of young journalists work much harder under far greater pressure than many of their predecessors. They have to think fast and make quicker judgements right and deliver in a fraction of a time that their predecessors had. That said, old media companies who were determined to clean to print are cutting too deeply and have dangerously compromised the quality of their legacy products. Web only news deliverers meanwhile have begun life doing far more with less, while striving for the quality that can win market share although there is, in my view, an over-emphasis on comment rather than news. [Unclear] as my friend, Catherine Murphy calls it. It's cheaper and easier to produce the news or polish long form research, heavy writing.
So what about the remaining old dogs of the print world, how have they coped? Many have left, content that they've seen the best days. Others in mid-life and mid-career have stayed and adapted. Many have done so wonderfully and have embraced the digital first or digital-only model with all of the creative opportunity that it presents. I opted for a writing life outside fulltime journalism after the Bulletin closed. I did this mainly because there were other things I wanted to dedicate my life to writing, both fiction and non-fiction long form and short form. That said, I retain a commitment to journalism too, dedicating maybe a third or half of my writing time to mostly long form articles about Indigenous cultural and history and Australian national identity. I have ... lucky I have found a niche at the Guardian, which is committed to these issues I care pretty deeply about. I also write pro bono for another important Australian website called Honest History, which seeks to balance the Anzac centric militarism that is imbuing our national narrative with other Australian achievements and moments of note from a rich 60,000 year continental history. I've also written pro bono for Wendy Harmer's, the Hoopla, which was, I think, an excellent and well conceived and well edited site, whose closure sadly was announced yesterday, I think. Commercial reality got the better of the Hoopla, unfortunately. But I still like to get my print fixed, so several times a year I write long ... sometimes very long pieces for literary journals such as Meanjin and those pieces also eventually gain an online life to compliment the print version. So I note with interest David Walsh's investment in the fantastic Island magazine and not least his decision to make the article, stories and prose available only in the print product which is swimming upstream in terms of what the rest of the market is doing, I think. I do wonder how this is going to work. The answer is, I really don't know but I'll leave it to those on the commercial side of these ventures to ponder that publicly. Meanwhile, of course, after the initial feeling of illness I always experience when I ... when one of my new books comes in the mail, I still love the feel of holding my work in printed form like a book. I think books will still be around for the duration of my writing life, which is hopefully a long one, but I suspect that all but the most unique high quality small circulation niche print journalism products will not be. Once, not too many years ago, I don't think I would ever have conceived of writing narrative or literary non-fiction or fiction for online only. I've always wanted to hold a printed version of the works of which I'm proudest. But a few months ago there was a breakthrough for me. An online publisher asked me to write a piece of short fiction for their product and I thought hard about it and wondered whether I could actually stand the idea of it not appearing in print, but I did it and to my surprise when it lobbed on my iPad I was very, very pleasantly surprised I could cope with it. So maybe that is actually a sign of things to come for the future for me. I couldn't touch it on the page but I'm not too sure that in the end I'll ultimately care that much. Thanks for listening anyway, it's great to be here.
T: Good afternoon everybody, my name is Tim Duggan and I am the Content Director and one of the owners of a company called Sound Alliance. So we are a ... one of the new media ... we're actually ... we're in fact an old new media company. 'Cause we started about two weeks before Crikey did so it must have been a very fertile time, yeah. There was a DJ, there was his girlfriend and there was a backpacker and they started a website called inthemix, which at the time was about electronic dance music. And over the ensuing 14 years, 15 years, Sound Alliance has grown, to become one of Australia's leading independent new media publishers.
