Fairfax rolls out new publishing system for regionals

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Fairfax Regional Media editorial director, Stuart Howie. Photo: supplied

Fairfax Regional Media has experienced “explosive” growth in its online audience and is aiming to push its numbers further with a new newsroom model that has already been successful in a pilot program.

Following a decision to adopt a digital first model across the group, Fairfax’s Bendigo Advertiser trialled NewsNow, a reverse-publishing platform for the switch.  The move has seen its online audience grow by 275 per cent in the last nine months.

The boost comes on top of a jump from around 7 million views per month to 48 million in the last three years across Fairfax Regional Media’s 15 daily newspapers and more than 150 non-daily titles.

Fairfax Regional editorial director, Stuart Howie, said the growth reflected “an absolutely insatiable appetite for local news and information.”

NewsNow uses new technology to enable “a seamless production process” that takes Fairfax’s story pad and CMS to a new level, Mr Howie said. The new model sees journalists produce their stories in a CMS, and each story goes online immediately while a version is also placed into template print pages.

Some Fairfax Regional Media titles, while trusted brands, were beholden to the print way of working to print deadlines, he said.

“So there’s been a change in culture, a change in direction, and a permission given to our journalists, if you like: it’s okay to do digital.”

NewsNow was rolled out at the Bendigo Advertiser in September 2013 as the paper was “feeling the pressures” of daily newspaper production. The new production model snowballed into a more holistic solution, Mr Howie said.

“It’s really flicking the switch on digital,” he said. “It’s an absolute game changer for our newsrooms.”

In August, the Advertiser saw 1.2 million page impressions, which has jumped to 4.5 million in June 2014. Importantly, hard copy sales saw no negative effects from the launch.

“NewsNow makes print easier, streamlines it through templating, and through that our expectation is that it will give relief to journalists and editors around the country so that they can focus totally on the story and less around production,” Mr Howie said.

“Across regional Australia we sell or distribute about 150 million newspapers a year, so print still comprises a very big chunk of our business and we believe it will be for a long time yet. But we know we’ve got to be making the transition and editorially, that’s what we’re doing now with our newsrooms.”

An “ambitious” rollout is now underway, with a business case approved by Fairfax with a commitment to rolling out the system to 140 other sites. Twenty will be completed by the end of 2014, Mr Howie said, including the Courier in Ballarat and 16 titles on the NSW South Coast and Southern Highlands. There are plans for another 100 titles in 2015.

While Mr Howie could not disclose the budget, he said the rollout would involve “significant investment” in training, equipment and system development, as well as “recasting and optimising” existing practices and resources.

“In our world, where a lot of these titles are non-daily titles, a lot of people don’t want to wait until Wednesday or Friday for publication day,” Mr Howie said. “We’re committed to delivering information to people when, where and how they want it.”

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