The first of three Future of Journalism forums being conducted by The Australian was held last night in Sydney.
The ticketed event saw around 150 readers and a handful of News Corp Australasia execs pack out a theatre in the Museum of Sydney to hear editor-in-chief Paul Whittaker, Weekend Australian editor Michelle Gunn and soon-to-depart associate editor (digital) John Lyons talk about the paper and its future.
Moderating the event was The Australian’s associate editor Caroline Overington.
The venue was kept secret until a few days ago and there was strict security upon entering the building with guests scanned by a metal detector.
The event comes just days after the news brand revealed increased subscriber numbers and the revelation it was now profitable.
Whittaker started by talking about how the paper had been the first to put up a paywall, something it was ridiculed for. “Six years ago we had zero digital sales. In the last financial year we had almost $25m in digital sales.” He added print remains very important and still generates twice the income that digital does. “At The Australian, subscription revenue is now greater than advertising revenue even though we are one of the few mastheads in the world to have a year-on-year increase in local advertising.
“Will digital revenue pay for the journalism? Not yet. But the gap is closing all the time.”
He noted that all media companies originally gave away content for free. “It was initially unfashionable to get people to pay for online content. Now all the major mastheads in the world [charge]. Even The Guardian…it has a voluntary subscription model, which to me seems a little like voluntary conscription, not particularly effective.”
John Lyons previewed the new project from Walkley Award-winning investigative reporter Dan Box, presenter of the Bowraville podcast, who has teamed up with the producers of ABC’s Hitting Home for a six-part vodcast documentary series for The Australian, which has received production investment funding from Screen Australia.
Guests in the audience included The Australian’s CEO Nicholas Gray, The Australian’s managing editor Helen Trinca, several journalists including Scott Murdoch and Adam Creighton, former News Corp director of corporate affairs Greg Baxter and ABC broadcaster Geraldine Doogue.