Election coverage is social friendly for younger readers at Sydney Morning Herald, Age

By Sophia Phan

The Sydney Morning Herald

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


Planning for the Australian federal election was months in the making.

We knew it had to be called by May and who all the main players were. We knew what electorates would hold the key to power, and we could also pinpoint what the key issues were likely to be.

One of our goals was to commission and distribute content that would appeal to and reach the demographic key to the future of newsrooms: younger audiences.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age led the way with political coverage. Yet, for some readers who may not consume the news on a daily basis, it can be a lot of information to digest.

A selection of stories was designed to work cross-platform and be more digestible to help break down the barrier to entry for readers who don’t read our Web sites or newspapers often, if at all.

Social media

A special federal election template was created for the Herald and Age’s Instagram pages to highlight our political coverage throughout the campaign. Whenever a reader saw a post in this red and blue hue on their feed, they knew it would be election related.

Election coverage on all platforms was designed and labeled to be eye-catching to young readers.
Election coverage on all platforms was designed and labeled to be eye-catching to young readers.

Posts that performed particularly well on social were ones of a public service nature: a reminder to enroll to vote, when to lodge a postal vote, and what to do if you had COVID-19 on election day.

For election day itself, we reimagined the special Instagram templates for when key seats were called. The posts on the two big electorates for each state, Wentworth in New South Wales and Kooyong in Victoria, were among the most engaged posts on election night.

We also wanted to offer an insight into how our journalists covered the election and riffed off the popular “day in the life” format.

Video content excelled on TikTok, where readers wanted a quick breakdown of key speeches, moments, and policies. In the final week of the campaign, both the Herald and Age accounts saw more than 300% growth.

On election night, we had rolling TikTok updates from our expert blogger, as well as both concession and victory speeches.


Explainers were rolled out on a weekly basis to educate readers about the voting process. Some examples included information on what preferential voting is, how political donations work, and what a hung parliament is.

These pieces were then also adapted for Instagram and TikTok to broaden the reach.

Breaking down policies

As with a lot of political campaigns, there were a lot of figures and grabs thrown about on a day-to-day basis. Younger audiences have told us, via focus groups and reader feedback, they’d like a clear breakdown of where parties stand on major policy issues.

One of the first pieces that was published was “Eight key issues and where the parties stand.” It was maintained throughout the campaign as more promises were made, and it allowed readers to better digest what was being prioritised and where money was being promised.

In-depth pieces like "Eight key issues and where the parties stand" helped younger readers navigate complicated political topics.
In-depth pieces like "Eight key issues and where the parties stand" helped younger readers navigate complicated political topics.

Climate change was always going to be one of the focal points of the campaign, especially to younger people. A more in-depth “where the parties stand” piece was commissioned to further look into what each political party was promising on climate — and what scientists thought of it. It highlighted what experts were calling for versus what was currently on offer.

In addition, polling was specifically commissioned to understand the most important issues to young voters, which confirmed that many in that demographic were giving up on The Great Australian Dream. The article itself was widely shared on social media and featured on both cities’ front pages.

Weekly recaps

Unless they were a political junkie, it was unlikely a reader was consuming every piece of content from the election campaign. Recaps were designed to pick out the three things readers needed to know from the past week — such as quotes, announcements, or controversies — and three things they could expect to see in the upcoming week. It also recounted the week via a quiz, which added an interactive element to our coverage.

Each area of these recaps was then pulled into different elements on social, such as quizzes on Instagram Stories, key moments in carousel, video on Reels, and TikTok.

As we progressed through the campaign, we started to see what content best resonated with readers — for example, social video — and shifted priorities to replicate those successes.

Traditionally we would tie a lot of our content off-platform in with what’s being published online and in the newspaper. But, the election coverage showed that social and search is a whole different beast and play a crucial role in tapping into younger audiences.

About Sophia Phan

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