If these titles aren't too familiar to people in this room, then ask any 18 to 35 year old, it could be a friend, a family member, a son, 'cause that's who we publish for. We publish for Australia's youth, 18 to 35 year olds, and the top six are websites that we own and operate and the bottom three are ones that we publish ... that we represent in Australia. So inthemix is an electronic music website so it covers all dance music and festivals and parties. FasterLouder is a live music website so it covers everything that inthemix doesn't, the other side of music. Mess+Noise is an Australian independent publication, which covers independent Australian music, SameSame is the national gay and lesbian website. But the two most interesting ones are our two newest babies on the right-hand side, Junkee and AWOL. Junkee launched in March 2013 and it has grown in the two years to be our biggest site by far. Junkee has about 1.4 million Australians coming to it each month and in total and across our network there's about 2.5 million people each month, most of them 18 to 35 year olds.
We're based in Sydney, we've got an office in Melbourne. We've got about 30 staff of which about 20 of those fall into the editorial and marketing side. But there's a lot of bang for buck amongst these publications. Each of these sites has about two editors on there and in total we produce about 1,500 pieces of content a month. AWOL is the one, I think, we're going to touch on a bit later with George. AWOL was a really interesting model for us. So it is a travel title, it's all about inspiring young people to travel the world. But it's in partnership with Qantas, so we went to Qantas and they own this title and we run it for them for the next, at least, five years. I'll talk about that model a bit later, but as a publisher we've been around for 15 years and if you think about the move from newspapers to online, like that has obviously been a massive shift and we've heard a little bit about that. But the shift that's happened in the past couple of years has been even greater than that, and for us that shift was mobile. To our audience, 18 to 35 year olds, is what we call they're the future consumers of tomorrow so these are the people who are going to be reading The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. Some of them might be reading it currently but they are certainly going to be the primary audience in about 10, 20 years. And when the mobile phone, iPhone in particular was launched, we saw a little bit of our traffic started coming through the mobile and then over the past five years it has increased exponentially, to the point now that for our audience, the 18 to 35 year olds, about 60 per cent of them read our sites through the mobile. And that has massive ramifications for us. So not only, if you think newspapers are struggling, figuring out how to monetise and work in a world where they've got to make money off a desktop advertising, to then try and make money off a mobile phone where the yield, the page ... the screen's a lot smaller, the yield is a lot smaller, so that's the bigger shift that's happening at the moment. We saw this coming and we ... the way that we dealt with it, was that we commissioned a lot of research. So our aim is, we try and get inside the minds of our audience, so we want to be the experts on the 18 to 35 year olds. And I'll share with you just like three or four of the research insights that we did in 2013 'cause this led us to launch Junkee, which has been phenomenally successful since then. Do any of these words mean anything to anyone? FOMO and FONK, so these are the two biggest fears that we found were driving young people's behaviour. So FOMO is kind of well known, FOMO means the fear of missing out, so that means that I have to go out on a Saturday night 'cause I can't miss that party or I need to go overseas because I can't miss going to Europe. But FONK was a new fear that we saw was driving lower things, and there's a reason ... there's a relevancy to this, to the media thing. So FONK is the fear of not knowing, and we found that the fear of not knowing was becoming quite massive and it was driving a lot of behaviour. So in particular it was driving having to check your Facebook feed as soon as you wake up in the morning, just in case you miss something that happened overnight. Having to check it before you go to bed. Almost like this need to know what was going on in the world. And that in the essence is what led us to launch Junkee. So Junkee takes what's happening in the world and it turns it into youth speak, I suppose, it makes it funny, it makes it interesting. It makes it digestible for young people. So it alleviates their FONK, it stops them not knowing. And it has been quite surprising 'cause when we originally launched Junkee, we launched it as pop culture so it was film and it was TV, it was light fluffy topics. And then we started doing some politics stuff and up until that point everyone told us that young people were apathetic about politics, that they didn't care, and what we found was in fact they did care but it had to be packaged in a way that was interesting to them. So that was funny, it was listicles which we can go into a little bit later, it was…had an opinion. And Junkee has two and a half fulltime staff members on it and therefore we don't have the resources to do what the Guardian does. So what we do is, we add commentary to things. So we will, instead of breaking the news we'll see news that breaks and then we'll put an opinion behind that.
