Influence is one thing, but the ability to resonate with a community by taking a stand is testimony to the power of newspapers that cannot be achieved by digital or social media alone, as Fairfax Media dailies in Sydney and Melbourne found this month.
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age took a stand against the long-term poor crowd behaviour that had been shown towards indigenous Sydney Swans AFL player Adam Goodes, a dual Brownlow medallist and former Australian of the Year.
Both papers published a four-page wraparound that featured a poster of Goodes, as well as an editorial urging Australians to stand united behind the Swans star against what they perceived as racist behaviour by football crowds, which booed him each time he became involved in play.
The behaviour reached a peak in July and led to Goodes standing down, and possibly quitting the sport.
This prompted a response from editor-in-chief of The Sydney Morning Herald Darren Goodsir – and it was one that resonated with football fans and the public. He decided on a wraparound because the Swans next game was a home game at the Sydney Cricket Ground, against the Adelaide Crows. There also was a level of expectation about how that game was going to be played out in the stands, said Mr Goodsir.
“It was those elements that brought together our thinking that it was important to do something in a unifying way, and in a way that supported Adam Goodes, consistent with the overwhelming mood of our readers, and our digital audience, that we needed to stand with Goodes and against bullying,” he said.
Armed with the idea, Mr Goodsir shared it with Andrew Holden, editor-in-chief of The Age who embraced it ran it in Melbourne on the day of the game.
It also featured strongly on the newspapers’ digital platforms and was pushed out through social media, resulting in a significant print sale increase.
“I think Andrew drove an increase in newsstands sales of 5 per cent, and I drove newsstand sales here of 1½ per cent,” Mr Goodsir said.
“They’re small but significant indicators of how this publication resonated with our readers.”
Mr Goodsir believes that newspapers have a unique and unrivalled role in the media sphere.
“There are some things that the newspaper can do that are simply different, and sometimes more effective, than the much greater digital audience or social audience can deliver,” he said.
He does not wish to disregard the importance of social media, as this was a vital part of the paper’s campaign.
However, Mr Goodsir believes that the permanent and durable quality of print is one of its most powerful strengths. “It’s hard to print a poster in your Facebook feed,” he said.
The Sydney Morning Herald poster had a call to action, encouraging readers to take it to the SCG. As a result, many fans held up the poster during the game, to demonstrate their support for Goodes.
“Not that there was any sort of orchestration around this, but a number of people did take it to the games and held it up as a show of support,” said Mr Goodsir.
Television coverage of the match was testimony to the strength of the response from the crowd.
Australian Football League public relations manager Patrick Keane said he was pleased to see the support from the newspapers, as he believed it was consistent with the message the AFL wanted the public to take on board, which was one of respect.
“It was good that they stated their position. I think that Adam and the Swans felt extremely buoyed by everyone who had made a statement in support, whether that be rival clubs, members of the public, or whatever,” Mr Keane said.
“I think they certainly appreciated it.”
For the record, The Swans won the match against Adelaide 17.15 (117) to 9.11 (65). Goodes returned to the Swans line-up the following week.
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