The oldest and newest media outlets in Australia reveal striking similarities at Publish 2014
“You can be a PhD in physics and still be interested in Kim Kardashian.” No, that’s not the sound of Buzzfeed trying to make a play for the brainiac market. That quote actually belonged to Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood, responding to an audience question about the celeb content commonly found on SMH online. Sponsored by a printing press (Bluestone) and organized by a blog-turned-online magazine (Mumbrella), the inaugural ‘Publish’ event was always going to be a day where businesses got busy trying to redefine themselves.
Buzzfeed’s VP of International, Scott Lamb kicked off the morning with a pretty brisk overview of the business we tend to think of as a listicle factory. With traffic north of 170 million uniques a month and a rapidly decreasing dependency on search, Buzzfeed certainly seem to have the momentum to be able to place some fairly large bets.
Yes, they still do an enormous amount of listicles – because their in-house analytics machinery says they still work – but they are betting heavily on custom video (100 producers on their LA campus and counting) and also on hard news. Their Australia office opened earlier this year staffed almost entirely with journalists and content producers.
Fairfax, one of Australia’s undisputed kings of hard news, made no apologies for making a series of dramatic changes over the last few years as they chased a more digital audience. CEO Hyland was in a take-no-prisoners mood as he schooled the packed, and overwhelmingly skeptical, room of media professionals on the real story behind Fairfax’s run of job cuts and outsourcing. Citing a need to get out of “The circulation arms race”, Hyland is now focusing his print properties on subscribers, while the digital business diversifies into areas such as data & analytics, events (“we see that being a $100m business within a few years”) and marketing services.
While Fairfax appears to be behaving, in some ways, more like an agency Hywood fiercely maintained that the primary aim of the group was to ‘deliver a public good in a commercial model’.
The contrast between the two businesses might have been highlighted, however, by one of the week’s biggest ‘hard news’ stories: claims that Uber’s management threatened the family of a journalist who was exposing the Ashton Kutcher-backed startup for shady business practices and a misogynistic culture, actually broke first on Buzzfeed.