Newspaper management, not newspapers, is the problem

News Ltd CEO, John Hartigan, gave a speech yesterday that has to be read to be believed. Amazingly, it is posted on The Australian website (without I should add, ads!). He argues that it is his news coverage which draws in the readers:

[DDET Read more]

In Australia we had the Victorian bushfires. It wasn’t exclusive to News obviously. But our coverage was unique.  We sold an extra half a million newspapers in the week following Black Saturday. Our website traffic more than doubled.  We took an entirely different approach with this story.  We used resources from every newsroom in the country.  Online staff in Brisbane helped the  masthead team in Melbourne moderate the tidal wave of public contributions.  Our editors across the country sent writers and photographers to work with Herald Sun staff on the ground. This gave us more manpower than any other media outlet.

Sounds like the ‘system’ working — invest in quality and you get readers. Right? He immediately goes on:

But, what drove readership and web traffic was the content.Readers embraced the opportunity to sign online condolence books and write tributes to victims. We set up online forums so readers could search for news of those lost and those rescued. They told us miraculous stories of those who cheated the flames and heartbreaking accounts of those who didn’t.

So what drove interest was not reporting but user-generated content and social networking! That’s not the traditional model that is the new one. By accident, News provided an outlet for that, realised it drove readership and didn’t realise that that was the point. But wait, he goes on:

Alongside traditional reporting from the scene, we had incredible eyewitness accounts from readers, including amazing pics and video.

News is running a Flickr/YouTube/Facebook combination!

Then he moves on to rail against bloggers. His argument is that they have poor quality and spend their time ripping off news outlets (what does that say about the quality of the news outlets?) and attract readers from those news outlets — those readers who simultaneously used to value the high quality of traditional news outlets but now prefer what the bloggers provide and so “used to know better” but now “no longer no better.” And, by the way, if you are reading this you are one of those transformed readers who are destroying quality and you should get a grip and transform back. (I am sure he will point to the contrast between Sam Wylie and Alan Wood on banks today as a clear example of a quality differential).

Anyhow, he gets better towards the end of the speech with a call to quality to attract readership. The problem here, as I am certain any News Ltd CEO knows, is that quality does not necessarily attract readership. What attracts readership is having something to talk about with peers. Newspaper sites can facilitate that and appear to be successful when they do. The question is: when will their managers realise that.

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6 thoughts on “Newspaper management, not newspapers, is the problem”

  1. All good points – and not only that but when will the Australian in particular stop trying to push Chris Mitchell’s bogus opinions on “global warming” onto their readership.  This type of “grunge” opinionating is one of the reasons why the content quality is declining – and even Harigan must know that.

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  2. I’d been in the habit of reading the Australian in hard-copy every day for years. I stopped about 6 months ago and haven’t missed it at all. Google Reader keeps me at least as informed.

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  3. great post, josh. i loved the contrast between Sam and Alan. I did not think that it was one of Alan’s better efforts–he is normally good to great.

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  4. There is the beginnings of a push in the US to increase the quality of the news reporting being done by the major newspapers.  I read a fair number of blogs because they do as you did in this post – quote from news articles extensively – and then provide context and analysis all at once.
    I am wondering if there is the same situation in Australia.  Namely, do the newspapers resort to “he said/she said” reporting without offering any context, analysis or real fact checking?
    If I could get real in-depth reporting from a major US news outlet, I would go there in a heartbeat and I would be willing to pay a nominal fee to do it.  I’m sure I’m not the only one either.  Sometimes it’s both quality and water cooler talk that drives traffic.

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  5. It doesn’t suprise me John Hartigan might say this but it doesn’t mitigate against the failure of both newspaper owners and management. Their lack of vision is, in my opinion, not an unwillingness to use technology and adapt to emerging trends but their inability to provide readers with the kinds of collaborative tools that digital media has been increasingly serving for the past 10 years. If they had created a real sense of difference people would have paid and advertisers continue to run.  I mean I can’t even comment on a major news story in any of the major online sites without having to write a letter to the editor or without a guest comment section. Same goes with most magazines. No wonder so many forms of traditional media are struggling to retain both readers and interest. But the much lauded death of print, while being ruefully dismissed by John Hartigan, is for many publications a mercy kill.

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