Impact report highlights power of subscriptions at the Age, Sydney Morning Herald

By Orietta Guerrera

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age



The idea to produce an impact report was first raised almost halfway through 2020. It was an intense news period — first with the devastating bushfires in the summer that blanketed parts of Australia in smoke for weeks followed by a global pandemic we’re still living through — and we had a spike in new subscribers come on board.

While we had their attention, we wanted to showcase the breadth of our coverage but, importantly, we also wanted to highlight what their support via their subscription made possible.

It was our first impact report. As reader editor, I instantly loved the idea, and happily took on the project of setting out to produce unique reports for both The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. We viewed it as almost a prospectus report in the business world, treating our subscribers and readers as shareholders in our journalism.

I have worked for the mastheads for two decades and can say that, as a news organisation, we don’t excel at proclaiming our successes. We like to think our journalism speaks for itself. So, this process required a change in thinking and less modesty. It was time to boast a little and be less understated.

The impact report is a chance to boast about the publications' accomplishments.
The impact report is a chance to boast about the publications' accomplishments.

In a busy newsroom, where there is no shortage of work to do, the project also required some reprioritizing. As the impact report was a new concept, our executive editor (James Chessell), editors (Lisa Davies and Gay Alcorn), and head of audience development (Aimie Rigas) set out to explain its value to the newsrooms, particularly those we hoped would contribute to the report.

The report was largely driven and produced via editorial, which we felt was important. These were our stories — some months and even years in the making. As the year progressed, there was no shortage of material to highlight, beginning with some of our award-winning investigations: the Secrets of War, Unaoil: The Bribe Factory, Crown Unmasked, the Faceless Man, the former High Court judge Dyson Heydon controversy, federal sports riots, and the icare investigation. But while these stories certainly demonstrated the impact of our journalism in the community (for example, by leading to inquiries, reviews, arrests, and resignations), they are only a part of what we do.

For example, our daily coronavirus news blog (provided free to all readers) and data journalism informed our cities through unprecedented times. We employ more science reporters than the rest of the nation’s newspapers put together.

Our political and foreign coverage also featured prominently, with the U.S. election and Australia’s fractious relationship with China often dominating headlines. Our opinion editors wrote about the daily challenge of seeking credible and influential voices to make a meaningful contribution to local, national, and international debates.

With everyday life for our readers changing on so many fronts, the lifestyle team reflected on the immense interest in stories about staying fit, eating better, and getting more sleep. And the popular Good Weekend magazine celebrated another year of holding a mirror to Australian society with noting exclusive profile pieces, compelling first-person accounts, and national investigations that featured across its pages.

A number of in-depth articles featured prominently in the impact report.
A number of in-depth articles featured prominently in the impact report.

We highlighted key numbers with our “an unprecedented year of growth” section and concisely listed the impact of our investigations with a page noting “our journalism led to…” More detailed entries from some of our senior editors and journalists explained the work behind the articles and their direct impact on the community.

Helping bring this all together were the remarkable photos from our staff and freelance photographers who captured so much of this peculiar year in our cities and regions so perfectly.

And if readers remained in any doubt, we also included an appendix of the journalism awards our reporters, photographers, editors, designers, and artists won throughout the year. The final page read: “Subscribers power our newsroom. Thank you for your support.”

The newsrooms enjoyed the support of our subscriptions team from the beginning of the process. This relationship later became key in the distribution of the report, and I worked closely with them in discussing how it would be presented to our subscribers in a direct e-mail send. In addition to this e-mail, the report featured on our homepages and social media accounts, and it is still being used in the onboarding journey when we welcome our new subscribers.

With our talented video and audio team we also produced an accompanying video featuring some reporters and editors, who reflected on camera about their year of stories and directly thanked subscribers for their support. They noted some of the exchanges they had with readers throughout the year, including receiving significant news tips, and how they appreciated the engagement and feedback.

Early this year, Rigas and I sat down to discuss what worked and what didn’t in the impact report. This meeting, despite almost a year of working together, was the first time we’d met face-to-face, since COVID-19 restrictions and state border closures made travel between Sydney and Melbourne often impossible.

While still immensely proud of what we produced, with the benefit of a summer break we’re ready with ideas on ways to improve and distribute the report.

About Orietta Guerrera

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