Anthony De Ceglie stands alone as the head of a state-based metro news brand. The editors of the major metro dailies around Australia either work for News Corp or Nine Publishing. With one exception – the editor of The West Australian.
It’s a job that keeps De Ceglie busy, especially as he also juggles the role of editor-in-chief of West Australian Newspapers, a group that includes The West plus The Sunday Times, 19 regional newspapers and 12 community newspapers.
Also in the stable are digital properties thewest.com.au and Perth Now.
In listing the brands, De Ceglie also tells Mediaweek: “We are very proud of something we launched a year ago called streamer.com.au. It’s a community sport live-streaming startup. We recently announced that BHP were on board as our foundation partner.”
Streamer.com.au covers all sorts of events. De Ceglie mentioned recent coverage of the Karate National Championship with event organisers setting up five iPhones. “It was a runaway success for us.”
That new product is part of De Ceglie’s promise when he took on the role aged 33 that he would do his best to innovate, create new products, find new audiences and be financially successful.
After working as the deputy editor of The Daily Telegraph, De Ceglie was hired to initially edit The West before his role expanded. He chuckled when asked if the group role meant he was now a little less hands-on at the daily newspaper.
“It means I just have to try and fit more and more into each day. I can’t help but feel responsible for every page in every paper. I’m very lucky that I have a very good leadership team around me and I empower those people to make decisions.”
De Ceglie runs two news meetings daily for The West Australian, and those meetings also contain the head of the community newspaper group and regional editors dialling in.
Judge this book by its covers
The shake-it up-ethos that De Ceglie instils at the paper can be seen clearly looking at the front pages of The West Australian. “Our newspapers aren’t just competing against breakfast radio. We are also competing against TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Netflix. If we want to be heard we need to be as provocative as possible and we need to do it every single day.”
Anthony De Ceglie: We are mainstream middle
The West Australian differs from many other metro dailies in that is definitely feels more like a paper standing in the centre of the political debate. “We call ourselves mainstream middle,” De Ceglie explained. “That has been a big part of our growth. We were a more conservative paper in the past and we have tried move ourselves into the mainstream middle. Audiences appreciate that instead of playing to the fringe left or the fringe right.
The Voice: YES or NO
Occupying that mainstream middle means the paper has not recommended a referendum vote either way to its readers. Something De Ceglie admitted it might not do at all. “We might get to referendum day and say at the end of the day it’s a vote for the Australian public to decide and not for our masthead. It’s a referendum. Our job is to report the news and hold people accountable. It is up to our readers to make the decision. We will present all the news surrounding the referendum to them as factually as we can and hold both sides to account. When they get to vote they will have as much information as possible.”
Paying for news
One of the things that has made the paper different to some other metro dailies is a fierce digital first mentality. De Ceglie said that is what was behind a monthly reach of 4.5m uniques, up 22% YOY. “When I joined The West four and a half years ago, we didn’t have a paywall. We have come a long way in that time to the point where we are the market-leading cross platform brand in Australia.”
The paper has what De Ceglie called a “higher price point”, something they have held fast to. “We are proud that we have kept it premium.” That higher price point helps keep subscription revenue higher, with Seven West Media reporting digital growth of 17% YOY at The West. The company paywalls all its regional content too. “On any given day, one fifth of our subscriptions come from regional stories.”
Using AI to track customers
Not a lot of content is made available for free, and when it is the decision is made by artificial intelligence. “We have something called Sophi OI which uses an algorithm that is learning in real time about our customers. It has taken the guesswork out of our paywall. At the same time it has freed up 5-10% of digital producers capacity as they no longer have to argue about which content should be locked or unlocked. Our digital subscriptions have increased significantly since we moved to AI.”
Future for The West
When asked about the outlook for the future of print, De Ceglie said, “We have a mantra here that we want to hold the line on print as we turbo charge digital. We also want to innovate and try new products. We are always working on our cost base and we are very proud of how efficient we are.”
One innovation is a daily program called Up Late. “It is our special take on the news of the day. It’s a 10-minute raucous and irreverent look at the big stories each day. The program is hosted by Ben Harvey three nights a week with Ben O’Shea fronting the other two. We think it’s a very good and it attracts about 50,000 views each night across all our platforms – a huge figure.”
The news brand also has daily morning radio show called The West Live. “My philosophy in a nutshell is that I want thewest.com.au for everything news in WA – via video, print, radio, the digital replica of the newspaper or a podcast.”
As part of Seven West Media, De Ceglie and his team can call on their colleagues at Seven Perth, the home of the market-leading Seven News.
“We operate one of the most innovative newsrooms anywhere. We have a newspaper, digital operation plus a traditional TV network and we work seamlessly together.”
De Ceglie used the past week as an example where Seven had a major exclusive that the paper shared with De Ceglie late in the afternoon which went into the paper for the flowing day, but earlier on digital just after it broke that night on Seven News.
“Everyone was working together to take one piece of content, in this case a TV story, and publishing in different ways on other platforms.
“It works the other way as well. If we get a big scoop, we might put in online late afternoon, give it to the 6pm TV news and then do analysis in The West the following day.”
Newsletters and beyond
One thing you can get for free from The West is a newsletter…sort of. “We have a business newsletter and a breaking news newsletter among others,” said De Ceglie. While the newsletter goes to all those who sign up, you will hit the paywall when you try to read a story.
“We also love our app alerts. Wherever we think there is an audience we will try and find them.”
State politics first
“We take very seriously our responsibility as the state’s only daily newspaper. Especially at a time like we have now with Labor having such a massive majority. We play a vital role in holding them to account.
“We are also very proud of our Canberra coverage too. Albanese’s government got into power off he back of Western Australia and we are hugely vital to the GST fight. The GST would not have been won had it not been for The West Australian.”