Three plat­forms, three awards

The Bulletin - - Member Profile - BY ALEN DELIC

NEVER be­fore has a mast­head taken home tro­phies across three plat­forms at the PANPA News­pa­per of the Year Awards, but the New­cas­tle Her­ald man­aged it through a com­bi­na­tion of in­no­va­tion and dar­ing.

The mast­head man­aged to scoop the tri­fecta of cat­e­gories this year: 25,000-90,000 News­pa­per of the Year, News Desti­na­tion – Web­site, and News Desti­na­tion – Mo­bile Site or App.

The un­prece­dented awards haul tied in with a busy year for the re­gional cen­tre, 162km north of Syd­ney, which in­cluded a State Com­mis­sion into child sex­ual abuse, the dis­cov­ery of mas­sive en­vi­ron­men­tal neg­li­gence by a coal gi­ant, and a stellar sea­son by the lo­cal rugby league team with a charge to the semi-fi­nals.

At the heart of all th­ese events were the New­cas­tle Her­ald’s jour­nal­ists and a team be­hind the scenes work­ing to present the news in the best way pos­si­ble.

“Lo­cal, lo­cal, lo­cal, is the mantra,” New­cas­tle Her­ald news di­rec­tor Heath Har­ri­son says.

“It’s ab­so­lutely lo­cal, qual­ity jour­nal­ism that is our rea­son for be­ing; to serve the lo­cal com­mu­nity, and keep them in­formed.”

What has made the New­cas­tle Her­ald so suc­cess­ful is the way it has been keep­ing to its ideals, while har­vest­ing the po­ten­tial of new plat­forms.

Mr Har­ri­son said the news­pa­per, web­site, tablet app and m-site each had their spe­cific uses.

“They do have their own per­son­al­i­ties,” he says.

“But the online prod­uct is still very re­liant on what’s com­ing out of the pa­per.

“It’s a chal­lenge for us to try and pick at new ways we can make what we of­fer online less re­liant on the pa­per, and we can give it its own iden­tity.”

And in mak­ing it a dis­tinct en­tity, they have had more than some level of suc­cess.

In Septem­ber, the web­site hit the five mil­lion page view mile­stone, more than dou­bling from the same pe­riod last year. It also had twice as many unique browsers at 562,000 – a num­ber greater than the most re­cent cen­sus fig­ure for the pop­u­la­tion of New­cas­tle.

Ac­cord­ing to online ed­i­tor Eve Ne­smith that jump comes from the mast­head do­ing its best to make its online site the only place that Hunter res­i­dents come to as their first point of in­for­ma­tion.

“Online is be­ing first and ac­cu­rate,” she says.

“If there’s smoke out the win­dow, we want peo­ple to know they can log onto the­ au and know where that smoke is com­ing from.”

As of this year, the mast­head has even be­gun to live stream lo­cal sport through its web­site with the help of a lo­cal me­dia com­pany called BLive.

It be­gan as a one-off event in Fe­bru­ary, when New­cas­tle’s an­nual surf­ing com­pe­ti­tion Sur­fest was moved from a beach into the har­bour be­cause of a mon­ster swell.

“We cap­tured this his­toric event – an in­ter­na­tional surf­ing com­pe­ti­tion in the mid­dle of the world’s largest coal port and we had it live streamed,” she said.

It’s a chal­lenge for us to try and pick at new ways we can make what we of­fer online less re­liant on the pa­per, and we can give it its own iden­tity’

“It gave us a taste for it, and gave our au­di­ence a taste for it.”

Since then it has streamed a game of the lo­cal rugby league com­pe­ti­tion each week, with the grand fi­nal most re­cently draw­ing 5000 unique browsers.

The mast­head also has es­tab­lished a page for its sport­ing teams, dubbed the “Red and Blue HQ”. It is de­signed to be the first place Novo­cas­tri­ans come to for in­for­ma­tion on NRL team New­cas­tle Knights and A-League team New­cas­tle Jets.

It also is in the process of build­ing a mi­crosite, a web­site within a web­site, to host all of the con­tent cre­ated around the Royal Com­mis­sion on child sex abuse. It will host all the news, opin­ions and mul­ti­me­dia con­tent cre­ated around the hot-but­ton is­sue.

The drive for stick­ier con­tent came from the de­sire to be­come the first and only point of in­for­ma­tion for the Hunter, and so­cial me­dia has helped cap­i­talise on that, en­gage­ment ed­i­tor Si­mon Walker says.

Mr Walker’s role de­rives from that of the tra­di­tional let­ters’ ed­i­tor, with added re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

He will still go through the let­ters of old and con­tact those he con­sid­ers wor­thy for pub­lish­ing. Now, he up­loads them and gives peo­ple a chance to di­rectly re­spond online.

He also sifts through up­wards of 500 online com­ments a day and har­vests the best for the let­ters’ page, and a few will emerge as po­ten­tial story ideas.

Mr Walker says giv­ing read­ers a voice was im­per­a­tive to keep­ing them en­gaged.

“Just as the let­ters’ page opens up a de­bate about any of the is­sues [ hap­pen­ing] on any par­tic­u­lar day, with the online web­site, the abil­ity to get in­volved in the de­bate has widened ex­po­nen­tially,” he says.

Her­ald sales di­rec­tor Craig Lam­bert says part of what makes the New­cas­tle’s com­mu­nity en­gage­ment suc­cess­ful is how con­nected its peo­ple are in the com­mu­nity. He says his sales­peo­ple are no dif­fer­ent.

“New­cas­tle hasn’t been im­mune to eco­nomic dif­fi­cul­ties, but it’s also well placed to over­come some of th­ese,” Mr Lam­bert says.

“I want our sales peo­ple to be out and about, to be part of the com­mu­nity and re­ally un­der­stand the is­sues that af­fect them.”

He has en­cour­aged his sales team not to fo­cus on sell­ing a par­tic­u­lar plat­form, but rather sell­ing the en­gage­ment that the news­pa­per has with its au­di­ence.

“We don’t say here’s the print bit and here’s the dig­i­tal bit, we say ‘ here’s the so­lu­tion’,” Mr Lam­bert says.

Gen­eral man­ager of the New­cas­tle site Ja­son King puts the pa­per’s suc­cess down to two things: the com­mu­nity spirit, and the in­no­va­tion of its staff.

Mr King says the team has to be will­ing to take risks and push new bound­aries, but also be re­silient.

“I’m a risk-taker, [ed­i­tor] Chad [Wat­son]’s a bit of a risk taker, [sales di­rec­tor] Craig [Lam­bert] loves a bit of a risk as well, but it’s a cal­cu­lated risk,” Mr King said.

“We have to be al­low­ing our team to fail as long as they’ve got their heart in the right place and they’re try­ing to achieve a pos­i­tive out­come.”

The risks have paid off in abun­dance for the New­cas­tle Her­ald. As well as the hat trick of PANPA awards, the mast­head is in the Walkley Awards mix with a num­ber of nom­i­na­tions, has had some of its sto­ries go vi­ral and much more.

Ed­i­tor Chad Wat­son also pins the pa­per’s suc­cess on its com­mit­ment to its com­mu­nity.

“It’s no longer enough to set the agenda, you have to drive it and that’s what we strive to do ev­ery day,” Mr Wat­son says.

“We call our­selves the Voice of the Hunter, and with that comes great re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“It helps, of course, if you love what you do, why you do it and who you do it for.”

Ed­i­tor Chad Wat­son (rear cen­tre, black tie) with the staff of the New­cas­tle Her­ald with their three tro­phies

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