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Have these men failed women readers?

Have newspapers failed women readers?

News Queensland's David Fagan; Australian Financial Review's Michael Stutchbury; News Limited's Campbell Reid; Fairfax's Garry Linnell

News organisations agree they need to do more to attract women readers. The question is — what? Jordan Baker talks to Australia’s leading newspaper publishers and editors.

Garry Linnell, editorial director at Fairfax, admits that newspapers have failed women readers in the past. Until about five years ago, he says, “there was a fairly large hangover from the chauvinistic days”.

John Hartigan, former chief executive of News Limited, agrees. “Publishers have been very concerned [about attracting more women readers] for a long time,” he says.

Declining readership has put Australia’s print media companies under intense pressure. Women don’t read newspapers or news sites as often as men, so for the August issue, The Weekly spoke to senior figures in the industry about how it can attract more female readers.

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They said newspapers and websites needed to be less aggressive, to mix dry reporting with narratives with a greater focus on the human drama behind the story, and, most importantly, promote more women to editorships.

Garry Linnell at Fairfax says attracting more female readers requires stories that reflect women’s lives and interests.

“They don’t want news headlines to be dominated by political spats that are clearly just he-said, she-said spats in the chamber,” he says. “They want more meaningful stories that affect them.”

Women appreciate the art of storytelling, he says. “It requires more of a narrative and story arc. Women identify more with stories about people, which is the essence of our business.” He predicted the return of the serial story, which breaks a long story into chapters published over several days.

Campbell Reid, the group director of editorial at Australia’s biggest newspaper company, News Limited, says women are “incredibly important” to the company: 46 percent of its consumers were women.

“We would like that figure to be higher, of course, and we are working hard to achieve that,” he says in a statement. “The reality is that newspapers do an extraordinary job of reaching women and we believe that women make more valuable life choices and decisions after consuming newspaper content than that from any other media.”

The editorial director of News Queensland, David Fagan, says women are busier than men, and want to spend the little time they have on a quality product. “I think that to be attractive to women is being attractive to men,” he says.

“You have to respect that people have a limited amount of time, you have to tell them things they don’t know, you have to give them insights into things they do know. You have to thrill them, entertain them sometimes.

“I think that women want quality information, they don’t want to be lectured to. We have to make sure we are delivering that up to them.”

At the Australian Financial Review, women make up 28 percent of readers during the week and 36 percent on the weekend. The editor, Michael Stutchbury, says the paper targets senior executives, business leaders and investors. “Most of this audience is male,” he says. “So it is not surprising that our readership is skewed towards men.”

The newspaper is committed to women, he says; it has a weekly Corporate Woman column, has begun a new Enterprising Women column, and recently hosted a 100 Women of Influence award lunch.

“Other than this, we tread carefully when considering women-based events or clubs because some of the feedback in the past has been that women don’t want to be treated differently, they are business people just like men.”

The editor of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Paul Whittaker, says more than 50 percent of senior staff at his news conference are women. “We are representative of modern Australia,” he says.

“Perhaps in the past, when women had children, that was the end of their career. We do everything we can to keep women in the workplace.

“I don’t think it will probably be that long before we have female editors of all the major newspapers.”

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Paul says he is careful to ensure that the treatment of stories does not alienate women readers.

“I think the tone [of the newspaper] is very important,” he says. “In terms of all readers, you think about how you display and portray something. A lot of thought goes into the paper every day.”

Read more of this story in the August issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly.

Your say: Are you a newspaper reader? What do you like about newspapers and news sites, and what would you like to change?

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