Features

Harvey Weinstein, dual citizenship and the royal wedding: Newspaper and magazine editors look back on the year

It's been a big year in news for Australia's newspapers and magazines. Bosses from News Corp, Fairfax, Bauer Media, and Pacific Magazines discuss their proudest moments and biggest challenges in 2017.

Paul Whittaker, editor-in-chief, The Australian

What was your best story of the year and/or your most impactful?

I think our best story of the year has been our numerous exclusives on the widening citizenship scandal in Canberra, where our in-depth coverage led the rest of the nation on an issue that has paralysed the parliament. We broke the story on Senate President Stephen Parry’s dual citizenship that forced his resignation, and revealed the definitive story that now ex Tasmanian independent senator Jacqui Lambie was a probable dual citizen through her Scottish father.

We were the first outlet to question Nick Xenophon over his parents’ foreign citizenship,  unearthed official documents revealing Malcolm Roberts was British, and were the first to quiz Barnaby Joyce on his NZ citizenship.

What story are you most proud of?

The story I am most proud of is The Australian’s campaign standing up for free speech and against bureaucratic overreach that started with an 18-month campaign to clear the names of three university students wrongly accused of racism under the controversial 18c legislation over innocuous Facebook posts. This continued with a fiery free speech debate by The Australian’s brilliant late cartoonist  Bill Leak, whose confronting cartoon revealing unpalatable truths about parental responsibility in remote indigenous communities was also decried as being racist. Earlier this year the Australian Senate passed legal amendments to toughen how racial discrimination complaints are investigated to ensure the experiences of the QUT students and Bill Leak are not repeated.

Aside from your publication, what was the best story this year?

The work of reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey at The New York Times who first revealed the decades of sexual harassment and abuse by famed Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein was ground-breaking and has had and continues to have massive reverberations around the world.

What has been the biggest industry change this year?

It was the year of the market for truth triumphing over fake and faux news that saw the tech titans give ground against traditional publishers whose journalism business models they are threatening by hoovering up almost all new digital advertising dollars but failing to recognise or reward the provenance of original journalism. Google abandoning first click free in favour of flexible sampling is already yielding encouraging results for premium publishers like The Australian and Facebook is also showing the first tentative signs of recognising its need to play a part in helping make quality journalism viable.

What is your prediction for next year?

There will undoubtedly be further consolidation in the media sector after the media law reforms were passed late this year as Australian media companies seek greater scale to compete with the behemoth global technology platforms, as they look to use their billions to muscle into areas like sports rights. For newspaper publishers, growing digital subscriptions will be the number one business priority.

Alex Lavelle, editor of The Age

What was your best story of the year and/or your most impactful?

Our stories involving the increasing Chinese government influence in Australian institutions might have sounded like a tough sell at first, but they have had a huge impact this year and the issue continues to have widespread implications. We have led the way on this complex and nuanced issue, mostly through Nick McKenzie’s dogged determination and great collaboration with our Canberra bureau.

The public face of the stories has been Senator Sam Dastyari, who ended up resigning from politics, but the issue goes much, much deeper than just him and has caused ongoing ructions between our government and the Chinese Communist party. The fallout will continue well into next year with new foreign interference laws promised and the issue is taking on international significance with other countries starting to realise the increasing influence of the Chinese government worldwide.

The stories have also highlighted issues around national security and will also hopefully go some way to finally changing the ridiculous system of political donations in this country. This has been really careful, factual, well told journalism on a matter of great public interest.

What story are you most proud of?

Miki Perkins’ extraordinary interview with the young woman who was allegedly raped in Geelong by three brothers. Miki built up trust with the incredibly brave girl and her family and handled the story sensitively and expertly. The girl also wrote a first person piece on her ordeal and our stories resulted in changes to legislation to help protect victims of crime, including $28m extra in funding and support services.

Aside from your publication, what was the best story this year?

The New York Times was the first to publish accusations against Harvey Weinstein and the scandal has finally blown the lid off abuse and sexual harassment in the workplace. This is a story that will continue to result in positive change – and it is both extraordinary and instructive that it took so long for the seemingly endless revelations against Weinstein to be aired.

What has been the biggest industry change this year?

A realisation that scale isn’t everything, that all page impressions are not equal and that we need to look after our core readers better. But despite all the amazing work done in the media this year, the public perception of the industry seems to have gone backwards. There is too much mistrust of our motivations and we need to work hard collectively to reinforce the notion that we are genuinely striving for the greater good.

What is your prediction for next year?

As the banks continue to tighten up their lending, house prices will start to fall in Melbourne and Sydney.

Justine Cullen, editor in chief, ELLE

What was your best story of the year and/or your most impactful?

