Guardian Australia
Credit: By Marko Mikkonen on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

When the Guardian launched its online-only Australian edition in May 2013, the site faced competition from already established national sites such as ABC, and the 18-strong editorial team operating out of its Sydney office were working around the clock to get the outlet up and running.

Little over 12 months later, Guardian Australia is one of the country's top ten news sites, according to Nielsen Online, and receives 5.55 million monthly unique visitors, according to the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

The team, headed up by editor-in-chief Katharine Viner, who is also deputy editor of the Guardian, has more than doubled to almost 50, including 29 reporters in addition to commercial and technical staff.

In terms of revenue, the outlet is also almost 300 per cent up on its initial estimates, said Viner, with year-on-year growth of nearly 950 per cent.

This is thanks in part to innovative commercial partnerships with brands such as NRMA Insurance, which takes the form of infographics and interactives on Australian issues, and are also featured on the Guardian International’s Datablog.

Speaking to, Viner – who is soon to join Guardian US as editor-in-chief – cited some of her highlights over the last 12 months as an essay by Julia Gillard written exclusively for Guardian Australia, in which she broke her silence on losing power and her hopes for a new Labour leader, the NSA Indonesia revelations and coverage of the unrest at the Manus Island detention centre in which an Iranian asylum seeker, Reza Barati, was killed.

The latter, Viner explained, came about because of Guardian Australia's "sustained reporting" of asylum issues, a topic not widely covered by other outlets in the country at the time.

"When Reza Barati was killed it was a big moment, people were holding candle-lit vigils," she explained.

"So [for Guardian Australia] to then get the only footage that's ever emerged of that night just shows how we very quickly got great contacts in Australia, but also could get this really important piece of footage."

Here Viner describes some of the lessons learned from launching an online-only new operation in another country.

Exploit the potential of digital-first

Working purely for online platform, free from print deadlines and other constraints associated with legacy outlets, offers a "singularity of focus," said Viner, who has been deputy editor of the Guardian since 2007.

The main thing is that because you only ever think about one platform, you only ever think about what's best for that platformKatharine Viner, Guardian Australia
"The main thing is that because you only ever think about one platform, you only ever think about what's best for that platform," she said.

Being online-only has allowed Guardian Australia's editorial team to consider the most appropriate format to tell a story from the very beginning, whether that is a written piece, a liveblog, a piece of video or audio or a curation of social media posts, Viner said.

"It sounds obvious but actually it's quite liberating."

Viner added she was "very engaged" with the site's audience thanks to the Guardian's own analytics platform Ophan, which allows her to see "what they are doing and when they like to read certain types of stories".

These detailed reports also allow Guardian Australia to direct more readers to an article which may not be getting as much engagement as they feel it deserves, either by promoting it on-site, on social media or by sending it to "influential readers".

Although there are obviously big differences between publishing for print and online, Viner noted that the essential tenets of journalism, like verification and clarity of writing, remain the same.

"But beyond that," she added, "everything is different."

Distinguish yourself

As part of an independent news group, Guardian Australia, which is owned by the Scott Trust, was well placed to offer a different perspective to Australia's established news outlets – the majority of which are owned by News Corporation or Fairfax Media.

On of the key differences is that content on Guardian Australia is freely available, while the majority of Australian news sites operate under a subscription model.

Viner said that, in her opinion, despite covering serious issues in print, many Australian newspaper outlets had "dumbed down" the coverage they put online.

This allowed Guardian Australia to report on subjects which Viner said were previously under-reported online, such as politics, the environment and asylum.

"We don't do trivial stuff," she said, "which I think is a relief."

A good example is the decision to encourage writers from Australia's oft-marginalised indigenous writers to produce content for the site about the issues and topics relevant to them.

A particularly powerful piece by Kelly Briggs, a Gamilaroi writer living in rural New South Wales, on her fears that her children would be put into care, received "amazing traffic", said Viner.

"We found really great writers really easily... they were writing on blogs or on their own sites," she said.

"It just seemed to me a really straightforward thing to do, but I think in an Australian context it seems to have looked quite radical and we've certainly had lots of kudos and attention from indigenous people in Australia for our coverage. "

Grab people's attention

Firestorm cover

Firestorm, the Guardian's largest interactive project, was published to coincide with the launch of Guardian Australia and later won a Walkley Award for multimedia storytelling – despite the site having only launched six months earlier.

Centering around the devastating bushfires which ripped through Tasmania in January 2013, the piece told the story of one family's attempt to escape the blaze, through text, photographs, video, audio and other graphics.

"We wanted to make it technically ambitious as well as journalistically ambitious," explained Viner.

Judges for the Walkley Award said that by "combining text with vivid imagery and high-quality video, they [Guardian Australia] have woven their narrative into a compelling and immersive multimedia reconstruction”.
Hire the right people

From the start, Viner made a conscious decision to hire Australian reporters and commentators to show that the Guardian was "serious about Australia and about being Australian".

Prior to its launch, the outlet hired Lenore Taylor, chief political correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald, as its political editor and Katharine Murphy, national affairs correspondent of the Melbourne Age, as deputy political editor.

As the team has grown so has the scale of Guardian Australia's operation. Earlier this year the outlet opened a Melbourne office to join its operations in Sydney and Canberra.

Hiring talented journalists who were already well-established in Australia not only help the outlet to 'hit the ground running', but also quickly integrate itself within the country's digital news landscape.

"I didn't want us to look like British dilettantes just popping over," Viner said.

"It was about being an established Australian presence."

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