Mediaweek Industry Awards 2018: Best Australian News Brand

• Find out who the Mediaweek readers chose as the best news brand of 2018.

For this category we welcomed votes for coverage across any medium – online, print, television and radio.

Winner: ABC News

Perhaps a surprising win given the largely commercial focus Mediaweek has when it comes to covering news broadcasters and publishers.

However it is clear our readers value one of the biggest news gathering operations in Australia and one they pay for.

To learn a little more about ABC News in 2018 and to look ahead, we spoke with Gaven Morris, the ABC’s director news, analysis & investigations since October 2015.

In this role he oversees all the ABC’s broadcast and digital news and current affairs output – including flagship TV programs such as the state and territory 7pm news editions, 7.30, Four Corners, Australian Story, Q&A and Foreign Correspondent; audio programs such as AM, PM, RN Breakfast, RN Drive and Background Briefing; the ABC News website and mobile and social media channels; the continuous ABC News channels on TV and radio; and the Asia-Pacific newsroom.

Morris won’t forget 2018 in a hurry for many reasons. He joined the organisation a decade ago, and previous roles include head of news content, national editor for ABC News Online and head of continuous news.

ABC’s Gaven Morris (left) with hosts Michael Rowland and Barrie Cassidy

What were the highlights and biggest challenges of 2018?

Staying focussed on serving the public’s interest amid the ABC’s leadership turmoil and the political criticism meant 2018 was particularly challenging, but editorial teams remained professional and determined to producing excellent journalism and breaking news coverage.

I’m very proud of how some of the new teams set up at the end of 2017 came to the fore: ABC Investigations led the way with the crowd-sourced investigation into aged care in Australia that led to the special two-part Four Corners and extensive broadcast and digital news coverage prompting a Royal Commission. The specialist reporting team produced a number of exclusives across platforms proving beat reporting is still fundamental to great journalism. It was an outstanding year for ABC News coverage around breaking events like the Liberal leadership change, the Thai caves rescue, the Trump presidency and many local stories in the states and territories.

What new platform had the biggest audience growth in 2018?

While we saw incredible growth on third-party destinations like Apple News and YouTube, even more crucial for ABC News teams was reinventing audio and video content for new audiences. Original podcasts (The Signal, Russia If You’re Listening) and TV documentaries (Exposed: The Case of Keli Lane) plus looking at how to create the highest quality digital journalism experiences allowed us to reach younger news consumers and to reach out to audiences who don’t always tune in to our broadcasts.

What can you tell us about ambitions for 2019?

Increasingly, the value of public media to Australians will be in working directly with the public to cover, investigate and debate stories that matter to them. ABC News aims to continue to innovate in finding ways to invite Australians into examining issues they’re interested in and to contribute to our coverage. In a federal election year, empowering every citizen in all parts of our cities and in rural and regional Australia will be at the centre of our approach. We also want to continue to set the agenda – breaking and telling stories that all Australians find directly relevant to their lives.

Do you expect many innovations for your election campaign coverage?

Antony Green’s ability to read the play during election campaigns and on election nights will mean the focus on innovation in the early months of 2019 will be in supporting Antony’s analysis and presenting it in new ways, particularly on mobiles during the NSW and Federal elections. We’ll also be looking to find new ways to tell stories for contemporary audiences – in audio, with video and on TV and in specialist digital content.

Second place: Nine

Writing about the Nine news platforms now is very different to what it was 12 months ago.

The merger of the Fairfax Media brands means consumers and advertisers have access to a wide range of news from the more traditional Nine television and online platforms, through to the various brands connected to the old Fairfax Media – from The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age and all the associated brands.

The new Nine Entertainment Co looks likely to sell the former New Zealand and regional brands as soon as possible.

The traditional Nine television offering took a hammering with its breakfast show last year as Today relaunched this week. However as we pointed out last week, the turmoil at Nine wasn’t all self-inflicted, give their opposition some of the credit at least.

The decisions Nine’s head of news and current affairs Darren Wick and his team seem to have made good choices with the new Today team, but ratings will be the ultimate judge of those appointments. (And not just the first week.)

Peter Overton with Darren Wick and Hugh Marks

Third place: Sky News

Under the leadership of new CEO Paul Whittaker, the news channel is building a formidable team. Whittaker and his new lieutenants Chris Willis and Mark Calvert will be relishing polishing the image of the channel and planning coverage of the 2019 federal election campaign. That alone has made the channel a must-watch in the past and will surely be the same again later this year.

Watching how Sky News “after dark” develops this year under Calvert will also be fascinating.

Paul Whittaker

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