ANZ is the first bank to set up a corporate newsroom in Australia. Is it just a PR exercise, or will it do good journalism? And should readers trust it? Crikey went to the launch.
Bankers, consultants, clients and friends converged on ANZ’s spiffy new Docklands HQ in Melbourne last night to greet the birth of Australia’s newest media product.
It was a strange audience for a media launch. There were no advertisers, for one, and relatively few journalists. But ANZ’s BlueNotes, named after a New York jazz club, is anything but a typical media product. It’s part of what ANZ is calling its “corporate newsroom”, an in-house media product that goes beyond the typical corporate newsletter to try to build credibility and trust with its clients and customers.
As publisher and ANZ group corporate communications manager Paul Edwards told the crowd last night, the publication grew out of the bank’s social media strategy. “To have great social media [engagement], you need great content,” he said.
But if this is just a way to fill the feeds of the bank’s myriad social media presences, it can’t be cheap. Joining the bank to spearhead the newsroom are veteran business journalists Andrew Cornell, editor-in-chief of the new venture and former Australian Financial Review banking writer, and Amanda Gome, previously CEO of Crikey and publisher of BRW, who’s joining as associate editor. Both are widely respected in business and the media. Their hire shows ANZ is serious, as does the fact that CEO Mike Smith turned up to the launch. “It’s very different for a bank,” he said. “It’ll set us apart — show we’re a little bit ‘out there’.”
It might not be an advantage ANZ holds for long. ANZ is the only one of Australia’s big four banks with its own “newsroom”, but it’s far from the only one of Australia’s major financial institutions joining the corporate media trend, which is already established in the United States. It’s been close to a decade since Deloitte started its digital operation, which has spearheaded corporate publishing as a way to build credibility in Australia. Most of Australia’s major accounting firms have followed to some degree, and if the Westpac attendees at last night’s launch are any indication, that bank could soon follow ANZ in setting up its own media outlet.
The internet, of course, makes the trend possible. As corporations find it cheaper than ever to publish their own content, they find a pool of experienced writers and journalists out of work. As traditional newsrooms shrink, corporations can claim a public service in setting up their own.
But the trend is controversial. Traditional publishers are meant to have a strict separation between their commercial and editorial divisions to ensure journalists are not unduly influenced by the interests of the advertisers paying their salaries. It doesn’t always work in practice, but the culture helps. Many commercial publishers promise their audience editorial independence, which isn’t the case in corporate media.
What should readers expect of BlueNotes? Cornell told Crikey the proof would be in the writing. “Whenever you read any journalism, you have to think, ‘what are the vested interests in this?’ Fairfax was lucky in that for a long time, its main cross-subsidy — classified advertising — didn’t directly influence its editorial content, besides leading to a lot of property pages,” he said. “But commercial media still takes ads and is influenced by commercial forces. So there’s nothing new in us having a sponsor.
“But with us, it’s one entity: ANZ. That makes it easier for us to be clear about our vested interest. Beyond that, readers need to look at the content on its own terms.”
The content won’t all be dry, Cornell says. While the main brief is serious, “thought-leading” writing on finance and business, he’s aiming for a mix of light and shade. That could mean travel features written by professional journalists, for example. About a third of the content will be produced by people outside the bank. The intended audience is people who read the Financial Review, The Economist or The Wall Street Journal. But Cornell doesn’t have a competitive mindset towards these publications. He’s open to cross-publishing and the like where appropriate.
Cornell and Gome have an ambitious brief: to create something interesting and unique that will advance business journalism in this country. They’re being given the money and support to do it by an organisation that has money to spend on such pursuits. But banks are risk-averse organisations, perhaps even more than usual for the corporate world. Cornell acknowledges there’ll be a period of adjustment, but says, like all editors, his main focus is his audience. If the content is boring or self-promotional, the audience will tune out.
More than 60,000 people visited the site yesterday. Let’s see if they come back.