The other thing this is, I think I've got about three research slides here so I won't bore you too much with research. But this was fascinating 'cause Facebook, the dominance of Facebook as a platform for our audience, 18 to 35 year olds, is just phenomenal. So in the past people would search out news. They would go and they would pick up the paper and they would even log in to theage.com.au and see what was happening. And now people are sitting back and expecting the news to come to them and the primary way of our audience of 18 to 35 year olds reaching this is through the Facebook feed. So in 2013 we asked them if they get more of the news from social media than they do from newspapers or TV, it was 53%, 2014 it was 65% and in 2015 we're about to release these results in a couple of weeks' time, it's up to 76% of young people are just ... get more of the news from social media. There is both a challenge and an opportunity and for us as a publisher it's an amazing opportunity because our aim is all about how do we get our content and our news into that Facebook feed.
I could keep talking for ages but I think I might stop and we might have some panel stuff here. I just want to finish off on one interesting idea, a slide that I went through just before that was the Junkee one, the title of the media brand of the year last year, in our very first year, which we beat out the Guardian, we beat out Mamma Mia, we beat out Spotify, we beat out Pedestrian, which is very exciting for us. But the way that we try and think about how we monetise our audience is, we think of this principle here which is stop interrupting what people are interested in and actually be what people are interested in. So the way that we make our money is we work with brands to create content for them that our audience is actually going to care about. So it's called Native Advertising and it's taken off over the past couple of years, and it now accounts for us for about 40% of our revenue, it's up from 20% last year up from 0% the year before. So without Native Advertising we probably wouldn't be sitting here because the way of monetising content on a mobile is decreasing but thanks to Native Advertising, thanks to actually writing content for brands that the audience is going to care about, we've been able to find a way that has been able to help us thrive over the last couple of years. I might finish up there. Thank you very much.
G: We were talking about money and it’s interesting about the Hoopla, which has been around for four years, one of the things they were really committed to was making sure they paid their writers, and in their farewell letter, that was one of the things they lamented as well, that they were unable to continue to pay their writers. I think Crikey’s a nice point to start on here because they have upwards of 17,000 subscribers to the newsletter, but I think you’ve got quite a diverse way of trying to get income with Crikey, and with other titles within Private Media.
S: Yeah, we have pretty much seven different little business models at Private Media, they’re all trying slightly different things, we’re really hedging our bets. But it … Crikey is fascinating because it turns out that we hit on a very successful, well Stephen Mayne hit on a very successful business model very early on and I don’t know if we could replicate that today. But he managed to convince people back in 2000 to pay 30 bucks for a subscription, and that was a pretty novel approach to suggest that there was value in an email because it did come back to that … even that tactile thing of, I need to hold this thing in my hands and what do you mean it’s not available in print? And to the point where some subscribers continued to print out all 30 something pages of the email to read it on the train, this is before mobiles, so … it was before smart phones. So it … we just built on that, we built on the premise that our value was worth pay … our content was worth paying for and we have to remain committed to that, so that means we have to continue to produce stories and journalism that is of value. And so that means paying our writers properly and constantly coming up with surprising and engaging ways of covering the news as well. But we also … we kind of … we have … well we’re trying for the best of both worlds, so we have the subscription model in which people pay a certain amount of money for a yearly subscription, and they get the email in their inbox five days a week and access to the website and we also have a website that has a paywall, but also has an amount of free content. Hoopla was interesting because it put up … they talked about the fact that they put up a har … what they called a hard paywall about three years in and they conceived that that led to their demise. So the paywall is a really tricky one to get right because you absolutely have to keep ensuring that you’re part of the conversation because of this … the way that mobile has changed everything and the fact that most … many people are sharing and obtaining their news on social media, you have to be part of that conversation, and putting a paywall over all of your content means you cease to exist to most people. So we have to make sure we navigate that balance. So that’s the only publication in our stable with a paywall, everyone else has different models including Women’s Agenda has huge events, and that is turning out to be the best revenue stream for that particular model. SmartCompany has a lot of display advertising, but increasingly branded content and native advertising is coming into play because that is absolutely the way that the industry is heading, so we’re dipping into all of it.
