Comparative Analysis: Coverage of George Pell in SMH versus Crikey Magazine

Cardinal George Pell in religious dress
IMAGE: Kerry Myers

The Sydney Morning Herald is a legacy publication that has been circulating for 187 years, first issued as a weekly by its three founders. (William McGarvie, Alfred Ward Stephens, and Frederick Stokes). The publication was originally entitled The Sydney Herald. The word Morning was added in 1842.

The publication has seen plenty of adjustments in delivery in becoming digitised and has changed ownership since the 1900s as the global media landscape has transformed. Once owned by the Fairfax family for 149 years, it is now owned by Nine.

The SMH is one of the nation’s oldest and most influential publications. A subscription to the publication is relatively unique, as it allows access to an online archive with articles from up to 64 years ago.

The SMH ‘brand’ is regarded as trustworthy; founded on the premises of ‘candour, honesty and honour’. The brand has grown through its associations with such iconic writers as Clive James and well-loved celebrities, for instance Peter FitzSimons.

Across desktop, mobile, tablet and print, the publication’s media kit indicates that its overall audience is ‘premium’: more than half of readers are understood to bring in an above-average household income, and 33% of readers have a household income of over $120k per annum. 53%, just over half of readers, are male. Only 23% of the publication’s audience are under 30 years of age.

The SMH restricts audiences with a paywall after a certain number of free views, and subscription charges vary: packages start at $3.50 and finish at $16.50 per week. SMH has 738k followers. A subscription to the SMH extends beyond coverage of current affairs and offers articles on entertainment, sport, the arts, social news; a subscription includes several lifestyle magazines.

Crikey is an Australian, digital-born publication that emerged in 2000 that is also known for producing trustworthy journalism. Eric Beecher, the Private Media Chairman, describes the magazine’s journalism as ‘factual’ and ‘thoughtful’. Crikey pride themselves on their independence rather than being merely a ‘cog in someone’s global network’.

Interestingly, 66% of Crikey’s readers are male.

The majority are middle-aged and living in major cities in NSW and Victoria. Subscribers have an average personal income of over $87k, and 42% have a postgraduate degree. Crikey receives 400k unique audience members per month. They are blocked by a paywall, however readers can view articles for free during a trial period. In order to continue reading the magazine after the trial period a reader must subscribe to either a $17.99 monthly charge or $207 annual fee. Crikey also pride themselves on their relatively large Twitter following. Crikey place focus on political current affairs, but offer some coverage of culture, business and so on.

Following on from my blog analysis of a Pell story in Australian publication Mammamia, I will be comparing a Crikey news story (Charlie Lewis) with a SMH opinion piece(Madonna King). The former is a news piece, the latter an opinion piece, but both deal with Cardinal Pell’s sentencing in first-person and insert perspective into their writing.

The serif font of the Sydney Morning Herald reflects the publication’s traditional, conservative approach to news. The publication’s text options (three different sizes, small, medium and large) make reading accessible to those with poorer eyesight or are an aid for tired eyes. This decision is suitable for the publication’s primary audience of middle-aged and older readers.

Font used by the Sydney Morning Herald
Font used by legacy publication SMH

Crikey’s writing style comes across as more conversational in a narrow, larger, sans serif font.

Font used by Crikey Magazine
Font used by digital-born publication Crikey

Both first-person feature styles ‘hook’ a reader; the stories are about both entertaining as well as informative. Crikey uses what, according to Tanner, is the ‘get-the-reader-involved’ lead, opening with: ‘It’s not quite the madness you might have expected’. A reader is immediately involved in the story, and enticed to be proven wrong. (‘…involve readers in the story… assure them that you are speaking to them, that they have a stake in the topic at hand’.)

King appears to use a variation of Tanner’s ‘question lead’ to involve readers, so instead of asking a question directly, she proposes an idea. She titles her opinion piece ‘the George Pell headline our children need to see’, and her first sentence reveals what she believes that headline should be. The effect is that a reader thinks, what is the headline our children need to see?

