The Reading Room

Guardian Australia breaks new visual ground

The Guardian, the world’s third most read newspaper website, today launched its new digital edition Guardian Australia.

Promising “a fresh and independent view” (don’t they all say that?) under the stewardship of Guardian Deputy Editor Katharine Viner, who now also wears the hat of Guardian Australia’s editor-in-chief, Monday’s launch edition featured an exclusive interview with Australian PM Julia Gillard where she slammed rival Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave policy as “anti-women” and revealed she is a Game of Thrones fan.

Viner promises coverage which is “both global and local, which offers serious reporting and lively commentary,” and “we’ll be reporting and blogging, providing commentary, debate and community interaction,” she goes on. So far, so predictable. It’s when she talks about “digital storytelling” and “using cutting edge data visualisation and interactive technology to engage readers in new ways” that things start to get interesting and one gets a whiff of an intention about using the interactive and mixed media possibilities of online news in a more ambitious way than most online news providers have so far managed.

You get a glimpse of how that might play out with an exclusive interactive feature telling the story behind the now world-famous photograph of the Holmes family clinging to a jetty during the Tasmanian bushfires back in January.

Combining video, audio, text, graphics and beautiful full-screen animated photos which are really atmospheric and immersive, you share the story of the family’s escape as though you were there or were with them living through a movie about the event, with all the background briefing you could possibly want. It is a truly stunning and seamless use of various media and will hopefully be the first of many such packages, to create a new gold standard in news story telling. Yes, it really is that good.

Guardian Australia will operate without a paywall, in contrast to Fairfax and News Limited which dominate the Australian media landscape and are increasingly asking readers to pay for digital content, at a time where, as in the UK and elsewhere, print media is struggling with diminishing print advertising and circulation revenues.

Those two Australian media giants have been making staff redundant recently, so, logically, some of the Guardian’s hires come from that pool, which is good news for journalism jobs. Graeme Wood, co-founder of who was valued at $310 million in the 2013 Business Review Weekly Rich 200, has reportedly provided enough investment to underwrite the site for its first five years.

The launch is logical, as Australia is already a big market for The Guardian which claims that 1.1 million Australians regularly read its global site, making it the fourth-biggest market of digital readers after the US, UK and Canada. We shall watch with interest to see how it fares in the media landscape down under. AW

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