From the workplace impact of Harvey Weinstein’s long history of sexual assault, bullying and harassment to domestic political scandals, it was a rich year for story-tellers. We asked editors from mastheads around Australia to identify their highlights.
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Paul Whittaker, editor-in-chief The Australian
“Our biggest achievement was becoming the first news media brand in Australia to achieve the important milestone of 100,000 paying digital subscribers. This represented a digital ‘coming of age’ for The Australian, which was the first masthead to introduce a digital paywall in early 2011 at a time when paying for digital content was unheard of. Today it’s the category norm.
“For newspaper publishers, growing digital subscriptions is the number one business priority.”
This is reflected in the journalism. Mr Whittaker cites the masthead’s coverage of the citizenship scandal as an exemplar of its work. The Australian broke the story of Senate President Stephen Parry’s dual citizenship, forcing his resignation, and also revealed the family background that led to the resignation of Tasmanian independent senator Jacqui Lambie.
On a broader scale, the Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood was Mr Whittaker’s choice for story of the year due to its wide-reaching consequences.
The story went on to spark the #metoo movement, showing that sexual assault and harassment is more commonplace than some would expect and to display solidarity with victims. Workplaces around the world and across all industries are reassessing their cultures.
This year saw tech giants give in and begin to work with traditional publishers. Google ridded itself of First Click Free – a service which forced news organisations to provide a set number of stories for free if accessed through aggregator Google News – in favour of Flexible Sampling, giving content creators more control. Facebook also took its first steps to repair its relationship with news organisations, entering discussions about improving the subscription model.
What’s in store for 2018? Mr Whittaker predicts that the media reform laws passed this year will lead to a consolidation of media.
Michael Stutchbury, editor-in-chief, The Australian Financial Review
Even though US President Donald Trump has dominated headlines around the world, Australian Financial Review editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury believes the two biggest stories are the energy crisis and successful political push for a royal commission into the banks.
The energy crisis was first declared by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the Australian Financial Review Business Summit in March. The crisis boils down to Australian energy being among the most expensive and dirtiest in the world. The AFR devoted lengthy coverage to the issue, as Mr Turnbull attempted to improve the energy standard.
The announcement of a royal commission into banking followed months of campaigning from several mastheads, including The Australian Financial Review. In the May 2017 Federal Budget, the federal government addressed Labor and The Greens call for a royal commision into the banking sector with a bank levy of $6.2 billion and tough new restrictions. The big four banks, ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB and Westpac, immediately retaliated, spending big on advertising campaigns.
A push for a commision in June fell short after a tied vote in the lower house. It wasn’t until November that the banks relented, presenting Treasurer Scott Morrison with a letter signed by the chairpersons and chief executives of the big four, that a royal commission into the sector was announced by Mr Turnbull.
Mr Stutchbury says the biggest achievement of the year was the masthead’s reporting that led to the forced sacking of CPA Australia chief executive Alex Malley.
“This was the climax of a sustained and unique campaign by our Rear Window columnist Joe Aston, also taken up by our accountancy editor Edmund Tadros. Malley used his position as the head of the biggest accountancy body to promote the cult of his own personality. We did accountants a service by helping to get rid of him,” said Mr Stutchbury.
Mr Malley was long criticised for his seemingly excessive salary of $1.8 million. Others also began to question the marketing budget which was being used to promote Mr Malley’s personal profile. Some of the spendings included $4 million on a television program in which the CEO interviewed celebrities, $2 million on the promotion of Mr Malley’s book The Naked CEO and millions on the Australian Open tennis championships and NRL South Sydney.
The AFR editor-in-chief said 2017 marked a shift toward paid subscriptions as the core business model for traditional mastheads.
As for what will mark 2018, Mr Stutchbury said: “It takes everything to cover the news as it happens, let alone predict the unpredictable”.
