New versus old media: Fairfax, Buzzfeed and Ryantology

I was the youngest person at a media event last Monday night.

Well into the third decade of my life, these days it’s a rare occurrence when I’m the youngest at anything. But on that evening night there I was, with my husband (the second youngest person), mingling with other Sydney Morning Herald subscribers at Fairfax’s own ‘meet the press’ shindig.

The panel discussion was on sports journalism, featuring three talented Fairfax journalists, with Peter Fitzsimons and his headscarf as the headline act. What they had to say was interesting, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

What was more fascinating was that about half of the audience had grey hair. This is what the typical engaged newspaper reader looks like these days.

Most were also white and male. The latter has to do more with the subject matter than anything else. The racial demographic reflects the diversity amongst the Herald‘s journalists.

Since half the discussion was about rugby union, I couldn’t help but draw obvious parallels between the dwindling number of supporters of that sport and their socioeconomic status, and the Herald‘s print readership.

One member of the audience complained that the Herald‘s coverage on rugby union is out of proportion to rugby league, favouring the more popular sport by a ratio of 1.5 to eight pages. When one of the journalists empathised and helpfully recommended that he visit Fairfax’s for exhaustive coverage on union, the audience member dismissed the advice.

To state the obvious, that particular Herald reader, aged around 70 years old, doesn’t want to have to go on the internet to fetch his news. That’s what the paper is for.

Of course, we know that the print-only reader is an increasingly rare breed of media consumer. Nielsen recently released its report on top-ranked news sites in Australia, and concluded overall that the number of active readers in Australia has increased by two million to a total of 17.5 million. (Side note: the numbers were partly augmented due to Nielsen changing their methodology.)

The numbers weren’t surprising. What became newsworthy was that Nielsen controversially excluded Buzzfeed, a US-based site, from its rankings because its content is not considered news.

In this brave new digital age, the definition of news surely needs to be relaxed. Should pictures of dogs who can skateboard be considered news? Perhaps not, but neither should Richard Wilkins’ hair. Regardless, the ABC saw it fit to report on the Twitter buzz around that topic on Logies night. Old media reporting on social media on a TV presenter – narcissistic much?

Which brings me to what the journalists on the panel discussion had to say about their jobs. A principal motivating factor for journalists is seeing their byline and headshot in the paper. Another is talking to readers by email or Twitter. They do it for the love.

To fulfil those needs, it’s not necessary to be part of the Fairfax or News machine. If newspaper readers are a dying breed, then so too are quality journalists who can get their buzz elsewhere. Especially the ones who have left because of budget cuts. They can just set up a site like Ryantology and become part of new media. (Any Veep fans out there? I’m addicted.)

As a PR exercise, I like what Fairfax is doing, promoting their writers as media personalities and getting them to meet their constituency. It’s another step in the evolution of Fairfax.

As they know better than anyone, it’s a long Darwinian journey ahead for media companies wanting to survive in the digital age. When I’m 70, I’ll probably be lamenting the death of newsprint.


Caroline Regidor
BY Caroline Regidor ON 5 May 2014
Caroline Regidor is managing director of First Degree PR. Caroline has over a decade's experience working within the media industry and providing comms advice to leading corporates such as the Commonwealth Bank, Colonial First State, Baulderstone (part of the Lend Lease Group) and Gadens Lawyers.