Our cover collaboration with Apple starring digital superstar Margaret Zhang shot on an iPhone 7 Plus received global recognition and press, and people still ask me about it every day. It was a long time in the making and really wrapped up into a single execution a lot of what matters to us at ELLE right now: innovation and doing things first and differently, being the intersection of fashion and pop culture as well as the emergence of technology as a significant category for both advertising and content, and the celebration of a young, incredibly successful Australian businesswoman who isn’t necessarily the cookie cutter blonde starlet.

What story are you most proud of?

It’s not a single story but the introduction of short fiction into every issue of ELLE is something that makes me very happy. It’s a completely unique offering and point of difference from our competitive set, and I love that we can use this platform to introduce our audience to new writing talent, as well as allowing them to sink into fiction for a moment in their day, via a channel they trust. It’s been so successful that we ran our inaugural ELLE Writing Competition and had over 500 entries, which is pretty mind-blowing given that the requirement was an original piece of 4000 words. Hopefully we’ll be able to uncover some brilliant Australian writing talent this way for years to come.

Aside from your publication, what was the best story this year?

It’s hard to go past the double whammy of the NYT and The New Yorker stories bringing to light the behaviour of Harvey Weinstein. By starting the chain reaction that led to the exposure of other men who misused their power over women (and men) and sparked an international debate about sexual assault and harassment, they’ve created genuine cultural change. The power of incredible journalism!

What has been the biggest industry change this year?

The way we work with clients has steadily evolved from taking straight print and display ads or advertorials into acting as more of a mini creative agency from within the editorial teams. We’ve seen so much success with this in 2017 – a Tiffany and Co mini magazine in the December issue is a perfect example – and I can only see it continuing to grow.

What is your prediction for next year?

I think we’re going to see some wonderful creativity coming out of magazines. What’s been done before can’t cut it anymore – the audience is demanding more for the content we ask them to pay for, and we’re already seeing that starting overseas with the old establishment making way for some very innovative and hungry new thinkers. We have a redesign coming out with the January issue that is completely different to anything that we’ve done before, so we’re starting the year with a bang.

Chris Dore, editor of The Daily Telegraph

What was your best story of the year and/or your most impactful?

Hard to go past Nick Hansen’s Walkley for breaking the Cranston family ATO scandal. Just a ripping scoop.

In terms of impact, the two that jump immediately to mind are Sharri Markson’s investigation into the government-funded home doctor service. Our revelations prompted the Government to dramatically overhaul the sector.

Another was Anthony DeCeglie’s investigation into the tragic and shocking Miriam Merten case. We exposed the horrors of her treatment, and that resulted, just this week also in a major report to improve mental health care.

What story are you most proud of?

Both very powerful stories, and in terms of making a real difference to people’s lives, I’m proud of both of those investigations.

Aside from your publication, what was the best story this year?

It’s impossible to go past the Weinstein affair really, and the flow on to Australia, we have touched on, but will only get more dramatic.

Locally, the citizenship debacle we are now accustomed to but it’s hard to imagine a more bizarre turn of events, which have such an impact on politics on such a broad scale.

What has been the biggest industry change this year?

Well media reform is the obvious one. But the biggest change is a creeping one that affects us all, and that is this growing divide in the journalism community, where no longer do the merits of a great story count for large sections of the industry, which has become so divided around motivations that have nothing to do with what journalism is all about. And it’s tragic. The insidious rise of censorship as a form of shutting down debate and disagreement is growing at a pace.

What is your prediction for next year?

We will see a return and a victory for common sense. Reporters driven by political motives rather than by the story will be further marginalised and be left talking to themselves on Twitter while the rest of us reach an audience of Australians who actually care about more than personality politics and ridiculous agendas.

Frances Sheen, editor, New Idea

What was your best story of the year and/or your most impactful?

Harry and Meghan’s whole relationship has been great for us. It’s the whole fairytale of a Hollywood actress meeting and falling in love with a prince that’s really touched our readers.

What story are you most proud of?

There’s been a few this year, but I think Johnny Ruffo opening up to New Idea about his battle with brain cancer has stuck with me. He was approached by every single media outlet but he came to us and was incredibly candid and honest during a very difficult time. Our writer, Jenny Brown, did an amazing job with the interview.

Aside from your publication, what was the best story this year?

Lisa Wilkinson leaving the Today show was something that no-one really saw coming and it really resonated with our readers.

What has been the biggest industry change this year?

I think outsourcing our subbing to Pagemasters was a massive change for everyone at Pacific. I’m really proud of how, as a team at New Idea, we’ve tackled that.

What is your prediction for next year?

That Harry and Meghan will announce a royal pregnancy very soon after the wedding!

Linda Smith, editor, that’s life!

What was your best story of the year and/or your most impactful?

More a series of stories. We never give up shining a light on the horror of domestic violence. The survivors who share their stories with us are so brave and they do it because they know that they might inspire other woman to seek help.