Chris Dore, editor, The Daily Telegraph
The growth is due to editor Chris Dore’s commitment to the masthead’s audience, delivering news in a way the readers want.
Mr Dore said the biggest story of the year is easily the demise of Harvey Weinstein. It’s obviously a massive deal in the US, as we have seen. But the ramifications here in Australia are still yet to fully play out, and not just in the entertainment industry, but society on a much broader scale
Beyond that, here at home, Mr Dore says the citizenship fiasco has been a remarkable story encapsulating the dismay ordinary Australians are feeling about the state of our politics. How something so simple could create such disarray feeds into the complete breakdown in trust Australians have for our political class.
Mr Dore believes that 2017 has seen a trend of oversharing from journalists which in turn is having an impact on reporting.
“Too many have lost touch with what it means to be a journalist. Expressing your opinion on Twitter, exposing your point of view, and then letting it infect your reporting has become a virus that has forever detrimentally changed news reporting.
“I don’t want to read a political reporter’s post or see them on TV and immediately know how they vote. It’s a disaster for journalism,” he said.
The editor believes outrage culture will inevitably bleed into 2018.
“The Tele will upset and/or outrage some group or another of people who don’t pay for our newspaper or our digital sites but will complain anyway while our loyal and growing number of readers will wonder what all the fuss is about,” said Mr Dore.
One more prediction: “One of the two major federal political leaders will lose their job”.
Lisa Davies, editor, The Sydney Morning Herald
Two stories from 2017 that stuck out to Ms Davies were the Herald‘s investigations into television gardener Don Burke and Senator Sam Dastyari, who warned a major Chinese donor he was under government surveillance and resigned after the subsequent furore.
The Kate McClymont-led investigation into Burke’s list of sexual harassment allegations made front pages around the country. The investigation was spurred by a partnership with journalist Tracey Spicer, who has launched a bid to expose sexual harassment within the media industry on the back of the #metoo movement.
Senator Dastyari had been accepting political donations from a Chinese businessman with communist party links and had made a number of statements in support of China’s position on the disputed region of South China Sea.
Ms Davies said: “Both of those investigations reinforce just how important it is to examine stories and issues thoroughly, dispassionately and fearlessly. Both of those are examples of ‘impact journalism’ done right, with real and lasting consequences for society.”
Honourable mentions were given to the same-sex marriage survey and the sheer number of people who came out to vote.
The SMH has spent the year repositioning its editorial, putting a larger focus on the quality of work over quantity. The masthead’s multi-award-winning Middle-East coverage is an example of this. “Surviving IS: Stories of Mosul”, documented the stories of those living through the devastation of the war against ISIS, detailed by Michael Bachelard and Kate Geraghty.
Ms Davis expects this renewed focus to continue into 2018 and spread across the industry. She believes that while the pace of news hasn’t changed, the process of producing news is slowly beginning to, creating a better product for readers.
“I think 2018 is going to be an extraordinary one – as long as the focus remains on the journalism. Audiences in print and online are more and more wanting quality, independent journalism and don’t want to be shouted at or told what to think.”
Matt Williams, editor, NT News
Despite this, editor Matt Williams ensures the light-hearted nature does not affect breaking stories and campaigning for Territorians. An example is the masthead taking the lead in the on the same-sex marriage debate, being the first newspaper in the country to declare its support of marriage equality.
“My favourite front page for the year was our same-sex marriage one in August where we were the first newspaper in Australia to take a stand and support same-sex marriage,” Mr Williams said.
“Our front page was seen by more than two million people on social media and was the most retweeted front page in Australian history. It proved to the rest of Australia that we are more than just crocs and UFOs.”
Another of Mr William’s prized pages was a commemoration of the iconic Territorian musician Dr G. Yunupingu following his death in July, paying tribute with a whole page black and white dedication.