G: Mm-hm. Okay. Tim, you were talking about AWOL too, which is the travel title and that’s in a 100 percent partnership with Qantas, in terms of an … there must be some challenges there editorially where Qantas might be informing your content more than you’d like. How do you deal with that?
T: Yeah, so AWOL essentially is a giant native advertising player, it’s probably one of the country’s biggest native advertising players, where the audience doesn’t necessarily … everything’s signposted, we’re not trying to fool people, but what we’re trying to do is just inspire people to get on the plane and go somewhere. And that could be, go to Melbourne for a weekend, it could be go to Europe to visit art galleries, it could be go to Ibiza and go clubbing. And it’s five months old, we’ve had incremental traffic growth every month for five months, in fact, we’re at our … at the KPI of where we planned to be by the second year, we are by the fifth month, in terms of traffic, which is exciting for us. But it is a … it has to play within Qantas’ rules. So it is a Qantas publication, it is a really interesting business model for us because the first time where we haven’t owned and operated our own site, we’ve gone to someone else and if you think about it, it’s almost that custom publishing. So in the past there was ACPs and there was Bauers and they did the Australian Way, you know, the magazine you get when you go on Qantas and this is a new digital format of that for young people that’s accessible all the time. So we’re kind of using an old business model, which is custom publishing, but doing it for the digital era.
G: Mm. Do you think your readership’s aware of that partnership or do you think that …
T: They are, yeah …
G: … they're too busy?
T: … we’ve done some brand studies recently and we asked people that came to AWOL what they thought of Qantas and then we asked people that came to the rest of our network what they thought of Qantas, and the difference of people that came to AWOL and started seeing this content that is … it’s really good, fun, snackable, inspiring content and people thought twice as well of Qantas after coming to AWOL than they did from on the other site. So not only are they aware it’s Qantas, but that actually makes them think better about the brand.
G: Mm-hm. Paul, perhaps as a journalist you could comment on that editorial advertising attention. I think Fairfax for example used … has a thing called the media charter which says that when you’re being editorial and when you’re being advertising you have to make quite a distinction. Have you found that a challenge in your developing career?
P: Look, it was an issue for every journalist at some point, I think, particularly if they worked at Fairfax in the years where suddenly the … a decision was made to actually stop accepting what were known as junkets from the travel industry. Now, the truth is that travel journalism, like motoring journalism, is well-nigh impossible to afford unless there is some kind of arrangement with the people that provide … are in the travel industry, but I never had a problem with it personally when I was … when I wrote a travel story once or twice for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age and later for … I wrote a couple of pieces for Gourmet Traveller when I was freelancing. I didn’t have a problem doing it, so long as the fact that the travel that was sponsored was clearly identified and there were cases where I bagged out things that were given to us gratis, so I think so long as the advertiser understands that that’s a possibility too, then the compact is fine. The compact with the reader has got to be transparent about it.
G: Mm. That’s an interesting point you made too about that compact with the reader and how readers are so much more aware of the publication and I think, Tim, possibly what Junkee and other publications are that are very active online do, is look at their analytics a lot more. Do you skew your content towards analytics and if something works well are you going there again as a topic?
T: Yeah, so we consider all of our editors to be data experts, in a way, and majority of our editors are within the target markets, the majority are 18 to 35, and they all have two screens, so one screen is what they’re writing and the other screen is real-time analytics for what’s happening on their site at any given time. So they can see who’s on there, what are they reading, how long they’re spending on site and that completely changes everything, because you no longer, I think, from the print days, where you would publish something and you might get a feedback, you might get a letter to the editor a couple of days later and that was your feedback, this is within five seconds of something going live, you can tell if the audience wants that or not.
