FILL in the blanks: What I love the most about my town is ____________.
It’s a simple question, but it’s ones like this that have helped the Sunshine Coast Daily reach the height of digital success in Australia.
Since emma [Enhanced Media Metrics Australia] began collecting data in June 2013, the Queensland regional saw the largest growth in total audience readership across print and digital – a jump of 17 per cent – driven by an equally dominating 37 per cent increase in its digital audience.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that its Facebook page is the second most popular masthead page in the Asia Pacific region, with 108,000 likes. Since June 2012, APN’s network of Facebook pages – which is made up of the Sunshine Coast Daily, 13 other masthead and 24 community and weekly titles – has grown by 18 per cent to almost 175,000 likes.
The Daily’s editorial philosophy, according to editor-in- chief Darren Burnett, is not just digital first, but “digital always”.
The ambition at the masthead is to serve as the “village noticeboard”, a role that has translated well in the digital age.
“Anything that’s happening on the coast – events, breaking news, emergencies – has to go up in real time,” Mr Burnett says.
These days, you don’t just sit down and create a newslist – you look at what’s trending online, he adds.
“All day you’re talking to your followers, finding out what they’re passionate about, what people are commenting on, what people are angry about, and that kind of shapes your whole news direction.”
Helping to stoke that online conversation are the digital producers who work hard to push the Daily out there online and particularly on social media.
A “fill in the blanks” approach began when APN Australian Regional Media social media coordinator, Alexia Purcell, joined the team in 2011.
Back then, it was really just a vehicle for just pushing links, she explains – but with a little strategy and structure, “we turned things around.”
Ms Purcell created a routine of a variety of different posts each week that encouraged the community to become involved: from a “Photo of the Week” competition, where readers shared photos and voted for the best, to “Fill in the blank” questions such as “My favourite thing about the Sunshine Coast is…” and “The hardest spot to find a car park is…”.
It is central to what is called the “360” approach in APN newsrooms, Ms Purcell explains.
“We create conversations with our Facebook audience, we interact and engage with them, and we flesh out issues in the community that are of concern to them and then follow them up in paper,” she says. “Then we bring it back to Facebook… it does the full turnaround. We show that we’re listening.”
A recent example, “One thing I wish the Sunshine Coast had…” led to a rally of support for a water park, with follow-up articles on the front page and online.
However, digital has by no means replaced the print edition of the Sunshine Coast Daily. Group digital editor at APN’s Australian Regional Media and former Daily editor-in-chief, Mark Furler, has pushed the Sunshine Coast Daily towards digital success throughout his 20 years at the paper.
Mr Furler is passionate about producing digital content that is totally distinct from print – something he believes many publishers are yet to grasp.
“The days of just copying and pasting stuff from our papers, putting it up and saying ‘Here you go, here’s a digital product’ are over,” he says. “They’re completely different audiences and they go for different things.”
According to editor-in-chief Burnett print becomes a larger, deeper read. This means good analysis in print stories is more important than ever.
The Daily editorial team’s typical day involves generating and posting stories online as they happen, then at the end of the day, reflecting and writing “more interpretive, high-level interviews and ‘what does this mean’ stories,” he says.
The Daily’s 2013 Town Proud campaign harnessed both print and digital to create both editorial and commercial success.
The idea – to promote 30 Sunshine Coast towns in 30 days, with each town given a double page spread – wasn’t just about attracting advertising, Mr Burnett said. “It was about reader engagement and promoting and championing our small business community.”
It achieved all three. Social media posts asked readers everything from their five favourite coffee shops in Kawana to the best hidden gems in Woombi and just why they love Nambour.
Town Proud earned 3000 Facebook likes in one month, pushing the Daily’s page to the 100,000 mark.
The Coast has always had a strong sense of community, according to Mr Furler. “The Sunshine Coast is a collection of small communities, and when something happens, we always try to band together and rally,” he says. This is the case whether it is fighting for a much needed hospital and roads improvements to stories like the Daniel Morcombe case.
“We ride the biggest stories of the day with updates, photos, video and whatever we do, we basically match and excel upon any coverage online, and readers appreciate that.
“They know we can do it as well as anyone else and they know we’ve got the local advantage in our knowledge, so they’ll come back again and again.”