Mr Williams feels the biggest story for Territorians related to the territory legislation on alcohol floor space. The rules introduced in May restricted the floor size of liquor stores to 400 square metres, effectively blocking liquor giant Dan Murphy’s entry into the NT market. The laws were divisive but ultimately repealed in October following Dan Murphy’s threat of legal action.
On the national front, the same-sex marriage postal survey and the debate that followed dominated the public agenda, which Mr William’s believes makes it “it’s hard to go past” as the country’s top story. The editor is also a horse racing fan, identifying the third consecutive Cox Plate win of champion thoroughbred Winx as a big sport story.
The NT News has had an interesting year, not only creating and showcasing the news but also being the subject of numerous features itself. The masthead appeared on national television programs The Living Room and 60 Minutes, with Sky News also showing interest in collaborating with the NT News, to the benefit of both parties.
The publicity has put the masthead in good stead to take on the issue of fake news, which has dominated public and industry discussion in 2017, Mr Williams said.
“[Discussion of fake news have] sent a strong message to readers that if they want genuine news they have to come to trusted brands.”
Mr Williams assures NewsMediaWorks that the “unique quirkiness” of the masthead won’ change moving into the new year, however, he foresees a subscription and circulation changes in 2018.
“I predict a substantial surge in the number of digital news subscriptions and slowing declines for newspaper circulation because I strongly believe newspapers have never been more important for Australians.”
Alex Lavelle, editor, The Age
One of these stories was “The Domino’s effect”, highlighting the underpayment and exploitation of workers as franchisees of the pizza chain struggle to meet the expectations of the company. Journalists also discovered franchisees were offering illegal visa sponsorship for up to $150,000. The investigation saw Dominos announce in October it would spend $5.4 million reimbursing workers and a widespread company audit.
The masthead also broke the story of some aged care facilities ripping off its elderly patients. The story detailed that some nursing homes were making a profit of $18,000 per bed, despite not providing the level of care and services one would expect with such a large price tag.
On a broader scale, Mr Lavelle agreed with other editors in this list, naming the Harvey Weinstein scandal as the biggest story of the year. He believes that the scandal shone a spotlight on the serious issue of sexual harassment within the workplace and “the incontrovertible fact that women have consistently been abused, undervalued and discriminated against in the workplace”.
Mr Lavelle believes that the levels of distrust of mainstream media by consumers has marred much of 2017. He predicts that next year, news organisations will need to continue to improve the perception of news media to prove that it is more reliable than social media.
In terms of news, Mr Lavelle has three predictions:
- House prices will start to fall as the banks’ tightening of lending starts to take effect;
- The Victorian election between Daniel Andrews and Matthew Guy will be fought around infrastructure rather than crime, and be incredibly close;
- Malcolm Turnbull will resist all pressure to step down as prime minister.
Kate de Brito, editor-in-chief, news.com.au
News.com.au’s bread and butter is breaking news. The title offered rolling coverage of each of the events.
Editor-in-chief, Kate de Brito said: “We have grown our presence with people on the ground for some of the biggest stories of the year, including in London (terror attacks), Las Vegas (Mandalay Bay shooting) and Cyclone Debbie,” she said.
The title’s extensive coverage in the months leading up to the historic same-sex marriage postal survey was also a year highlight for Ms de Brito.
Being a publication that is solely online, News.com.au feels the brunt of the tech giants audience control. A change in Facebook’s algorithm earlier this year has made it more difficult to reach audiences, as the social media platform began to give video a higher preference in its newsfeed.
Despite this, the title reached more than 5 million unique readers each month in 2017, the highest number for any publication, according to Nielsen.
The continued repercussions of Harvey Weinstein scandal is the editor’s top story of the year, as it has forced men in power to be accountable for their actions, as seen through Kevin Spacey and, locally, Don Burke.
US President Donald Trump’s escalating feud with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made headlines around the world in 2017 and Ms de Brito expects this to continue into next year, predicting “the repeated US, Russia, North Korea and China shows of force will graduate to something far more serious”.