P: Yeah, I’ll just say, as a writer the … this whole analytics thing is absolutely terrifying because (laughter) you hear back from editors precisely how many words your piece was, how long it should take someone to read through it and how far they did actually read through it.
P: So it’s … it creates challenges for writers too, to create different points of entry into stories and for layout as well, you’ve got to find ways to entice people to keep reading.
G: Yeah, we talked a little bit about listicles, which is a portmanteau of a list and an article put together, for those of you who may not know, and that’s a lot of Junkee’s love, isn’t it, and they do very well. The opposite of that, I suppose, is the longer-form article that people are chasing as well, how do you balance those things, I think, both Sophie and Tim, in terms of giving people what they want, the short snacks, and the more substantial meals?
T: Yeah, the way I like to view of it is that our audience is just like any of us here, which is sometimes you want a three course meal and other times you want to eat McDonalds. So you can … sometimes you want a listicle, which is a short, sharp was of explaining a piece of information that you might want to view as you’re on a bus going to university and you’ve got a minute, and then other times you want long‑form. So long-form is like a long, in-depth piece of content. And I’ll give you a great example on Junkee, so Junkee’s whole thing is that it’s all about the things … from the things that matter to the things that don’t, so one of the things that we put up a story on Scott Ludlam, who at the time was a pretty unknown West Australian senator, and he gave a speech to the Western Australian parliament … to the West Australian senate about … it was an anti-Tony Abbott speech, it was empty … he kind of … it was his … it was kind of like his statement piece. We saw this on Junkee and it was kind of one of these small pieces, we put it up and within two days it had one million views on Junkee, and we’re like, okay, this is quite interesting. That was kind of like a short, sharp, it took the writer 10 minutes to go and pump that story out, and what we then thought was like, okay, let’s now go the other end and let’s do a long-form, so we sent a journalist over to Perth to be embedded with him for a week in the lead-up to the election that he ended up winning, and we published this 10,000 piece long-form, it was like words and pictures and ended up getting the journalist nominated for a Young Walkley award. And that’s the perfect example of the short, sharp pieces, it is a really interesting way of selling that story all the way through to long-form, which is another interesting way of telling it, and it all depends on what the topic is.
S: And they can be just as valuable, a really good listicle is an art form and I’ve seen listicles on Junkee about … and on BuzzFeed about feminism, which I have found incredibly enlightening and can be really funny and witty and sharp and cut right to the heart of the thing. That’s a good listicle, they’re not all like that. So, yeah, and readers are learning to appreciate that there are different ways of telling the same story and just as valuable.
T: And the editors as well, like there’s a … so there’s such a wide gamut now, so when we get a story, we can sit there and go, do we want to tell this in GIFs, do we want to tell it in getting the cartoonists to create illustrations, do we want to write a long-form, do we want to write a list, do we want to put YouTube clips in there, do we want to put SoundCloud embeds, like there’s literally 20 or 30 different ways of telling the same story, and that, I think, is quite liberating for an editor, because they can find the best way of telling it.
S: And that … it’s just another example of that, embracing that ethos of experimenting and seeing what works and we’re all learning as we go along with this medium, because it’s so relatively new.
G: Or conduct an interview in emoticons …
T: Totally [unclear].
G: Smiley face.
T: Yeah, BuzzFeed did that, they did an interview with Julie Bishop, just in emoticons and I think that was amazing, so there’s not a day goes past where our editorial team don’t email around an innovative way of someone doing something. Just in video is the new holy grail of content because the audience … video on mobile in particular is something that’s really going through the roof at the moment, so telling a story through video, that opens up another hundred different possibilities.
P: I think what Sophie was saying earlier too, about the podcast, is true as well, I think the podcast is an absolutely fantastic medium because so much of social media is … it’s busy and you’re constantly with other people, it feels like that. The podcast, you’re alone with the subject and the voice and I think it kind of plays into perhaps the solitude that some of us are seeking in this crazy, frenetic, social media overload world, you know.
