A tale of two local news bombshells

By Conal Hanna

At Fairfax it was known as “going DEFCON”, when we would switch the Sydney Morning Herald homepage to a special layout to convey the importance of one huge story.

Monday morning saw not one but two DEFCON stories unfolding in Australia. Victoria was enthralled by the resignation of the state’s top public servant, Chris Eccles, while the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption heard revelations about a personal relationship between Premier Gladys Berejiklian and disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire.

Both stories unleashed a new wave of political pressure on two high-profile premiers. But they also highlighted the parochial local focus of mastheads in Australia’s two biggest cities. It’s not often you have the websites of major newspapers in both Sydney and Melbourne giving DEFCON-style treatment to two completely unrelated stories.

Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph homepages

In the early days, the internet worked against local journalism, as nationally focused stories held broader appeal in a border-less medium where scale was king.

But with capital city mastheads now primarily focused on growing subscriptions over ad revenue, local news has made a strong return. Monday was a prime example.

Here’s how coverage went down. The Eccles news broke first, as Berejiklian’s appearance before ICAC was originally expected to be relatively routine.

The peak of interest for the day came when Berejiklian appeared before a press conference to answer journalists’ questions.

Looking at the top five homepage positions on 12 major news websites, and these two news events took up more than half of the media oxygen available online between the hours of 11am and 10pm.

But the split was very different, depending on where you lived.

By 4.30pm on Monday, the Victorian bombshell was only 18th on the SMH site, and didn’t appear in the top 20 of the Daily Telegraph. And while Berejiklian was dominating headlines on every national news website at that time, in Melbourne she was only running in the fifth position on The Age, and sixth at the Herald Sun.

These differences were reflected in the front-page choices of newspaper editors in both cities on Tuesday.

Front pages from Monday October 12

The stories serve as a useful reminder that while The Sydney Morning Herald, The Daily Telegraph, The Age and the Herald Sun all play a key role on the national stage, they are still at their heart local newspapers. This means their news judgement is always going to be different to those of national publications.

For the record, both national newspapers, The Australian and the Australian Financial Review, led with Berejiklian on Tuesday, while also featuring Eccles strongly.

Conal Hanna is Streem’s Media and Partnerships Lead, and is a former Editor of the Brisbane Times, Digital Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, and Head of Audience and Digital Strategy for Fairfax.
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