Fairfax's Campbell Mitchell on evolving journalism, news media's perception problem and the commercialisation of audiences—UPDATED

  • Media
  • February 18, 2016
  • Damien Venuto
Fairfax's Campbell Mitchell on evolving journalism, news media's perception problem and the commercialisation of audiences—UPDATED

Earlier this week, Radio New Zealand broke the story that around 70 Fairfax sub-editing jobs, predominantly in the Wellington office, were on the line following a proposal from the media company to move sub-editing work back to third-party provider Pagemasters having taken that work off Pagemasters around two years ago.

While the sub-editing services provided by these staff members was predominantly for Australian papers, attention again turned to the demise in the quality journalism across the world. 

This is a topic that has been afforded copious column inches both here and in international media, and it’s usually accompanied by— what some might say is misplaced—nostalgia for how things once were.

Of course, journalism has always come under scrutiny—and this is to be expected in an industry that supposedly trades on telling the truth.

But from a marketing perspective, media companies producing news are struggling with what could, in an ironic twist, be described as a major PR problem. 

Every time an article questions the quality of what Fairfax produces, it places a question mark over the credibility of the organisation, not only as a news provider but also as a partner for clients looking to reach an audience.

Though this could be seen as a bit of a stretch, the onslaught of negative commentary about the state of news media leaves media organisations in a very similar position (once again, from a marketing perspective) to fast food companies that frequently find themselves targeted in reports on the obesity epidemic, the harmfulness of sugar or the supposed contents of their meals.

In every other industry, the responsibility of addressing such PR issues rests with the marketing and comms teams—and it’s no different in news media. 

Fairfax’s Campbell Mitchell, who was recently promoted to chief marketing officer after joining as marketing director in 2013, would not comment on the editorial changes happening at Fairfax and referred us to the Australian arm of the business for comment (StopPress contacted Brad Hutch, director of communications in Australia, but we are yet to receive a response)*.  

However, Mitchell was willing to talk about the commercial side of the business, and admitted that news media certainly does have an image that isn't necessarily reflective of what's happening at in the business. 

“In reality, more people than ever before are consuming our news. That’s a fact. That number is 2.7 million New Zealanders every day. In reality, Stuff is now number three behind Google and Facebook. In reality, more than 1.1 million New Zealanders read a daily newspaper. We’ve got 300,000 paper subscribers who get our papers in their letterbox every day. And in some of our markets [in the South Island], we’re making more money than we did last year.”

At a time when some major advertisers are pulling out of print advertising because they no longer see it as an effective means to connect with audiences—and when large publishers like The Independent are also pulling out of print and going digital only—perspectives can and often do play an important role in determining where money ends up.

But Mitchell’s challenges don’t end here. Alongside convincing clients that what Fairfax is selling is still working, he also grapples with the perception that the overall quality of the product Fairfax puts out is reducing. 

These days, it isn’t difficult to find snarky comments online pointing out the typos and headline errors that slip through onto the nation’s mainstream news sites. And each of these observations adds to the narrative that news publishing is inferior to what came before.

Mitchell believes this overlooks the differences between print—which was predominant in previous generations—and the online publishing we see today.

“It is challenging, but there is an insatiable appetite for people to get their news fast. Our job is to get it to them first. That is a priority. After that, we’ll go back [and flesh it out]. Often what people do is see a story on Stuff and they go ‘it’s short, it doesn’t have much detail, and it hasn’t spoken to both sides’. But it’s first. And the job then is for us to build that story and evolve it, and add depth to it.”

Mitchell uses the example of Fairfax’s recent reportage on the Christchurch Earthquake as an example of the modern news experience. 

“On Sunday, we had 1.1 million unique users on Stuff. It was our biggest audience ever. A big, serious, news event happened in New Zealand, and Kiwis came to Stuff, because they knew they could. The content in the press the next day was six pages, immersive, it featured graphics and so on, and that played a different role than the news that was published at 1.30pm for an earthquake that happened at 1.15pm. And that doesn’t make it wrong. It just makes it different.” 

