Gone are the days of newspaper editors telling people what they should read.
Sean Aylmer, Fairfax Media publisher, says much like the rest of the media, the consumer is now in control.
“It’s really hard, it’s a really big cultural change for us,” Aylmer told a group of marketing bosses and media buyers at Sydney’s Mindshare Unlocks: Native event, a joint presentation by media agency Mindshare and Fairfax Media.
The audience, Aylmer conceded, now has complete control over who, what, when and where they get information. “The biggest change now is we really have to listen to the audience,” said Aylmer. “Our job is to be there for them.”
Aylmer acknowledged the days when print newspapers set the agenda for consumers and other forms of media such as TV and radio, but says those days are long gone.
“It’s becoming clear that there’s no excuse not to listen to the audience,” he said.
While Fairfax continues to base its business model on quality journalism, it is also important for the publisher to give the readers what they want.
“Does everyone know Blake Garvey? He’s my favourite dickhead,” Aylmer asked the audience, referencing the star of Ten’s most recent series of The Bachelor.
Following the show’s final episode, four of the top five stories on smh.com.au were about Garvey and the show. “It went off. It was fantastic. We love The Bachelor,” said Aylmer. “Our traffic was enormous. You might think it’s odd that SMH would do a story on The Bachelor but it worked because SMH, as a brand, is a trusted one.”
Aylmer went as far as to say he’d like to crown Garvey ‘Fairfax Editorial’s Man of The Year’.
The publisher said it’s possible for Fairfax to cover less “worthy” stories like The Bachelor, and even become the authority on such topics, because of the serious reporting offered in addition to such lighter fare.
“Quality journalism can be in any form so long as people want it. We must remember that,” said Aylmer. “It’s really important we have all sorts of stories including the really worthy ones.”
In feeding the continuing demand for content, Fairfax is looking outside its newsroom and is open to native advertising.
“Quality journalism doesn’t always come from us. We think we know everything, but in actual fact we don’t. There are lots of organisations who give content to us, which is high quality, that our readers want,” said Aylmer.
“We will soon be getting content, not from the New York Times, but from third parties we previously never thought about. So long as it’s quality and we’re not fooling anybody, I’m okay with that,” said Aylmer. “I do not want to say ‘This is coming from us’ when it’s coming from someone else.”
Aylmer also shared statistics around audience growth on mobile and tablet devices.
“The growth in mobile and tablets is ferocious,” he said. This surge is currently driving when and where content is distributed across the Fairfax network.
“We put stories in places where we think people will want them at a certain time of day. That represents year-on-year growth in mobile and tablet. As a result, we just want to be there.”
With all of this digital growth, are newspapers dead? Aylmer said his opinion on the matter is irrelevant.
“It is such a redundant question. It’s actually what the audience thinks. While there’s an audience for newspapers, we will be there. Whenever there’s an audience for mobile, tablet, desktop or whatever’s next, we’ll be there.”
He added that print newspapers continue to have gravitas with the audience that reads often “older and more important” than Aylmer himself.
“Have you ever seen Tony Abbott wave a smart phone around in Parliament? No, he gets the Fin Review,” said Aylmer.