In 1982, Lynette Dawson disappeared from her home in a suburb of Sydney, Australia. Although her body was never found, suspicions and speculations surrounded her husband, Chris, who had been a professional rugby player in the 1970s before becoming a high school teacher.
Just days after his wife disappeared, Chris Dawson moved the couple’s 16-year-old babysitter into the family home, which only added to growing suspicions. Many in the community believed Dawson had killed his wife to give him the freedom to have a relationship with the teenager, whom he’d met at school.
The case remained cold and unsolved for decades until Hedley Thomas, an investigative journalist for The Australian, revisited the story in 2018 with the podcast, The Teacher’s Pet. The series quickly became a hit as Thomas revealed details of Dawson’s affair with the student, failures in the police investigation into the disappearance of his wife, and the reluctance of prosecutors to charge him.
The renewed public interest brought by the podcast saw police reopen that case, and by the end of 2018, Dawson was charged with his wife’s murder.
A successful sequel
When the case finally went to trial in 2022, Thomas and The Australian were well-equipped to provide a follow-up to their hit podcast.
The trial offered an opportunity to reach a new audience, reinforce the value of a subscription to The Australian, and convert existing audiences to subscribers. The new podcast, The Teacher’s Trial, maintained a weekly release schedule throughout the much-anticipated 19-week trial. Two additional episodes were released in November and December after Dawson was found guilty and sentenced.
The newspaper leveraged the many ways the public could learn more about the trial:
- Its PR campaign and editorial coverage directed readers to a dedicated landing page featuring podcast episodes, synopses, and extensive trial coverage. While the episodes were available on all platforms, users had to subscribe to access the additional content.
- The Australian also used social media to share breaking news posts and updates.
- Because of the widespread interest in the story, it even received a lift with publicity from other news outlets. In fact, Thomas was featured on more than 30 television and radio interviews within 48 hours of the verdict.
Beyond the sensational storyline and excellent journalistic storytelling, part of the podcast’s appeal was that it integrated listener feedback and questions into the content. Throughout the trial, the series generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsorship revenue and thousands of dollars in consumer-generated revenue through subscriptions.
The Australian also used the renewed interest surrounding the case to relaunch The Teacher’s Pet podcast, which now had amassed 52 million downloads, behind a paywall. That action alone yielded thousands of subscriptions for The Australian and its sister mastheads around the country.
A lasting effect
Forty years after the crime, The Teacher’s Trial was there when justice was served, and it brought the case into the homes of hundreds of thousands of listeners. The podcast landed on 10 different charts, rose to the No. 1 position, and was downloaded in 99 countries.
The impact of The Teacher’s Trial was clear, with more than 1 million pageviews and more than 1,150 mentions across TV, radio, social media, print, and digital media. The podcast was downloaded more than 8 million times, and the ROI exceeded 233% — accomplishing everything The Australian had hoped for.