Opinion

Sport, local government and business go DIY in wake of journalist job losses

Following Fairfax Media's announcement of forthcoming editorial job cuts, Stuart Howie looks at how brands can create their own newsrooms and what they need to consider when doing so.

With another round of editorial job losses imminent at Fairfax Media in Australia, the continuing contraction in the industry supports the argument that if you want to get your message out, you might need to go DIY.

An increasing number of corporate and community organisations are setting up newsrooms to fill the void left by retreating traditional media – or to compete with what is left.

Fairfax has announced $30 million in cost cutting for FY18. Most of that is likely to come from axing staff in the newsrooms of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. This is my journo maths, but at the upper limit that represents about 200 staff, although expect it to be between 100 and 150 after some argy-bargy.

Some media competitors report this almost gleefully. However, staff across News Corporation in Australia can expect to see new rounds of redundancies too, according to my mail.

Meantime, given the fragmentation of the media and audiences, companies are investing large chunks of their marketing and communications budgets to better leverage digital and social media channels.

Everyone is deluging the market with their messaging, raising the banality watermark. No wonder CEOs are demanding real ROI on their communications.

The Australian reports the NRL is looking to set up its own news operations, akin to the AFL.

I recently spent time at AFL Media and Cricket Australia for research for my upcoming book on this very subject – the DIY Newsroom.

AFL Media represents world’s best practice when it comes to controlling your message for powerful impact.

Five years ago, the AFL invested heavily to establish its high-tech newsroom, thereby going straight to the football public with a rich package of content. In a four-year deal, the Seven Network, Fox Sports and Telstra paid $1.25 billion for broadcast rights. Through AFL Media, the sport provided a valuable environment for Telstra, the digital rights owner.

The latest broadcast deal, which kicked in this year, is worth $2.5 billion over six years.

Commercial interests aside, AFL Media is a genuine news force of some 100 staff. In season, it produces high-quality footy publications and afl.com.au regularly rates as Australia’s number one sports website.

Across town in Melbourne, Cricket Australia is taking media matters into its own hands to ensure ample coverage of the various forms of its game. The traditional media simply does not have the firepower it once had.

And now the NRL is looking to ape the best practices of newsrooms to do-an-AFL too. As I understand it, the NRL has begun poaching sports journalists who can drive its operations.

Running your own media operation is not without its challenges, even for the biggest brands in the country.

For me, there should be three guiding principles:

  1. Be authentic: That means not sanitising or sugar-coating content. By definition, a company newsroom cannot be fully independent like external media. Its voice will inherently be the voice of the company or organisation. But any self-respecting DIY Newsroom has to seek to tell it how it is and not shy away from uncomfortable stories and conversations. AFL Media has managed this well. But how would other entities handle internally sensitive matters?
  2. Develop a community: Not every brand is as exciting as say the AFL, depending on your tastes. But most brands have a community of followers – and the key is to attract and corral them around relevant and compelling content. The only way to do this is to …
  3. Act strategically: Content marketers would have you believe that by pulling a few social media levers that the world is your oyster. However, everyone is deluging the market with their messaging, raising the banality watermark to unprecedented levels. No wonder CEOs are demanding what the real ROI is from their communications: “Jerry, show me the money!”

It has flown under the radar, but there is wide-scale media disruption too at a grassroots and community level.

In regional Australia (population 10 million), hundreds of journalists have been laid off from newspapers and television. This has barely rated a mention in city media, but the deleterious impact on the public conversation in these communities has been significant.

The flip side is that this is a superb opportunity for councils to become the new village voice.

A council newsroom could not possibly keep a check on civic affairs like an independent media could. But it could creatively and proactively act as a platform for genuine community conversation and debate.

Councils also have a wealth of information that would be of interest to residents but which rarely sees the light of day, tucked away in a tangle of council communications.

Are we the lesser for the fall and fall of traditional media?

Emphatically, yes. But unfortunately the notion of public service does not trump the bottom line for big media organisations.

And, therein, lies a call to action.

If your organisation sees value in communicating, the best strategy is not to rely on others to do it for you. No, go and do it yourself.

Stuart Howie is the executive director of Flame Tree Media. He is a former editorial director for Fairfax Regional Media. In 2017, he will release his book titled DIY Newsroom.

The Mumbrella Sports Marketing Summit will feature a presentation from Cricket Australia on how it turned one website with a small audience into a multi-channel brand with an audience of more than 50m in three years. For more information on the program and to buy tickets click here.

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