Comparing a story published 15 minutes after a breaking news event to one that has gone through the full sub-editing and final check process associated with the print version does seem somewhat unfair, but there are also valid concerns that modern news publishers are in a race to the bottom as they pursue scale by running clickbait in lieu of serious journalism. The click is addictive and it's something many believe is changing the news values of publishers, with short, popular posts (often sourced from social media) gaining prominence over gruntier stories. But Mitchell explains that Fairfax is “an audience company” and its job is to provide content that will keep readers engaged. And while this does certainly include breaking news stories, it also means providing lighter content from time to time. 

Reading fluff content isn’t a new phenomenon, however. As far back as 1928, research conducted by George Gallup found that readers were drawn to the frivolous (even though they claimed to read the serious stuff). And the tabloid 'don't let the truth get in the way of a good story' model was where Rupert Murdoch got his start.   

In this context, Mitchell says a dogmatic commitment to hardcore news simply isn’t financially viable, pointing to the example of The Guardian, which is expected to report losses to the tune of £50 million in March this year and is getting set to reduce its headcount by around 20 percent, largely because digital revenue isn't growing fast enough. 

Mitchell says the changes Fairfax has been introducing are designed to ensure the business is able to monetise its audiences effectively, so that it remains a sustainable business. 

“We have New Zealand’s biggest newsroom. We have more journalists than any other company, and our commitment is to create a best-practice, modern newsroom that’s actually equipped to deal with consumer change and technology innovation. We’re a different newsroom than we were six months ago, and we’re going to continue to evolve.”

This evolution has certainly seen a few casualties along the way, the most recent of which were a series of magazines that have been sold off to the editors—which leads to the question: are magazines not part of Fairfax’s plans? 

“Magazines play a part,” Mitchell responds. “But a big part of my job is to help diversify the product and service offering Fairfax provides. And sometimes, to grow in some areas, you need to trim in others.”

Mitchell sees effective—and profitable magazines—as going beyond the page and providing a dedicated community with more than just an immersive reading experience. This, of course, includes a strong online voice, but real-life experiences also play an important role. 

House and Garden is an amazingly successful magazine, and in two weeks it triggers off a whole event called the House and Garden Tours. So more than 5,000 people will pay an amount of money to participate in an experience that’s only enabled because of House and Garden.

Another example Mitchell points to is the Dom Post, which annually advertises and runs a 12-day rail tour

“We have 80 people who spend the best part of $5,000 to go on a 12-day rail tour.”

What these examples show is that while it’s becoming more and more difficult to sell full-page ads or double-page spreads in magazines or newspapers, media companies are developing a range of new ways to sell their audiences to brands.

The problem, however, is that such experiences and their corresponding native executions are sold on the credibility of the publications in the media company’s portfolio. And with this credibility regularly being questioned, it certainly does create a challenge Mitchell and his counterparts at other media companies will continue grappling with for some time.  

*Update: Text has been inserted after publication to reflect that Mitchell did not comment on Fairfax's recent proposal. This interview was scheduled before news of the proposal broke.

Update 2: A Fairfax spokesperson sent through the following response to our questions:

“We have started consultation with the approximately 70 full-time equivalent staff in New Zealand that would be affected by a proposal to move editorial production work they perform for Australian metro mastheads to a third-party provider, Pagemasters, which would operate from both New Zealand and Australia. 

"The proposed new arrangements would provide Fairfax additional flexibility and savings. 

 

​"​Consultation with staff is ongoing.

"We are confident that Pagemasters will continue to support our quality journalism and the Australian metro newsrooms as they take shape for the future.​"​

       

This is a community discussion forum. Comment is free but please respect our rules:

  1. Don’t be abusive or use sweary type words
  2. Don’t break the law: libel, slander and defamatory comments are forbidden
  3. Don’t resort to name-calling, mean-spiritedness, or slagging off
  4. Don’t pretend to be someone else.

If we find you doing these things, your comments will be edited without recourse and you may be asked to go away and reconsider your actions.
We respect the right to free speech and anonymous comments. Don’t abuse the privilege.

