Leader community newspapers in Victoria have successfully pushed for controversial speeding zone changes to be dropped in a powerful 10-day campaign.
VicRoads, the Victorian Government roads department, began gradually removing 70 and 90km/h speeding zones in late 2014 after a review recommended simplifying speeding zones across the state. However, a lack of transparency and consultation in the process became clear when motorists began voicing their complaints to Leader mastheads.
The campaign was so effective it is has been developed as a case study on the power of print by group sales teams.
The vast majority of speeding zone changes resulted limits being reduced overnight, prompting a wave of community unrest as motorists were unknowingly booked on their local roads.
“Nothing had changed about these roads – it was all in the name of bureaucratic convenience,” Leader group editor-in-chief John Trevorrow said.
“There were a couple of times where trees or shrubs were covering up the new signs. Some people were getting booked after driving on the roads for 10 years and thought it was quite unfair.”
The issue heated up across the state and in February, with more than 30 stories already in print and 1000 comments across masthead social media about the issue, Leader launched the #Keep70 campaign in partnership with the RACV. The motorists’ organisation had also received complaints from its members and supported Leader’s push for roads to be changed only when there was a safety issue or a change in the road – not for bureaucratic reasons. Leader sent its opening editorial to the Victorian Government.
“We collectively noticed a lot was happening and there was very little transparency and very little consultation,” RACV Roads and Traffic manager Dave Jones said.
“Leader knew our position so they asked for an interview and we quickly realised there was more planned by the government. We realised we could be clever with the use of social media and hence the hashtags, #Keep70 and #Keep90 emerged.”
The message was carried across all 33 Leader newspapers and more than 100 #Keep70 posts on Facebook and Twitter engaged more than 5000 people, with hundreds more general messages of support from the community. RACV posted and re-tweeted Leader material through its own social channels.
“We certainly had a lot of support, not just from the community but from very experienced traffic and road safety engineers, who gave us the history of why there were 70 and 90 zones in the first place and why it was important to maintain them,” Mr Jones said.
The #Keep70 hashtag unified the stories across the state, building a picture of what was happening and unearthing inconsistencies – including the removal of a public list of areas targeted for the changes. Mr Jones said the proximity of Leaders journalists to their communities was a huge factor in the campaign’s success.
“It was a very powerful message and Leader took the opportunity to take a widespread story into peoples’ homes and communities and cover it in a very local, in-depth way,” he said.
“A larger metropolitan paper with more exposure wouldn’t get the same up close perspective.”
Nine days into the campaign, Office of Roads and Road Safety Minister Luke Donnellan told Leader the government would over-rule any further changes to 70km/h and 90km/h speed limits, unless there was a clear safety need or community demand. The campaign’s aim had been achieved.
The change was revealed in an exclusive 9pm report on leadernews.com.au, which was read by more than 14,000 people and received 150 comments, and on Facebook and Twitter the issue reached more than 50,000 people. The story hit the front page of the Herald-Sun and was picked up by metropolitan radio and TV as well as the ABC.
Leader papers were then able to report the results of the campaign this month, revealing the details of the policy changes.
It was a cycle which exemplified the power of community newspapers across print and digital, and the case study has proved useful to Leader sales teams.
“It allows them to make the point to clients that if people think print is somehow less relevant these days, it’s just not the case,” Mr Trevorrow said.
“It showed that traditional media, just like new media, is more influential than ever.
“We have our eyes and ears open at the ultra-local level. We became aware people thought it was unjust and decided to do something about it – that’s what newspapers are for. We can be their voice.”
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