Seeking a wider readership, The Australian reaches out to Chinese readers Down Under.

The national broadsheet is the first major commercial outlet to offer news in a language other than English.

By John Power
Splice Australia

At first glance, Chinese speakers might not seem like the most promising target market for an Australian broadsheet trying to expand its readership. But that’s not how News Corporation’s flagship title The Australian sees it.

In September, the right-leaning national newspaper launched a Chinese-language website aimed at Australia’s growing Chinese community. While community newspapers have catered to Chinese and other ethnic communities here for decades, The Australian is the first major commercial outlet to offer news specifically catered to non-English speakers. The site features translated news and commentary from the newspaper, as well as original content and luxury lifestyle material from News Corp. ventures Wish Magazine and Mansion Global.

“We’d been exploring the idea of a Chinese-language site for several years, but wanted to take the time to get the model right,” says Stuart Fagg, general manager of The Australian’s digital business. “Chinese Australians are such a growing part of our nation that it seemed logical to extend our product suite to cover Chinese-language content.”

Tapping into new audiences

High levels of Chinese immigration to Australia in recent decades have created a sizeable pool of potential news consumers and advertisers that remain largely untapped by mainstream media. Mandarin Chinese is the second-most widely spoken language in Australia today, according to census data. Some 600,000 people speak the language at home, the 2016 population tally found, nearly double the figure recorded in 2011.

When it comes to the economy and business, Australia and China are arguably more intertwined still. In 2016-2017, Australia’s two-way trade with China amounted to $155 billion, almost a quarter of its total trade and more than double its trade with the U.S.

Given these links, it’s perhaps not surprising that The Australian’s Chinese-language venture has proved popular, with readership quadrupling since the start of the year, though Fagg did not reveal exact figures.

“There’s been a huge amount of interest,” says Fagg. “That partly stems from the fact that we are really the first mainstream Australian news brand to create a Chinese-language news product. But it’s also related to the challenges in reaching that audience in a contextual, brand-safe environment. While the audience we are reaching is smaller than our English-language reach, they are incredibly hard to target through mainstream media.”

Importance of original content

An important element of the site’s positive reception, Fagg says, has been its evolution from being simply a home for translated articles to a source of original content as well.

“It would have been easy to just machine-translate our content from English to Chinese, but we wanted to make sure our journalism maintained its premium tone and context,” he says. “We didn’t want that to get lost in translation, so to speak.”

“We settled initially on taking a highly curated approach, with a selection of stories being human translated each day, and then expanded that with the hire of our Chinese language editor, Heidi Han, in February of this year. Since Heidi joined we’ve seen an increase in exclusive content created for the site and the audience has grown in line with that.”

Fagg is candid about how the launch and growth of the site has involved a lot of experimentation and learning on the job.

“When it comes to engaging a target audience that has completely different media consumption habits, there’s a lot of experimentation and a steep learning curve,” he says.

But based on the encouraging start, Fagg sees a promising future for Chinese content at the country’s most-read national newspaper.

“We’re active in channels like WeChat, which is such an important platform for our target audience, but we’re also seeing good audience engagement from other social channels and directly,” he says. “So we see the success we are getting from this site as a bonus on top of our regular commercial efforts. I think in time that we’ll absolutely be putting growth targets and significant commercial revenue and audience metrics in place.”

John Power is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Guardian, The Christian Science Monitor, Quartz, The Age, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Times, The Nikkei Asian Review, and Al Jazeera. Previously based in Seoul, he currently reports from Melbourne. Follow John Power on Twitter.

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