Third quarter strongest so far in 2019 for out-of-home sector

  • Media
  • October 21, 2019
  • StopPress Team
Third quarter strongest so far in 2019 for out-of-home sector

The Out-of-Home Media Association of New Zealand (OMANZ) has reported the continued growth of the out-of-home sector with net media revenue in the July – September 2019 period increasing by 22 percent year-on-year.

Read more
TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards: sKids and Nestlé get kids cooking, win Best Collaboration
features

TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards: sKids and Nestlé get kids cooking, win Best Collaboration

sKids and Nestlé proved the perfect pair to get Kiwi kids cooking healthy meals.

Blind & Low Vision NZ hopes to opens up visual world

  • Advertising
  • October 21, 2019
  • StopPress Team
Blind & Low Vision NZ hopes to opens up visual world

Blind & Low Vision NZ, YoungShand and Pead PR have teamed up to make the Internet more accessible by asking individuals and businesses to use the ‘Alt Text’ function when publishing digital images in the ‘#AltTextForAll Movement’.

Read more
topics
Story IQ
Story IQ
Story IQ is a brand story consultancy. We help brands uncover the hidden, untold stories ...
Up-and-Comers
Up-and-Comers
We give the mic to the industry's future leaders to hear their thoughts on media, ...
Insight Creative
Insight Creative
Insight Creative specialises in shaping business stories out the core insights that often lie under ...
The Stoppies 2018
The Stoppies 2018
In February (Valentine's Day to be exact), StopPress gathered the industry for an evening of ...
Follow The Money
Follow The Money
Follow the money. It’s an axiom that journalists have believed in for years and a ...
Regional Rundown
Regional Rundown
StopPress takes a trip down the country to see who the audiences and agencies are ...
Beyond the Page 2018
Beyond the Page 2018
In conjunction with the MPA, the Beyond the Page series shows how some of the ...
Beneath the Surface
Beneath the Surface
In this series, brought to you by Microsoft, we talk to a conceptual photographer, illustrator ...
20/20 (tele)vision
20/20 (tele)vision
Media consumption is changing. But by how much?
The Hot List
The Hot List
Our rundown of the hottest shows, brands and creators in New Zealand media. 1. magazine ...
Cannes Lions 2017
Cannes Lions 2017
All the winners, the shortlists and the drama from this year's edition of advertising biggest ...
Bauer Beyond the Page
Bauer Beyond the Page
When it comes to creating branded content, there are few better in the Kiwi market ...
Merger Mania
Merger Mania
All our stories on the nation's two failed mergers in one place
The Indies
The Indies
Over the course of this series of articles, we look at how always-nimble indy agencies ...
AdRoll on automation
AdRoll on automation
Marketing automation is tipped to eventually become the only way advertising is traded in the ...
Game Changers
Game Changers
It’s all about PEOPLE. Join us as we discuss global insights, ideas and innovations from ...
TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards 2015
TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards 2015
Celebrating all the winners of the 2015 TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards.
Future Tense
Future Tense
In a new series, StopPress talks to a range of newsmakers currently trying to shine ...
Beyond the Page
Beyond the Page
In conjunction with the MPA, the Beyond the Page series shows how some of the ...
Up Country
Up Country
In conjunction with News Works, the Up Country series talks with some of New Zealand's ...
Sounding off
Sounding off
As part of a content partnership with MediaWorks, we've asked a few of the company's ...
StopPress Podcasts
StopPress Podcasts
We sit down for a chat with industry leaders to find out what they're up ...

Tap to donate charity billboards hit the streets

  • advertising
  • October 21, 2019
  • StopPress Team
Tap to donate charity billboards hit the streets

The first-ever tap and go donation panel has hit our streets thanks to oOh!media. The bus shelter allows passengers to tap their eftpos card to make a three dollar donation to the Breast Cancer Foundation.