G: And possibly the longer read too is something like that, where people do want to take something away and read it.
G: I think in Crikey, for example, you often do an eBook of Guy Rundle’s work, a collection of his columns and things like that. How does that sort of progression work for Crikey, having a short column and then compiling them again? Do people come back and experience it again?
S: Absolutely, they … we’re … we’ve learnt as we go that there are different types of content that people want to experience across different times of the day, really. So a lot of that habit is formed from the way that technology has morphed into smart phones and so you’re on a train, you’re commuting to work, so you might want a quick email recap of what’s happened in the last 24 hours. You check your social media, you get into work, you’re wet … you’ve stuck to your desktop so you might look at some home pages then. When you get home you might get the iPad out and you might want to have a decent read or you’re in bed and so that’s why that’s … we’ve come to sort of co-opt our … that same material in different ways for those different needs. And you seen … I mean you’ve seen the ABC do that now, Radio National, repurposing their content, their radio content into beautiful visual publications that can be consumed on the iPad.
S: So, it’s essentially the same content, it’s a different way of enjoying it and consuming it.
G: Mm. Yeah. I think White Paper is the …
S: White Paper, that’s the name.
G: … Radio National … yeah.
S: It is [unclear].
G: I do want to get time for some questions from the audience, but I’d perhaps like to ask each of you, before we wrap up, what does a journalist look like today, I think we’ve had a few mentions here of them being able to not just write but to amplify. You’ve got people who are data analysts as much as being writers, I wonder if each of you could give us a quick portrait of what you think a journalist today has to be, and perhaps where they’re going to.
S: Do you want to start, Tim?
T: Yeah sure, I’ll start, yeah. (All laughing) Yeah, so some of our Junkee … the journalists on Junkee are so curious about the world, obviously, but then curious about how to tell that story and they use so many different ways of telling that. We … any time we put up a job ad, for a job ad on Junkee or at any of our sites, we get hundreds and hundreds of people applying, and there’s this real … I think within the youth space, certainly with journalists that have just come out of university, there is this real need to want to tell their story and want to shake the system. And I think that that’s probably hasn’t changed in 30 or 40 years, the same people, it’s just a different medium.
P: Mm. The first thing I’d say is that I think the days of tenured, secure, really well-paid employment are pretty much over (laughter) for journalists. So young journalists these days need to realise that it’s got to be passion rather than job security that’s going to drive them and that’s unfortunate in some senses, but I think the young journalist today looks very different to the young journalist of 25 years ago. They’ve got to be technically multi-skilled for a start. They can’t be too precious to take photographs, to go … to do everything online, to do voice, to do video. They need to do social media and they need to engage with electronic media too, traditional electronic media. So I think the life of the young journalist is much harder, but as I said, I don’t see that overall standards have slipped dramatically, I think there’s still a whole lot of good journalism being done and I’m quite hopeful as the convergence works though the system that the future’s okay.
S: I agree, so I think a good journalist has the same qualities a good journalist has always had, they’re curious about the world and they have a commitment to accuracy and they think deeply about issues and they come up with fresh angles on stories and new ways of covering those stories. So as Tim and Paul have said, that means you have to be able to tell the story on several different platforms, all at the same time on several … in several different mediums. But I think that the important thing is that these journalists still have a good grounding in what makes a good investigative journalist, so how to initially dig those stories out, tease those stories out, it’s just that they have to do it a lot faster. So transparency is a very, very important thing for an online journo, if you get it wrong, you own up to it, if something’s breaking you denote the fact that it’s breaking and that you’re … there are different ways of continuing to cover the story while those … the information breaks. So it’s a lot … it is a lot harder and a lot faster, but it is very exciting too. It’s a really exciting time to be a journalist.
G: Finally could you join me in thanking our speakers, Sophie Black, Paul Daley and Tim Duggan.
End of discussion