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OPINION: Good journalism and a business model that supports it are vital for success in today’s media landscape.
"WA TRIO IN GANG RAPE CLAIMS”. It’s quite a headline, with capital letters for emphasis.
Many people think our state’s daily newspaper and its standards say something about us. While I generally think that is an outdated view, I have to say that after a week away from Western Australia, I had reason to think differently.
To be greeted by that headline dominating the front page of WA’s daily newspaper as I boarded a Singapore Airlines flight on the last leg of my journey home was disappointing to say the least.
This is what visitors coming to WA see as they prepare for their journey, be it for holidays or business; at least it was for those on our flight. How many others were met by such joy? If I were trying to sell WA to others beyond this state I would be asking how a free copy of The West Australian at Singapore helps that.
I don’t make a habit of publicly questioning the strategy of our competitors, but having spent more than a week travelling for a two-and-half-day publishing conference in the US, and hearing about the brittleness of daily newspapers beyond our shores, it was never clearer to me that what confronted me at Changi Airport was not going to work.
This was especially clear because we had been treated to two sessions with Walter Robinson, the editor of The Boston Globe newspaper’s Spotlight team, a small group of journalists writing investigative articles that take months to research and publish.
Michael Keaton played Mr Robinson in the Hollywood movie Spotlight, which won the Academy Award for best picture for its focus on the investigation into child sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy and its decades-long cover up by the church hierarchy.
Mr Robinson is still engaged in newspapers both directly and academically, and is enthused by the motivation of the next generation of reporters studying journalism with energy that belies market conditions.
He, like others who spoke at the conference, raised the issue of relevance that daily newspapers were struggling to find in an era when consumers had plenty of other choices as to how to consume the news.
As I have written before, I believe there is a growing backlash against the social media and internet giants, which have hijacked the news cycle, stolen valuable content and allowed fake news to mingle with the genuine article to confuse readers.
Increasingly, consumers will gravitate to real sources they trust.
However, I am just not convinced that regional daily newspapers can win back the markets they have lost or retain existing audience. That is especially the case when headlines like “WA TRIO IN GANG RAPE CLAIMS” proliferate.
The West Australian’s website has been a laggard in dealing with the disruption of the media. In the past few weeks The West introduced a paywall. While charging readers to access online copy is not new – Business News did it more than six years ago – I wonder who will commit their hard-earned to buy content from an organisation that made more journalists redundant than I can remember.
If I learned anything from the publishers we met in the US it is that content rules more than ever, and good journalism that produces great, informative and useful articles is the key driver of subscriptions.
We have known that maintaining an investment in reporting business is important, but it was great to have it reinforced.
We also know the data we provide at Business News as part of our subscription-only service is critical when it comes to giving business confidence, by supplying vital intelligence on their markets.
Putting those two things together is uniquely powerful.
In the US, our peer group is confident that their foundations are solid as other areas of media fail. It might sound self-serving to highlight this, but the truth is Business News is a leader in this field because of the decisions we took in 2012-13 to digitise our data, marry it with our news, and put it behind a paywall.
Not everything we do is perfect and we have much to learn in various processes within our business, but we think our decisions have provided us with a sustainable model that can keep funding good journalism.
That has to be good for WA. I would rather our cover was seen by travellers getting on a flight to Perth than the shock headlines of our daily.