Herald Sun finds digital success with integrated, not digital-only, newsroom

By Nathaniel Bane

Herald Sun

Melbourne, Australia


There are many ways to slice and dice a newsroom structure to meet the demands of the digital age.

News media companies have wrestled with most of them, some with success and others to their grave.

At the Herald Sun in Melbourne, we chose the integrated path based on breaking real stories, training, and empowering all reporters — from cadets to household names — to file for all platforms, all day.

The Herald Sun has successfully empowered all journalists to write across many platforms.
The Herald Sun has successfully empowered all journalists to write across many platforms.

I was first opposed to the idea of having no digital reporters. Our digital competitors had no print deadlines or demands, making them more nimble, quicker to publish, and specialists in the digital format of storytelling.

We were tied to print deadlines and a particular way of writing. It gave us rich content, but it was limiting.

As the model matured over time, I’m happy to say I was wrong. Dead wrong.

Empowering your entire newsroom to create compelling content and break stories is a longer-term win for publishers — mostly because it’s a much better outcome for readers.

Here’s why: Original content — and journalism — matter.

It matters if you are trying to build a base of readers willing to pay for digital journalism, a pursuit the Herald Sun has been chasing longer than most publishers.

If your best talent is creating content for all of your platforms — at the same quality and rate — you have a more viable product to sell.

There are many reasons people bought their newspaper for decades in massive numbers. They mostly loved to read the stories and look at the pictures. That hasnt changed.

The appetite for the content we produce at the Herald Sun is arguably stronger than ever when you combine our digital and print audiences.

We dont have an audience problem; ergo, we dont (necessarily) have a content problem. They like what we do.

What’s changed is the format in which audiences want to consume that content.

They want it on their phones. They want it snappier. They want to be able to post their comments instantly. They want to watch a highlights video with their sports wrap. Or maybe they want us to tell them a visual story in a video format minus audio to consume on a packed, noisy train because theyve left their headphones at home.

If we can service this need, but base it on the solid journalism our community has always wanted, then we have something.

We have also discovered that you cant be all things to all people digitally, and doubling down on your strengths delivers the best results.

We cant compete with BuzzFeed in its format.

We cant rewrite Reddit, or pocket beach babe pictures at the speed and breadth of the Daily Mail.

But neither can any sites match our reach into Melbourne, our Australian Rules footy coverage (a religion here), our agenda-setting opinion writers, and our brilliant photographic department.

So that’s what we focus on.

There is so much choice out there, it almost becomes overwhelming.

Everyone is rewriting, building generic lists, and piggybacking on memes — but few are worrying about their local patches and doing that at scale.

Local doesnt just mean covering suburban tales and potholes (although there is an extraordinary interest in this content). It means serving your audience with the best content they can relate to — content that touches their lives.

Our readers arent subscribing to clickable listicles or funny cat videos. They are subscribing for good reads and investigative journalism, divisive opinion, and intelligent sport coverage.

If you get that right, its a compelling offering that will help us build a new foundation for journalism.

About Nathaniel Bane

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