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Panpa Bulletin : February 2006
24 | PANPA BULLETIN February 2006 Readers the real owners of Sunday success We are all making a mis- take. We are looking for new readers when what we need is new owners. When I joined the Sunday Her- ald Sun in 1993, it had plenty of readers. It was selling more than 450,000 copies a week. But circu- lation had stalled and something was missing. The Sunday Herald Sun was a new newspaper (launched August 20, 1989). It may have had an ethos, but it did not have a character. A personality. It may have stood for some things on which its readers agreed, but they did not yet feel it was a part of them and they a part of it. It wasn't "My Newspaper" to anything like enough people and if you want to market your news- paper to a community, you have to prove that you are part of them and that they are part of you. The first opportunity to do this came late in 1993. Just over 100 children from Chernobyl, in Ukraine, many of them quite ill, had been stranded in Melbourne by a crooked Russian business- man who had stolen their return tickets. They had come to Aus- tralia to spend some recupera- tive months in the sunshine. It was doing them good, no doubt, but they still needed to go home. None of the big names in aviation would help. Lauda had just launched its first service into Melbourne, so I called and asked if Niki Lauda might come to the party. He did. Over three flights he put them into his jets and flew them to Vienna, where we had organised a Ukrain- ian government jet to ferry them back to Chernobyl. It was a glori- ously incongruous sight, a tidal wave of Ukrainian kids in Sunday Herald Sun hats and Aussie flags racing across the frozen airport with the skateboards, radios and tee shirts they had been given. It was minus eight degrees. Readers come along We went with them -- taking our readers with us -- as they were re- united with their families. And we forged a relationship with them and the Ukrainian community in Melbourne. We have stayed with these kids and the others like them in Kiev. The childrens' hos- pital that serves the kids who were in Australia had nothing. No med- icines. No equipment beyond the very basic. So we have twice more over the years run campaigns for it. We have appealed to our read- ers and the many health related businesses that operate around Melbourne to donate new cloth- ing, toys, televisions, videos and medicines to this hospital on the other side of the earth. They knit- ted hats and jumpers, they bought slippers and shirts. We received medicines from the manufactur- ers and a retired reader -- a dentist sent along two reclining dentist's chairs -- the first ever in Ukraine. Lauda flew all this to Vienna with Niki Lauda in the captain's seat. Our readers' goods have now twice been transported across Eu- rope to the Kiev Childrens' Hos- pital and, through our reporters and photographers, the Sunday Herald Sun's readers went every step of the way. They had made a difference and they could see they had. Soon after, we came across Craig Sheppard. He was a young Melbourne boy who had over- come cancer as a child, but the treatment that saved him brought on a serious heart disorder that meant he might be struck down with a massive heart attack at any moment. However, he had risen above this to become his school's sporting champion. Boys come no braver. In an interview, he told the Sunday Herald Sun that it was his dream to meet 10 times Olym- pic gold medallist Carl Lewis. It seemed unlikely. But our readers appealed to Lewis to come to Aus- tralia, to fulfil Craig's dream. We contacted him and, against all odds, the world's greatest ath- lete stunned America by walking out of his training program and flying to Melbourne. It was the week before Christmas. We went out to pick him up at the airport. He had never been to Australia. "Shit, it's a long way," he said. He spent two days with Craig and our readers and they saw the evidence of their goodwill all over our news- papers, and our rivals' newspaper and on every TV news program in the country. But what was all this doing for circulation? Our sales had risen at this point by 37,719. More campaigns In 1995, remarkable as it seems now, there was no national data on organ donation, nor any cam- paign to enlist would-be donors. Privacy legislation prevented most states from sharing the names of potential donors. Twenty per cent of people on organ donation lists died each year. Australians were happy to be organ donors. You just had to get them off their bums. So we got to know the play- ers involved in organ donation. We started quickly to be alerted to some of the terrific human stories it involved. We became a lightning rod for such stories. We published them and, regu- larly, the forms you needed to fill in to become an organ donor. Thousands of our readers signed up. Eventually, the pressure mounted and the Federal Gov- ernment reacted by establishing the National Organ Donor Regis- ter, which was launched through News Ltd's Sunday newspapers. And then there is this won- derful old building in the heart of Melbourne. It plays host to the Immigration Museum. Our newspaper campaigned for this museum to recognise Victoria's extraordinary role in the popula- tion of this country. We told our readers the glorious stories of gold rushes, Arthur Calwell and Station Pier, through which more people have passed to become Austral- ians than any other point in the nation. Our readers came on board and -- four years later -- the Immigration Museum opened its doors. They built it. And circula- tion? Up another 33,012. Alan Howe, former editor of Melbourne's Sunday Herald Sun, has guided the paper to a 10-year run of growth and 20 consecutive audit increases. At the 2005 Panpa Conference in Cairns, he told the audience how he did it. "It wasn't "My Newspaper" to anything like enough people and if you want to market your newspaper to a community, you have to prove that you are part of them"