The sheer scale of the problem in this country is horrifying and I really do feel we are making a difference by reinforcing to women who may be in that situation that a) it’s not your fault and b) you are not alone.

What story are you most proud of?

That’s like choosing a favorite child. Impossible. But one of them would have to be “he’d already dug my grave”, about a Victorian building surveyor and father-of-three who was on a routine visit to a landowner and ended up being bashed and terrorised in the most horrific way by the landowner who’d meticulously planned his murder and had even dug a grave in which to dump his body.

He’d never spoken to the media, but our features editor Riah Matthews managed to track him down. He was one of those quiet, everyday heroes so often found in the pages of that’s life!.

Aside from your publication, what was the best story this year?

The New York Times expose of Harvey Weinstein. It started a global movement that is already having an impact.

What has been the biggest industry change this year?

Although it’s not specific to this year, the role of magazine editor has changed markedly. Digital literacy is now a given, but also the way we look at our own titles as entire brands, not just magazines, and take a more commercial view in terms of looking for revenue sources beyond the traditional ones of circulation and advertising. It’s challenging, but also exciting.

What is your prediction for next year?

For the industry as a whole, the march to digital will continue. But closer to home, I’m confidently predicting that that’s life! will celebrate its 24th year as Australia’s number one real life magazine and brand, in terms of sales, share and digital footprint.

Mark Brandon, editor of NW

What was your best story of the year and/or your most impactful?

The best thing to happen for weekly celeb magazines this year was the return of the reality TV super-shows. After a few off-the- boil seasons of the same old shows, new water cooler obsessions like Married At First Sight totally captivated our audience and translated into huge magazine sales for NW and all of the Bauer weekly titles. Sophie Monk as The Bachelorette also totally eclipsed all recent seasons of the two Bachie franchises and, again, really translated into copy sales.

What story are you most proud of?

Apart from our in-depth features into Hollywood nose jobs and chin-plants (that’s chin implants, duh), I can’t choose a particular story. But seriously, I think I’m just really proud of the product that our creative, passionate team put to print every week. And the fact we’re connecting with more readers than we were a year ago. NW has seen readership increases in the past three consecutive Roy Morgan surveys – upwards of 31% year-on- year growth in the April-June survey – so that’s the story we’re most proud of.

Aside from your publication, what was the best story this year?

So many! This year feels like it’s been all about people speaking out and making change – from the silence breakers (the victims and the journalists) who blew the whistle on sexual harassment in Hollywood and beyond, to the Women’s March and the campaign for marriage equality. But, from a purely celebrity perspective, it’s all about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. This isn’t going to be a massive sales booster for NW – we’re more Queen Bey than Queen Elizabeth! But I love the renewed excitement it brings to the weeklies category.

Big stories like this revive and renew the category and remind everyone why they love mags so much. And for big stories like this, it’s not just about what you do in the first week (when the story is everywhere and all over the news, the web, blah blah), but rather about how you keep the story moving for the weeks and months after that and keep readers engaged in the brand.

What has been the biggest industry change this year?

The enduring challenge as a celebrity weekly editor is to keep the audience engaged and excited and buying the mag EVERY WEEK. We still see big sales spikes when a hot story captures the audience’s attention – things like the Brangelina divorce, Married At First Sight, Sophie Monk as The Bachelorette – but how do we maintain the big numbers every week in a cluttered media space, where there’s never been so much competition for our audience’s time. And, of course, digital continues to impact how we do things – this change is never going to stop, but that’s the exciting part!

What is your prediction for next year?

A royal wedding! Three Kardashian babies! Big reality TV moments that our audience will be glued to! Those stories will keep us on our toes – and on our phones – and hopefully people’s faces buried in mags. From a category perspective, it’s not breaking news but the most successful publishing brands will continue to find new and exciting ways to engage with their audience across all platforms – and that’s the great joy of magazine publishing. We have a profitable print product, but also reach millions of Aussies through our website and social media channels.

NW, right now as we speak, has the highest engagement of any mass Australian magazine on Facebook. We currently have a more engaged Facebook audience than other solely digital businesses. The challenge for NW is how do we continue to be competitive in the digital space and really capitalise on this loyal and totally engaged social media audience.  I also predict that I will be glued to Love Island and Bachelor In Paradise and Married At First Sight and pretty much any reality TV.

Sarah Burman, editor, Home Beautiful

What was your best story of the year and/or your most impactful?

In July 2017, Home Beautiful launched our first truly cross-platform extension with House to Home Beautiful, an insight led content series living in print, video, web and social all about how to transform a white box into a gorgeous family home. It was a huge editorial success, driving an inspiring series in mag about buying a home and making it yours. It drove amazing web traffic, had a huge amount of video views, and was a massive commercial success, too.

