Repost: Guardian Australia vs The Conversation on Dividend Imputation

Source: AAP, via Guardian Australia

Guardian Australia


Guardian Australia is an interesting case of a legacy media organisation taking a digital first strategy in a new market. Their stated aims are to provide “high quality, fearless and progressive journalism” (The Guardian, 2016). While The Guardian has been printed in some form or another in the UK for nearly 200 years, it’s Australian edition launched in 2013 with an endowment from co-founder Graeme Wood (The Guardian, 2013).


Guardian Australia has been a notoriously unprofitable enterprise. While they still use some advertising, the majority of their funding today comes from the “tipjar” model, where users pay at their own discretion (Bradshaw, 2017). This tactic is so far proving successful for them and with a total of 65 600 paid relationships as of February this year, Guardian Australia is likely to turn a profit for the first time in the 2017-18 financial year (Samios, 2018). Guardian Australia is further insulated by The Scott Trust, legal owner of Guardian Media Group, established in 1936 to protect the financial and editorial independence of The Guardian in perpetuity (The Guardian, 2015).


The Conversation

The Conversation is the kind of publication that could only ever exist on web 2.0. Fundamentally a closed participatory platform curated by journalists and academics, its very title is a “Strategic cultivation of consumer participation”(Karlsson et al, 2015). Their majority of their publication is dedicated to contributing “academic rigor” to public debate. They employ three primary tools in achieving this end: Ensuring content is free for all to read, Allowing republishing of content under a creative commons licence, and the use of a simplified writing style rarely employed by the academics and lobby groups that are its main contributors (The Conversation, 2018).


Half of their funding comes from major Australian universities, many of which are stakeholders. The remainder of their funding comes from endowments from the city of Melbourne and Victorian state government, public donations, the CSIRO, and a small number of not for profit research organisations. They are explicit about seeking further endowment in the long run. The Conversation’s charter states that they will “Ensure the site’s integrity by only obtaining non-partisan sponsorship from education, government and private partners. Any advertising will be relevant and non-obtrusive” (The Conversation, 2018).




Guardian Australia

According to Guardian Australia’s own Audience stats, their average audience age is 43, which is about average for Australian online media consumers (Watkins et al, 2017), well educated, affluent, and skewed slightly male (55-45%) (The Guardian, 2014). These audience numbers should be read with a critical eye though, as they were put together to attract advertisers, and every media organisation in Australia seems to be making the claim that the majority of their average readers are affluent and well educated.


Guardian Australia consistently ranks 6th or 7th most read online news publication in Australia, with over 400 000 average unique visitors daily (Nielsen, 2018).


The Conversation

Audiences for The Conversation also tend to skew young, with over 59% under 44, split evenly across gender lines. Readership is skewed towards people who use the site for professional purposes such as students, academics and policy workers (The Conversation, 2017).


This information should also be viewed critically, because by their own account, the vast majority of people who read their articles do so on one of the more than 20 000 other platforms that licence their articles under creative commons (The Conversation, 2017).



Follow the Money

Although both The Conversation and Guardian Australia share the goal of providing high quality, independent and trustworthy content, their engagement strategies are divergent. This could be seen as a result of their different funding strategies. Guardian Australia’s “Tipjar” funding strategy requires devoted readers, who see value in funding their content. The Conversation’s long term goal of further endowment requires a demonstrated commitment to public service, and maintaining a good relationship with their stakeholders by allowing academics and think-tanks to self promote on their platform (Bradshaw, 2017)


While Guardian Australia makes generous use of social media, their news content on their site appears better optimised for search engines than social media. News headlines generally take the form of broad topic key words, followed by traditional news headlines (e.g. “Foreign Donations/ Coalition Told to Rewrite Bill in Unanimous Report”). This proven SEO strategy (Bradshaw, 2017) has the bonus of making for much simpler browsing. To further aid browsing, they have colour coded stories by the section of the website they belong to (red for news, blue for sport, orange for opinion etc.), and made the creation of curated space easy, through very targeted use of topics and tags, as well as using cookies to track your browsing habits (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013).


The Guardian’s mobile app is easily the best news app I have used. It is easy to navigate, and well formatted for mobile. It’s just as well too, because by 2014, half of their users were already viewing content on mobile devices (The Guardian, 2014).