Images in stories are important: ‘they allow storytellers to convey facts through a viewers’ senses’. Both Lewis and King select dramatic photographs of Pell in their stories.
In the Crikey feature, a singular image of the article’s protagonist is situated above the text. King inserts images of Pell and his lawyer throughout the text.

Given Lewis and King’s features deal with their own perspective, their own experience and ideas around Pell’s sentencing, hyperlinking readers to data is less of a priority in this form than in a breaking news story. In Crikey, however, Lewis aids a reader’s understanding of his material by linking readers to reference points. King does not include hyperlinks, however this makes sense as her feature is limited to her own opinion on facts the publication have already covered in many other news stories.

King’s piece in the SMH and Lewis’ piece in Crikey both provide ways for readers to do their work for them: to spread their articles: ‘engaging the audience/building the community around content’. King’s article can be shared on Twitter, Facebook and via email, and Lewis’ on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and via email. While King is pictured clearly beside her social and email sharing options, Lewis’ face is not pictured.

Both Lewis and King connect to their target demographic successfully in these features in that font is large and clear. Text size options provided by SMH offers the ultimate convenience for older readers and those with poor eyesight. Given most SMH readers are over the age of thirty, allowing those readers who are older or who have poor eyesight to make text bigger makes them feel as though the publication is looking out for them and suitable for them, which in turn promotes engagement.

As the SMH audience are educated high-earners, and of course as nearly half of Crikey subscribers hold a postgraduate degree, the familiarity with which the writers approach Pell’s conviction feels appropriate, as these readers are already informed around the topic, and are coming to the article to get to know the journalists’ insights.

Both features provide visual stimuli to engage the reader, as well as social media links to build a community around their stories. However, the image of Pell in Crikey is less powerful than King’s images compositionally. The upward angle places the reader below Pell and to the side slightly, and his face is weakened, even vacant; it doesn’t inspire any kind of powerful emotional response and It also doesn’t illustrate the situation. In short, the photograph, while well-placed, seems irrelevant. King’s image of Pell is powerful because it puts a reader in the ‘middle’ of the tumult: Pell is attempting to walk through a sea of press and the photographer seems to have taken into account the rule of thirds. That said, the placement of advertising (just below the lead sentence) and its nature (distracting) is not pleasing to a reader. Crikey does not place advertisements throughout the text. Crikey’s textual continuity, absent in the SMH article, is engaging.

Hyperlinks to resources and outside information broaden a reader’s understanding of a news topic so in theory Lewis’ inclusion of these is useful for a reader, but in terms of functionality the idea is less successful because the resource does not open in a new window, and so engagement with Lewis’ feature is cut short.

Although in theory King’s headshot positioned beside her social sharing options is an effective tool for engagement according to Posetti and Hill (‘be a real person out there and people/contacts will want to engage with you’), Crikey’s faceless Charlie Lewis sees more engagement in his article. (King has drawn in five comments, Lewis twenty-six). It would appear the lack of engagement with King’s article may have more to do with the plethora of advertising throughout, which is irritating for a reader.
While both stories appear similarly across desktop and tablet (elements appearing within the same proportions) in terms of readability, King’s article is superior in terms of readability on a tablet or mobile device, as the advertising is so easy to scroll past. On a desktop, the speed at which a reader can escape the advertising makes consuming the article less pleasant.

My own conclusion is that Lewis’ article in Crikey received more engagement on the basis of the story itself rather than its superior delivery; King’s piece is aimed at parents, whereas an account of the final day of Pell’s trial pertains to wider interests. As far as I can see, interactive features, usability, functionality and visual stimuli were successfully implemented in both the Crikey and SMH articles across desktop and tablet.

About Sylvie Louise Woods 5 Articles
Sylvie is an Australian journalist living and working on Gadigal land. (Sydney, NSW). She holds a BA (Music) from The University of Sydney, and is currently completing her Masters in Publishing.

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