The New Daily turns five today. That may not sound like a lot to some, but in the here-today, gone-tomorrow world of digital media, we might as well be celebrating a centenary.
So we’ll let you into a little secret: The birthday should have been last week. A last-minute technical hitch five years ago meant we had to put our launch back seven days. And that created a whole different problem.
The postponement meant we would be launching on November 13, 2013. It could have been worse, I guess; it could have been a Friday (it was a Wednesday), but we were surely tempting fate by setting off in the roiling waters of the internet on a date drowning in dread.
But set sail we did, around dawn on this day five years ago.
It was going smoothly too, until I walked into the Melbourne studio of Eddie McGuire’s breakfast radio show early that morning to talk about the project and the motivations and people behind it.
As he closed off the interview Eddie urged his listeners to check out the site … and the server promptly crashed as thousands flooded in. It was a wonderful disaster.
The legacy media weren’t so enthusiastic. In fact, the News Corp and Fairfax elephants tried to crush us within hours of launch.
Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian actually editorialised against us in those first few hours, saying we shouldn’t be allowed to launch at all. One particularly corrosive columnist tried to kickstart a letter-writing campaign to have us shut down. Apparently it was OK for American billionaires to own media, but not the members of Australian not-for-profit superannuation funds.
Then a high-profile Fairfax columnist pretty much wrote us off on day two. Another one was at it just last week. Some things never change.
We’d expected the attacks, so our editorial staff of a dozen or so just ploughed on. By the end of that first month we had attracted 157,000 unique visitors to the site and we were pretty chuffed. Now we get more than that in a single day and have 2.3 million unique visitors a month.
We also had 30,000 subscribers by the end of that first month. They’d signed up for our five-mornings-a-week newsletter because, they told us repeatedly, Australia needed more news outlets that were, well, new and Australian.
Five years on, we have close to half-a-million subscribers who receive our updates twice a day Monday to Friday and once a day on weekends. We also publish regular newsletters on property, travel and health. Taken together, we send out close to a million emails a day and six million a week. Subscription is free and open to all.
We’re enormously grateful to each of our subscribers, but if I could personally shake the hand of every one of those first 30,000, I would. They put us on our way.
In the ensuing five years we’ve covered and analysed a federal election, 11 state elections, three changes of prime minister, five federal budgets, innumerable tragedies – too many tragedies – and untold triumphs.
We’ve also reported more life and financial hacks than we care to count, fulfilling our stated ambition to make the site not only informative, but useful, particularly in the area of financial literacy.
That was one of the goals from the outset, which wasn’t five years ago, but seven: May 2011, to be precise, when industry super funds boss Garry Weaven and I sat down to discuss the state of Australian media and, particularly, its increasing concentration.
He wanted to find a way to talk to industry super fund members – and non-members – in a way that was meaningful, honest and valuable.
There was also concern at Rupert Murdoch’s tightening grip on Australian news media and the declining state of Fairfax. (Both have got worse.) Was there a vehicle that could become a new communication channel for funds that might also help address the burgeoning crisis in Australian journalism?
Up till then, industry super funds only communicated with their members – and there are six million of them around Australia – through old-style TV and print ads or expensive mailouts that cost as much in a single day that a site like The New Daily costs in a year.
After considering everything from travel to retirement sites, we agreed a news site that spawned a daily newsletter might work. It would be compelling, valuable and a platform for the owners to impart messages as they saw fit.
But there’d need to be an editorial charter before any self-respecting journalist or editor signed on. No problem, said Mr Weaven. In fact, he insisted on it.
Seven years on, Mr Weaven – who retires next month – has been as good as his word. The New Daily reports without fear or favour and any messages to industry fund members are identified as such.
The model is unique and has often flummoxed traditional media like News and Fairfax who think owners should be business billionaires because that’s where they came from in the past. But that ignores the changing digital landscape. (Of course, Fairfax thought it entirely appropriate to offer itself up for sale to a Canadian pension fund which, after due diligence, walked away from the potential investment.)
They also can’t accept the funding model, which is a combination of industry super underwriting and the proceeds of advertising. It means the site costs between $2 million and $3 million a year to run. That’s about what it costs for one or two of the bigger industry funds to message members by snail mail once a year.
The site is actually owned by 27 funds and would cost even less if not for their principled stance on some key revenue issues: They refuse to accept ads from the Big Four banks because they don’t share their values; they refuse to sell TND user data to third parties, which is something traditional media outlets do routinely; and, of course, they refuse to put up a paywall believing, as British editor Alan Rusbridger recently wrote, that truth shouldn’t live in a gated community. (The site was originally going to be called The Free News until the registered owner of the URL asked for a six figure sum to part with it.)
There are costs in adhering to these principles, but the owners are happy to bear them.
Ultimately, The New Daily stands or falls each day on the efforts of its staff. We now have 23 journalists and probably twice that number if you count the contributors and columnists who appear on the site and in its newsletters regularly.
That’s more than twice what we started with. Many young journalists who began their careers at TND have gone on to bigger roles in other media companies. In that sense, we’ve become an incubator of talent. It would be nice to think our audience and our staff numbers will double in size again over the next five years.
With its growing audience and influence, The New Daily has surely had the last laugh on those early critics.
In its past two monthly measures of Australian news sites, Nielsen has estimated The New Daily’s digital audience as bigger than that of The Australian*.
And, sadly, unless Nine chair Peter Costello walks away from the deal in the next few days or shareholders vote it down next week, Fairfax will cease to exist next month.
This follows the decision by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to approve Fairfax’s “merger” with Nine Entertainment. To justify its green light the commission cited the arrival of several new competitors in the digital news space. Prominent among those identified was The New Daily.
TND co-founder Bruce Guthrie was editorial director of The New Daily until July this year. He continues to be involved as an editorial adviser and contributor and as a director of Motion Publishing, which is the contracted publisher of the site. He is a former editor of The Age, The Sunday Age and the Herald Sun.
* ‘Nielsen Digital Panel, August and September 2018, P2+, PC, Smartphone and Tablet, Text, excluding applications’