Newsroom not afraid to rattle the cage as full site launches

When Mark Jennings and Tim Murphy first announced their news venture, they were in no doubt aware that they needed something substantial to coincide with the launch—a story befitting the promise that Newsroom would be covering ‘things that matter’.

Yesterday morning, as the site transitioned from the Summer Newsroom to the full version, it quickly became apparent they had been sitting (not unlike caged hens) on something suitably punchy for some time.

At 7am, the team hit publish on a major exposé of Palace Poultry, an egg supplier that has been passing off caged eggs as free-range.

The response to this news provided a timely reminder of why journalism still plays an important role in holding wrongdoers accountable for their actions. Countdown immediately pulled the eggs from its shelves, and the story quickly made its way across many of the nation’s major news publications, sparking widespread outrage.

“The team is buzzing at the reader, social media and peer media feedback,” says Murphy in commenting on the impact of the scoop.

The story was weeks in the making and came with a slick video developed by investigative journalist Mel Reid’s team and edited by Paul Enticott, who previously worked for 60 Minutes and 3rd Degree before joining the Newsroom team.

“[Paul], Mel and Mark will regularly produce our video content and hopefully we get many more stories on which they can display their talents,” says Murphy.

Shortly after the story ran on the Newsroom site, it was republished on Stuff as part of a distribution deal between the two publications.

As part of the deal, Newsroom can select up to two stories or videos a day to share with the team at the Fairfax Media-owned site.

“They choose whether to run them,” says Murphy.

In the event of sharing a video, Newsroom will get a share of revenue from pre-roll advertising.

However, the real aim here is not focused on generating revenue but rather on getting eyeballs. 

“We get the benefit of links back to our site,” says Murphy. “From our point of view, we get a vast audience aware that we exist and are doing good work.”

Murphy says Stuff “very generously” included seven links back to Newsroom in the egg story, providing a consistent reminder to Stuff’s massive audience of the existence of the new news site.     

New publications certainly do stand to benefit from collaborating with established media players. This has also been seen at The Spinoff, which sometimes runs columns on the New Zealand Herald.

Major established titles give newer publications access to their audiences, while simultaneously lending credibility to their articles they republish.

“If we can get quality pieces out there we go some way to achieving Mark’s and my aim of helping promote awareness and understanding on some of these issues that matter,” says Murphy. “We think it will exponentially expand the market’s brand awareness for Newsroom.”

Increasing readership numbers over of the inaugural year will be integral if Newsroom is to keep its founding partners happy.

Chorus, Holden, Victoria University and the University of Auckland (announced last Friday) were happy to support the ambitious project off the bat, but their willingness to stay on for a second or third year will largely depend on the audience Newsroom delivers as the year progresses.

Murphy says the funding from these founding partners is further consolidated by voluntary contributions, revenue from the Stuff partnership, funding from NZ On Air for digital programming as well as investment from equity investors.

Additionally, Murphy also has plans to develop the paid side of the site.

“The Newsroom Pro subscriber email alert service will also provide funds that we intend to use in part to support the open site journalism,” he says.

“We think there is room to grow the paid side of our business and will look at new subject areas and experts to add to it once we are down the track.”

Unlike many other publishing start-ups, Newsroom will have to ensure a reasonably hefty stream of revenue from day one, largely due to the number of journalists on the payroll.

“We have 16 staffers, 12 in Auckland and four in Wellington, [but]several are half-time” says Murphy. “Beyond that, we have nine regular contributors paid on a per piece basis or on a retainer.  That may expand as we branch into other subject areas.”

The strong start certainly suggests the talent on hand has the potential to break important stories and drive the nation’s news agenda. But, as anyone in the news business can attest, the road to sustainability in digital media is long and uncertain.

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