Read more

I'm still standing after BOTAB

  • Opinion
  • October 18, 2019
  • Courtney Devereux
I'm still standing after BOTAB

Last night our nations finest agencies gathered together at Galatos for the Battle of the Ad Bands (BOTAB) held by Flying Fish productions. There was singing, there was dancing, there was no lack of feathers and glitter, and most important there were some very deserving winners.

Read more
voices

Social scoreboard

Zavy and StopPress have worked together to create a scoreboard that compares how the top 25 traditional media advertising spenders in New Zealand have performed on social media over the past 30 days, updated in real time.

Movings/Shakings: 18 October

  • Movings/Shakings, brought to you by Marsden Inch
  • October 18, 2019
  • StopPress Team
Movings/Shakings: 18 October

Industry happenings at Verizon Media, We Are Frank and MiQ.

Read more
“There will always be people to guide and help inform our decisions”: The state of influencer marketing in New Zealand
features

“There will always be people to guide and help inform our decisions”: The state of influencer marketing in New Zealand

Following the birth of social influencers, we speak to The Social Club’s Georgia McGillivray about how the industry is taking off in New Zealand as marketers see results.

Dean Buchanan departing NZME

  • News
  • October 18, 2019
  • StopPress Team
Dean Buchanan departing NZME

NZME's group director of entertainment, Dean Buchanan, has announced today that he will be departing the business on 29 November after six years in the role.

Read more

StopPress noticeboard: 18 October

  • Noticeboard
  • October 18, 2019
  • StopPress Team
StopPress noticeboard: 18 October

Launches, expansions and acquisitions across the Industry.

Read more

MediaWorks to sell TV business

  • Media
  • October 18, 2019
  • StopPress Team
MediaWorks to sell TV business
Michael Anderson

MediaWorks has announced it intends to sell MediaWorks TV as well as its Flower Street property which includes its television head office and studios. It will retain ownership of radio and QMS.

Read more

MediaWorks comedy cuts points to bigger TV problems

  • Media
  • October 17, 2019
  • Radio New Zealand
MediaWorks comedy cuts points to bigger TV problems
Jeremy Corbett - and a slice of cheese - on 7 Days / Photo: screenshot /3Now

Broadcaster MediaWorks is cutting key local TV comedies. Mediawatch says It’s a further sign of the company’s deepening problems and wider troubles in free-to-air television, and is also a headache for the broadcasting funding agency New Zealand On Air.

Read more

Battle of the billboards on Ponsonby Road

  • Advertising
  • October 17, 2019
  • StopPress Team
Battle of the billboards on Ponsonby Road
Photo: Vaughn Davis (Twitter)

On Ponsonby Road, a Lumo digital billboard has been spotted in front of a JCDecaux billboard. StopPress went to the players involved to ask what was going on.

Read more
Sparking authentic conversations with Populr
Sponsored content

Sparking authentic conversations with Populr

Influencer Month kicks off with New Zealand's leading influencer marketing platform, Populr. Here, managing director, James Polhill, talks about sparking authentic conversations between brands, influencers and their fans, while reaching millions of customers across all major platforms.

Lisa Fedyszyn and Jonathan McMahon to depart Stanley St

  • Advertising
  • October 17, 2019
Lisa Fedyszyn and Jonathan McMahon to depart Stanley St

Executive creative directors Lisa Fedyszyn and Jonathan McMahon have resigned from Stanley St.

Read more

Bridging the digital divide: New Zealand’s first Think With Google event

  • Events
  • October 17, 2019
  • Caroline Rainsford
Bridging the digital divide: New Zealand’s first Think With Google event

This week marked New Zealand's very first Think With Google event, 'Bridging the Digital Divide'. Here, country director of Google New Zealand Caroline Rainsford shares how these events will help create meaningful business connections.

Read more
Next page
Results for
Topics
Jobs
About

StopPress provides essential industry news and intelligence, updated daily. And the digital newsletter delivers the latest news to your inbox twice a week — for free!

©2009–2019 ICG Media. All rights reserved.
Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Privacy policy.

Advertise

Contact Vernene Medcalf at +64 21 628 200 to advertise in StopPress.

View Media Kit