Coronavirius impact on newspaper subs, sales and home delivery

• Daily Telegraph editor Ben English on reader response

The editor of Sydney’s biggest-selling newspaper has been alternating days working from home and days visiting the office.

And as Ben English sat in the newsroom inside News Corp Australia headquarters on Friday he looked out across the newsroom and said that for a late afternoon scene, the floor looked very different.

“We already have many production staff working from home, although some are still in the office,” English told Mediaweek.

Other staff are scarce on the ground. “One hundred percent of our reporters work out of the office. When it comes to leadership, we have split into A and B teams.”

When the A team is at work, the B team works remotely. And vice versa. “My deputy editor is not here when I am here. It is just being sensible. What I have stressed to staff is this is all precautionary. The idea is to keep the workplace as safe as possible and to keep them as safe as possible so they can continue to do an incredibly important job.

English explained how people of NSW have responded to the news brand. “From the traffic we are getting and the subscription growth we can tell audiences are responding very well to our coverage so far.”

All the plans haven’t been without some hiccups. For instance, the all-import news conference planning sessions. “I have to admit there have been some technical glitches. There have been some funny videos circulating about staff having video hook-ups. At times it felt like we were in one of those comedy sketches. We are getting better at it. Now it is becoming business as usual.

“On any given day when I’m in the office I will go to conference, but there might only be two or three others physically there with me. There might then be six or seven logging in remotely.”

Even though it is early days with the workplace arrangements, English said: “The productivity has increased. I am very encouraged by the results. The reporters are stepping up as is the case when a massive story breaks. When we had the bushfires a lot of people became involved. It is the same with journalists all over the world when big news breaks.

“There are less distractions when working remotely. On the downside we have to be wary about missing out on the social benefits of being around each other. We regularly check in on team members to see how they are going and to give them someone to talk to.

The Daily Telegraph staff are using Amazon Workspaces and they are able to integrate Methode, News Corp’s customised editorial and publishing platform. “A number of mastheads have already done a completely off-sight production of the paper. We will be going live with it for our Monday edition.”

English explained last week that The Daily Telegraph had its biggest week ever, by a long way, of subscription sales. “That also coincides with SuperCoach which is traditionally a big week of subs growth,” he admitted.

“Encouragingly the subs growth is also coming when we are unlocking a big portion of our coronavirus coverage. New readers seem to be coming to us for our coronavirus coverage, having a look around, and signing up.

Like many titles, The Daily Telegraph is also offering a coronavirus newsletter.

The challenge for English and his team is keeping up with the many facets of the story. “Every day there is not just one amazing new twist, but most days at least 10. We often say to each other we have so many options daily for the lead story.

“We are anticipating that people will want to stay all over how it is developing and what is going on, but I anticipate they will also need alternative content as well.”

With The Daily Telegraph set to cover this story for a long time, English said the newspaper is going to be “significantly re-imaging things”, without wishing to give away too much detail.

We have some of our best people working on re-imagining the print product to suit the new normal. This has all happened so quickly that we have had to be agile and we are now adapting the product accordingly.”

Home delivery becoming more important

English: “We are getting feedback there is a very strong appetite for home delivery from new customers.” He cautioned it was anecdotal and he had yet to see data. “At this stage our sales in supermarket channels have spiked significantly.

The newspaper increased its print run for supermarkets a fortnight ago and then again in the past few days.

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