29/03/2021 - 14:00

Shifting gears in drive to success

29/03/2021 - 14:00

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Business News is preparing to launch an exciting new chapter in its growth.

Shifting gears in drive to success
An artist’s impression of the new Business News premises.

It is fitting that the new Business News headquarters should be located on the south side of St Georges Terrace, just west of the Barrack Street intersection.

For years, the area was a hunting ground for Western Australia’s best journalists, who worked at 125 St Georges Terrace and trudged from their offices to the Supreme Court building, the Perth Stock Exchange, or in the other direction to Parliament House to sniff out a story.

But West Australian Newspapers, as it was known before the merger with Channel Seven, moved out to Herdsman in 1998, following the worldwide trend of newspapers abandoning CBD offices.

It was not a popular move among the organisation’s journalists, many of whom had to arrive at work earlier so they could traipse into the city for important events. The move also made it very unlikely that a journalist would bump into a source and pick up a story while getting a coffee, going for a walk or grabbing lunch. There aren’t many stories of interest hiding in Herdsman.

It’s one of the key reasons Business News is moving in the other direction as it seeks to get closer to its audience.

An artist’s impression of the new Business News premises.

After 29 years of publishing, many of those as a weekly or fortnightly newspaper, Business News is now doubling down on its investment in quality journalism.

Over the past year, the organisation has increased its coverage of breaking news online, changed its magazine into a longer-form product that provides in-depth articles about people, trends and industries, and put a significant amount of effort into improving the wealth of data it offers (while also making it more accessible).

This has all come about because of some significant success on the commercial side of the organisation.

And the way chief executive Charles Kobelke sees it, that commercial success relies on the quality of the editorial product. It’s a virtuous circle.

“We are challenging the traditional media model,” Mr Kobelke said.

“We fund our journalism. As we continue to grow, we will continue to put more and more resources into valuable content. This fundamentally reverses the trend of what’s happening with most other media companies.

“But I believe that if you put the right talent in place, people will pay for news. Investing in the creation of valuable content is what drives subscriptions. Ultimately, the journalism pays for itself.”

It’s a principle the company has lived by in recent years, increasing the size of its editorial budget by 78 per cent over the past three years and achieving similar growth in online audience.

That extra expenditure has been underpinned by strong performance in the commercial side of the business, with subscription revenue up by 53 per cent and advertising revenue up 145 per cent in the same period. Events revenue has almost tripled.

Business News is now planning to push further into the Western Australian market, chasing 20 per cent year-on-year growth as it seeks to achieve $6 million in subscription revenue.

 Mr Kobelke says it’s an audacious plan, and he is adamant that the financial imperative will never be allowed to interfere with the editorial department’s independence.

“I work really hard to ensure there is that independence. I always side with our audience, in terms of what is in their best interests,” he said.

“And our audience is ‘business’.”

Work on the new Business News headquarters, at 41 St Georges Terrace, is expected to be complete in May, with MKDC designing both floors of the tenancy, while Buildwell has been appointed for the refit.

Plans for the newsroom, modelled on an upstate ‘New York bar’ theme, include space to increase the size of the editorial team by a further 50 per cent.

“It’s about growing the talent we have in our team and selectively adding to it, seeking out talented writers who have an affinity for business and a predisposition to serve our discerning audience,” Mr Kobelke said.

One of the key drivers of Business Newss success in recent years has been 20-year veteran Mark Pownall, who had two stints as editor, one as chief executive, and is currently director of strategy and innovation.

Mr Pownall has overseen the $500,000 digital transition project, which overhauled the Business News online platform and modernised the data interface.

He has announced he will be stepping down from the executive team in April to pursue other opportunities, although he will continue writing a column for Business News and hosting the highly regarded Mark My Words podcast with colleague Mark Beyer.

Mr Kobelke said Mr Pownall’s involvement in several different roles at Business News, and the recent transition made by Mr Beyer to a writing-focused role, were examples of the unique way in which the business allowed its employees the flexibility to reinvent themselves.

The new office would also help the entire editorial team, he said.

“There is a huge advantage for our editorial team. For them to be within earshot of the engine room of the state is just so important and a testament to our belief that we are heading in the right direction,” Mr Kobelke said.

In the meantime, Business News has revamped its fortnightly magazine and will next month launch a new daily podcast.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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