The Conversation has adopted a “social first” strategy in their marketing clearly visible in their editorial approach, but also discussed at length in their stakeholder report. Share links appear four times in articles (3 times on mobile) so you are never far from being reminded to share the article you are reading. Headlines are also clearly optimised for sharing, and are regularly framed as questions, or provocative statements (Bradshaw, 2017). According to their stakeholder report, The Conversation website reached 6.7 million individual users in October 2017, up 80% from the previous year. This is slightly misleading, as it presumably refers to traffic to the global site, but that is not explicitly written anywhere. It also accounts for less than 20% of their total reads once republishing their work is taken into account (The Conversation, 2017).


This free distribution of information would be untenable for the majority of media publishers, but makes sense for an organisation seeking funding through endowment, as it shows a commitment to serving the community.



Article Analysis



Early March 13th, Bill Shorten announced at a press conference in Sydney that a prospective Labor government would seek to “end refunds for excess imputation credits” (Murphy, 2018). This tax reform proposal was met with a well anticipated backlash, and over the following 24 hours, Guardian Australia’s Political Editor wrote three news articles and an opinion piece on the subject, all sitting around the 800 word mark. Meanwhile, The Conversation published one 1170 word article, which reads almost like a condensed debate between The Grattan Institute, and Gordon McKenzie, a senior taxation and business law lecturer from UNSW.


The Guardian – “Bill Shorten Doubles Down Over Franking Cash Rebates”

The last of Murphy’s four articles published in the 24 hour period following the policy announcement and the least read, if one uses shares as a rough proxy for number of views. Interestingly, it is also the only one that doesn’t feature a comments thread, which is surprising as the other articles all generated well in excess of 1000 comments, showing that although Guardian Australia clearly understands the interactive aspect of web 2.0, they have deliberately abstained in this case (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013).


This article is traditionally written, using an inverted pyramid structure, and a large number of quotes. It focuses on the prominent actors, and conflict around the policy proposal rather than the nuts and bolts of the policy except where necessary. Murphy’s writing is in the style of traditional political reporter, active voice is used throughout and the writing is clear and concise. The purpose of the article is to provide an update on the surrounding policy debate.
This story could make better use of hyperlinking, and interactivity. Because the subject matter is complex, and highly politicised, without linked sources, your opinion of whether the article is credible or not will largely depend on whether you think the Murphy is credible. Formatting aspects of web 2.0 are well used, and a hidden box provides additional background information on the subject matter being discussed, as well as creating a visual separation between the introduction and main body of text. When taken in context, Murphy’s best use of the web format is for real time publishing, as she was able to get four articles published in the space of time she may have written one if writing for a print edition.

The Conversation – “Viewpoints: Could Labor’s Tax Changes Make the System Fairer, or Hurt Investors?”


While this may seem a very different article to Murphy’s, both are ways of dealing with the debate surrounding Labor’s policy announcement. The Conversation’s article uses Grattan and McKenzie and proxies for the debate between the government and opposition.


If you wanted to learn more about the policy itself, this is the better article. It goes into a level of depth that a legacy media source would be reluctant to publish, because there is no human element – just dense figures. With that said, one could argue that the human element was provided by the comment thread (Karlsson, et al 2015), which remained civil, although not entirely sensible.


The structure is not traditional, but in many ways easier to follow than Murphy’s article with subheadings dividing the two halves of the argument from the intro rather than ordering them based on what appears most interesting. Grattan’s half of the article reads well, and is easily understood despite the complex subject matter. McKenzie’s is more complex, using unexplained jargon, and assumes the reader’s intimate knowledge of self managed retirement funds.


This article has also made some good uses of the web 2.0 format. It uses hyperlinks throughout the article, for both promotional purposes, and to provide additional background. A single graph is used to such great effect in Grattan’s half of the article, I wished there were more of them. Like Murphy, they have also made great use of real time publishing, choosing afternoon commuting time on the day the policy was announced to publish the article. It also makes great use of hyperlinking to provide credibility to both sides of the argument.






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About Daniel Holmes 4 Articles
Daniel Holmes is a Freelance Journalist and Musician from Sydney Australia. He writes about culture, politics and class.

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