Nine partners including LG, King Living, Qudos Bank and Blum came on board, which included their own commercial videos, all produced by H2HB team. We are incredibly proud of this industry first and can’t wait to launch its second series.

What story are you most proud of?

This year, I am most proud of the profile we did in our January issue on AFL legend Gavin Wanganeen, who invited HB into the family home he shares with his wife Pippa and their daughters. The couple have a beautiful home, of course, but Gavin’s story is particularly lovely, as he has launched a whole new career as an artist and shared his story of how his Aboriginal heritage informs his art. Part of why I’m so proud of this story is because not only was it beautifully shot, styled and designed, but it was written by our in-house junior writer Holly Byrne, who has just grabbed every opportunity we’ve offered her and delivered over and over again. I am proud of the whole issue, and of every issue, of course, but this one made me particularly happy because it highlights how capable the next generation of writers is of telling powerful stories

Aside from your publication, what was the best story this year?

I guess I’d like to say the Yes campaign, and there really were so many amazing examples of journalism over the last few years on that front, some beautiful stories, and amazing video. Marie Claire has been actively campaigning for years, and it made me incredibly proud to see their rainbow cover execution, which hit the stand in the days after Australia voted yes to marriage equality. When that yes vote happened, like a lot of Australians I felt a mix of pride and relief and joy, and now that the law has passed we can celebrate, and that execution was a really lovely way of doing that.

What has been the biggest industry change this year?

Brands are becoming much more savvy about the value of high-quality content and which magazine brands are best placed to deliver their needs. So for HB, that means pro-actively pitching exciting new ideas that not just hit on client’s key messaging and timing, but also deliver cross platform. Print remains powerful but our opportunities to partner well beyond the page is truly exciting and is shaping our creative thinking.

What is your prediction for next year?

The change has been rapid over the last year and I can’t imagine 2018 to be any slower. It’s hard to anticipate exactly how things will change but I know that as an industry our responses will, as always, be reader focused, insight led and data driven.

Magazines are well placed in this fast-changing digital environment – we have highly engaged audiences who are hungry for quality content, advocates often built over decades – in HB’s case, a lifetime! I do think readers are going to become more savvy about what content they consume, how and where. So I’m predicting a year of creative response and innovation!

Kerrie McCallum, editor in chief, Delicious.

What was your best story of the year and/or your most impactful?

From a traffic point of view on delicious.com.au, Shannon Bennett’s review of Air Serbia did incredibly well. It was hilarious and well written, and I think it gave a different glimpse of a celebrity chef who is usually seen by the public to be quite serious. He wrote about being stuck in Berlin when Air Berlin went under, and how he had to get a last minute flight out with Air Serbia to make it back to Melbourne in time for father’s day (he is married to the actress Madeleine West and has six kids).
In terms of impact, the stories we run around the annual Delicious Produce Awards have the most impact. The Produce Awards (now in its 13th year) is a 12 month campaign that scours the country for the best produce from the land, dairy, paddock and sea. The stories we unearth of producers, how hard they work, how much love they put into the land, and what they catch, build or grow, has a profound impact on not just our team but the food industry at large. It also changes restaurant menus around the country for the next 12 months and we’re proud of how we are changing the topic of conversation around provenance, seasonality and locality.

What story are you most proud of?

It’s not necessarily one story but a collection of stories (or reviews!). The second annual Delicious 100 ran across The Sunday Mail, The Sunday Herald Sun and The Sunday Telegraph. We sourced the 100 most delicious restaurants in each state on the Eastern Seaboard. We wanted to change the conversation about how restaurant reviews were compiled and how restaurants were celebrated and acknowledged. Dining out is no longer for the elite and we feel every Aussie should have the opportunity to celebrate our thriving dining scene and great Australian produce. The categories reflected how Australians eat out now and I think simplicity, humility and generousity shone through in these guides. Readers were also given the chance to vote for their list and have their say, which I enjoyed as well.

Aside from your publication, what was the best story this year?

I am a little biased, but my old colleague David Smiedt was diagnosed with cancer this year. He wrote about it in an extended piece for GQ Australia – it was really moving, and given he moonlights as a comedian in between subediting and authoring books, it was also funny.

What has been the biggest industry change this year?

For us at ‘Food Corp’, the fact that video is now such a huge part of our content plan and that literally happened in the last year. We are now running a channel, and I would not have predicted the demand and the appetite for video. We are publishing two videos daily, we film live in our office studio or test kitchen, and are monetising this content also.

What is your prediction for next year?

Video revenue for food/lifestyle brands is going to grow to the point where it will become one of our biggest revenue streams in the next few years. Maybe not quite in 12 months, but sometime soon!

To find out what publisher’s say on the print side, click here.

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