How hard can it be?? The transition from print to digital

The two leading Fairfax Media properties for decades were The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. And didn’t advertisers know it.

Often referred to as being ‘rivers of gold’ the spend on advertising in their voluminous publications were the stuff ad rep’s dreams are made of.

That was then. Now, both papers have been reduced to wafer thin tabloid-sized weekday editions with virtually no advertising and barely a page of classifieds or public announcements.

There could be no better demonstration of Fairfax’s fall from grace than the post AFL Grand Final edition of The Age. Made up of only 40 pages, 13 of which were sport, and carrying only two half page colour ads.

So how hard could it have been to get so few ads right? Apparently too hard. The Age ran an ad from Western Bulldogs supporters,  University of Victoria, congratulating them on a fine season and a great effort despite not winning the flag.

Notice anything unusual? The Age’s ad department clearly did not.

One mistake isn’t the be-all-and-end-all but it’s not just one mistake. Industry insiders tell us that there is a constant stream of similar mistakes that, in most cases, are only picked up once the client or agency puts in a call.

Fairfax has all but given up the ghost on print and, it would appear, allocated resources elsewhere. They are focussed on online content but even there questions abound. The content deal with the Huffington Post has opened them to the accusation of becoming nothing much more than ‘click-bait’ focussed. And the recently revamped online editions for the leading mastheads do little to disprove that theory.

Fairfax’s mismanagement of the transition to digital has left fertile ground for more agile competitors. Witness the arrival of The Guardian with a digital only Australian edition.

Companies and organisations are faced with an increasingly segmented media landscape. There is now a combination of online ‘broadcasters’ and digital ‘narrowcasters’ that businesses need to work with in order to get their messages through to their target audience. A ‘publish and pray’ media release will not do the job. Actually, it never really did.

It is a rapidly changing and evolving media environment and RMK+A harnesses its media expertise to continually review the risks and opportunities for its clients’ media engagement needs.

News Creators Miss The Real News

By Robert Masters

Business and communication leaders are no strangers to the ‘gotcha’ journalism that appears to be a fundamental element of news-making (as opposed to news reporting) today.

Instead of reporting news, by seeking to create it and get climate change on the G20 agenda, the media fell into its own trap, and largely missed the main story.

The St Petersburg G20 summit of last year identified the G20’s immediate task was breaking the cycle of low growth and diminished business and consumer confidence.  There are tens of millions fewer jobs and global trade still has a way to go to return to pre-financial crisis levels.

Not small issues one could say! But they don’t make headlines in the land creative news. You need the really important issues of warships off the coast, streets in lockdown, cops on buses, people heading out of town, and you need to manufacture a conflict or embarrassment… that will satisfy today’s news creators.

Because US President Obama agreed to a pre-conference climate agreement with China, to come into effect in 15 years (2030), and he raised the issue in a public address, the news creators played their game (no doubt influenced by climate change advocates) by claiming that the whole thing had become the ‘gotcha’ moment for the Prime Minister.

Let’s not worry about the next five years, let’s look 15 years ahead and postulate on this. Forget the need for jobs, higher living standards and greater financial stability in the next few years. Don’t worry about trying to lift G20 GDP by more than 2% by 2018, which would translate to $US2 trillion in real terms in global economies, bringing 100 million more women into the work force, creating millions of jobs.

Hardly any of this was reported in the following day’s TV and radio media; let alone the item, which showed that the G20 supported strong and effective action to address climate change. (Item 19 in the final communiqué). To their credit the major newspapers did give it coverage, but continued to speculate on the policy gap between Australia and China/USA, even though Australia has not announced its final policy for the Paris COP on Climate Change in November 2015.

If serious and important news is not an agenda item for the news creators of today, business and communication leaders need to take this into account when they are dealing with issues that they believe are important.

The ‘spinning’ of news stories by the news creators must be taken into account in any media planning. There is a need to  analyse how each media outlet, including social media, is likely to treat news if the key message is not to be lost in the noise of the news creators’  ‘gotcha’ journalism.

Newspaper recycling

The future of Fairfax Newspapers: Fairfax misses the boat

The recent, almost contradictory, leaked emails from Fairfax Newspapers CEO Greg Hywood suggest, on closer analysis, that the once proud mastheads of The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald are at least headed out of print some time in the near future or at worst, headed for the scrap heap.

In May, Hywood reported to staff that “We are no longer a print company… We know that at some time in the future we will be predominantly digital or digital only in our metropolitan markets.”

Recently he tried to retract that statement by saying “Why would Fairfax walk away from print? Over 75 per cent of our revenues are print-based. We have more than 200 titles across Australia and New Zealand.”

A quick unpacking of those two statements show that perhaps they can be reconciled if one adds the fact that 100% of Fairfax revenues have taken a major dive over the past few years and they own a bucket-load of regional, rural and suburban titles but their two Australian flagships continue to bleed.

To this observer it would appear that Fairfax have made at least a couple of strategic errors.

First, they assume they can turn the digital editions of their two leading mastheads into profitable businesses. They are very far from that objective and not really showing any meaningful progress.

Second, they thought the answer to their falling readerships was to become the ‘anti-Rupert’.

News Ltd’s tabloids are known to be right-of-centre and a platform for their owner’s political leanings (or interests more like – but that has always been the case with any media organisation dominated by a founder or family).

Fairfax seem to have figured that they should move to the left in pursuit of the alternate ‘progressive’ readership and jettison balanced, factual reporting for speculative, assertive, cause-and-opinion-based journalism.

Problem is they forget that Rupert has spent decades turning his tabloids (and let’s remember that the term is a synonym for not a very serious paper) into sports and social reporting organs first, with a modicum of daily news thrown in to bolster the Opinion Pieces.

Everyone knows that’s what you get.

The Editors of the daily News Ltd tabloids know only too well their readers mostly read the paper from the back first.

The Age and the SMH used to be positioned as serious broadsheets with in depth analysis and comprehensive impartial coverage of local, national and world affairs.

So exactly how did they figure that becoming tabloid ‘red-rags’ was going to work?

Slavish following of any one party line by a “serious newspaper” is ultimately self-destructive – it’s unbalanced and alienates readers. The tabloids however can thrive on it.

You may ask why are not the left leaning or ‘progressive’ readers not scooping up copies of the hyper –current-government – critical new Fairfax productions?

Perhaps they are overrepresented in the ranks of the media listeners, watchers and readers who seek their news from many diverse and various sources, i.e. online, through social media and the plethora of other ways ‘news’ can be consumed today. Perhaps they haven’t formed the lifelong purchase habits of their more conservative, more working class brethren – or perhaps they just don’t feel the need to put their money where their mouth is.

One thing is for certain, News Ltd, for better or worse, knows how to get their readers in and keep them. And if it is sport as religion that does it, so be it.

On any analysis the picture is not good for Fairfax. Each time I pass the glittering, but abandoned Age print factory in Tullamarine on the way to the airport, I reflect on the imminent demise of another once great brand that totally missed the new technology revolution, which ironically they reported on.

A little while ago that larrikin businessman John Singleton flirted with buying Fairfax’s radio assets and he was arrogantly ignored and dismissed. His blast in return (as reported in The Australian) is not only vintage Singo but also great to see as an example of what people really think when the mask of corporate civility is removed.

Singo made his views clear on the future of the Australian Financial Review, I’m willing to put money (not a lot, mind you) on The Age and SMH not lasting another 18 months in print or perhaps any form.

That would be a sad outcome.