Publisher's lack of control over new platforms “a big challenge for us” - SMH

Sarah Homewood
By Sarah Homewood | 24 June 2015
SMH Panel L-R: Digital editor, Conal Hanna, editor-in-chief, Darren Goodsir, innovation editor, Stephen Hutcheon, and social media editor, Georgia Waters.

When Facebook and Apple announced that they were both launching publishing offerings it sparked an interesting dilemma for already established publishers.

Should publishers go where the audiences and potential advertising opportunities are, all the while losing control over the ecosystem in which their content is served, or should they continue to own the content distribution but miss out on the benefits of surrendering to the online behemoths.

Speaking at a subscriber event for Fairfax's flagship title The Sydney Morning Herald, editor-in-chief of the paper Darren Goodsir said that the arrival of Facebook's Instant Articles and Apple's News application was a challenge for publishers.

“Putting my commercial hat on it's a pretty mind-focusing thing because we need money to sustain our journalism, and suddenly we want to be where our readers and our audience are, and that's not necessarily in an environment that we control and that's a big challenge for us,” he said.

Also on the panel was the paper's innovation editor, Stephen Hutcheon, and when asked further about the topic he said there’s pluses and minuses to think of when getting involved in the services.

“If you find the advertiser you get to keep 100% revenue and you have an instant audience in the case of Facebook, 1.4 billion potential audience, and with Apple you have a potential audience of many millions of people who carry these devices," Hutcheon said.

“All publishers are facing this dilemma. It's another example of the frenemy concept, they are both your competitors and your collaborators and your partners in this thing. Our view is you've got to be in there, you've got to be experimenting in those platforms in order to understand how they work and what they can do for you.”

Also speaking at the event, which was looking into the future of digital storytelling, was digital editor Conal Hanna and social media editor Georgia Waters, with the panel also revealing to subscribers some of the new ways the publisher is looking to make the most out of the growing digital space.

Some of Fairfax's senior editors recently went on a tour of the US to glean some ideas about new ways publishers are diving into digital, and Goodsir explained that as a paper “we're always into experimenting” and in the spirit of experimenting, the SMH has launched two experiential sites, one called Celsius and the other is called The Optimist.

Hutcheon explained: “They both are run outside our main website on a shoestring, working with an editor and just one other reporter and it's a combination of writing our own material, aggregating other things that the mothership writes, and aggregating pieces other people write.”

These sites also look different to smh.com.au because they don't have a homepage, because as Hutcheon explained with the rise of search and social, the traditional homepage may not be as crucial as it once was.

During the talk, Hanna also revealed that since December of last year smh.com.au has been receiving more traffic from mobile devices than it is does via desktop and tablet. While the split is pretty close, with 45% of traffic coming from mobile versus 44% coming from desktop, it's a trend that hasn't changed for the past six months.

“December was the first month we had more daily unique browsers come to us on the phone than the desktop, it was probably related to the Sydney Siege I would say, but it hasn't gone back,” Hanna explained.

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