When walking around News Corp headquarters, the daily toil of reaching over seven million Australians each day, through 111 publications across six major capital cities, is evident.
Cluttered desks, hordes of newspapers piled up in walkways and an air of tense excitement.
But as the flickering of large screen digital displays suggest, this news desk isn’t a relic of the past, rather a demonstration of future becoming reality.
As the home of The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun and The Courier-Mail, News Corp is blending traditional newspaper practices with cutting edge innovation strategies, as it expands its reach and influence across the country.
“This interview will end up on multiple media platforms,” News Corp chief product officer for digital Mark Drasutis explained. “If somebody decides to sit in their office and read this in a magazine then that’s their choice, likewise if they decide to consume it digitally instead.
“Consumers are now in control and have choice — it’s about discovery not distribution.”
Yet many industry critics believe Australia’s newspapers — in following the path of global counterparts — have deliberately, and somewhat conveniently, ignored the story of their own decline, refusing to acknowledge that the internet has poached both readers and advertising dollars in equal measure.
For Drasutis however, a responsibility for setting an innovation agenda at Australia’s leading media company creates a responsibility to fuse paper with digital platforms.
“A very interesting view of our business is that newspapers are going to die and that nobody is going to buy them,” Drasutis acknowledged. “But that’s factually incorrect. It’s actually an and, not an or, conversation for consumers.
“We have a large proportion of our customers buying print products every week and during the weekend, but they also like to consume our content on Apple News, or on their Facebook feed or through our apps.”
In walking past the The Daily Telegraph newsroom, as the night editors gathered on the floor in deep consultation, Drasutis stopped to illustrate his point.
“Our editorial teams produce great journalism, they have a tummy compass and they know what is going to be a good yarn,” he observed. “They then use data to verify that which we provide via our technology platforms.
“But we’re not expecting a journalist to understand an API or necessarily how to utilise Periscope on Twitter or Facebook Live. They should just be there as a tool if they feel that it’s the right thing to augment the story.”
After becoming the first Australian media company to launch on Snapchat’s content portal, Discover, two years ago, Drasutis and his team continue to execute a strategy designed to leverage digital technologies to meet ever-changing business objectives.
“We enable the transformation of our business from where it is today to where it needs to be,” he said. “And we do it in the background. We’re in the background, but we’re setting the table.
“With Snapchat, we presented a discoverable platform which we can monetise and gain value from.
“We knew a certain demographic of 14–25 year olds exist here, and we utilised technology to reach them.”
With an arsenal of newspaper titles and lifestyle brands, News Corp’s digital sites have a monthly unique audience of 6.7 million, creating multi-platform leaders in food, health, parenting and style and property as a result.
Coupled with new digital products for key mastheads, and more than 2.3 million subscribers viewing Foxtel on their television, computer, mobile phone, Xbox 360 or tablet with the new Foxtel Go app, and News Corp is continuing to remain relevant across an array of platforms.
In drawing on expertise gleaned in executive roles at AOL and Yahoo, and through moving away from conventional IT approaches, Drasutis is creating a digital agenda based on collaboration, spanning editorial, digital, sales and marketing teams.
Collaboration now comes from the technology division out, incorporating all key stakeholders from the start, instead of the traditional way IT has dictated usage to the business previously.
“Take SuperCoach for example,” explained Drasutis, referring to News Corp’s sports fantasy game, which encompasses more than 450,000 players across AFL and NRL.
“We make SuperCoach TV, we’re on Twitter every Friday afternoon, we’re on Facebook, it’s all over the website and it’s in the newspaper. It’s a team effort.”
Citing the internal and external success of SuperCoach, Drasutis said that when developing new products and go-to-market strategies, from the outset, technology and the business are on the same page.
But in drawing on over 20 years of media and technology experience, Drasutis acknowledged that key stakeholder buy-in wasn’t always as straightforward.
“It hasn’t always been that way,” he said. “At News Corp, we merged together the digital and technology teams two years ago. Technology was no longer just the IT team and the guys that fix the printers. It’s a whole different dynamic.”
Under the previous leadership of News Corp chief technology officer Alisa Bowen — who was appointed to the role in January 2016 but departed for Disney in March 2017 — the division has recognised the need to be closer to the business, removing silos and leading the conversation through technology.
“News is news, it’s designed that way and it operates well,” Drasutis explained. “The Daily Telegraph is The Daily Telegraph, that’s it’s job and that’s the point.
“Through technology, we provide the connective tissue and create collaboration across the organisation. “Business needs technology to take ownership and it’s the foundation and powerhouse of any business today.”
Despite the freedom to adopt emerging technologies however, News Corp still relies heavily on the opinion of IT and key business stakeholders, striking a balance between innovation and governance as a result.
“We might be agile but we still adopt a business case approach,” Drasutis said. “My team is a hybrid, they are focused on both the customer and business outcomes.
“When the business requires a new capability, we assess the value of either building or buying that technology. If we buy it, we have a conversation, create a RFP and work out who is the best vendor.
“The business still requires some level of lean governance over the top.”
Driven by business outcomes rather than purely technology performance, Drasutis represents the new breed of IT buyer, a buyer that views value differently to the IT department.