The Next Generation of News
It’s up to us as media to try and innovate, and capitalise on the fact that there’s this new attention span of nothing – and work out how to get a message across.
The way we consume news is changing and traditional media is struggling to keep up with our forever online lifestyles. The Daily Aus is changing that – and fast.
With unstoppable co-founders Sam Koslowski and Zara Seidler at the helm, The Daily Aus has cracked the code on resonating with young people, distilling the big news stories of the day into accessible, bite-sized pieces. From fearless journalists to savvy entrepreneurs, witness the rise of a new generation that's leaving a lasting imprint. Hear from Zara Seidler and Sam Koslowski in conversation with editor and podcaster Clare Stephens, as they unpack the big business of youth-focused news and reveal how digital platforms are transforming the news landscape.
UNSW Centre for Ideas: UNSW Centre for Ideas.
Clare Stephens: Tonight, we are in conversation with the co-founders of The Daily Aus and authors of their brand-new book, No Silly Questions, Zara Seidler and Sam Kos-low-ski.
Sam Koslowski: Nearly, good enough.
Clare Stephens: He corrected me backstage and it threw me. I was like, ‘I’m gonna get it wrong, it’s not a complicated last name.’
In 2017, Zara and Sam started The Daily Aus, now Australia’s leading ‘social first’ news service with a very specific mission. I'm sure everyone in this room has consumed their content which breaks down the complex ideas that sit behind current affairs with simplicity, respect and honesty. Their digestible, bite sized factual approach to news intercepts people mid doomscroll, explaining the headlines of the day and the context behind them. They're the antidote to the opinion first, noisy news cycle. Their mission has always been to empower young people to engage with the world around them and to build a media company that makes everyone feel like news is for them even if they're not news people.
Since 2017, Sam and Zara have built a massive social media audience, two chart topping podcasts, and successful newsletter and video channels. They reach over 1 million young people per month. They now run the fastest growing youth news company in Australia. They are business leaders, journalists, presenters, and commentators. Please welcome, Zara Seidler and Sam Koslowski.
Sam Koslowski: Nailed it.
Clare Stephens: Just to add, throughout our conversation you'll be able to enter questions via Slido and we'll have plenty of time for questions at the end. And just as the book says, there are no silly questions and if there are, I'll probably be asking them first. So Zara and Sam, congratulations on the book and the enormous success of The Daily Aus, I want to take you back to 2017 when you started The Daily Aus. First of all, what have you studied at uni and what were your biggest areas of interest personally, Sam?
Sam Koslowski: Media. News. So I studied journalism and law here at UNSW, just across there in the law building but I grew up in a house where my dad was a journalist so he would literally bring home alternate front pages from the Sydney Morning Herald when I was like five and asked me which one I like the best. And I had a newspaper-themed birthday party.
Clare Stephens: What a cool guy.
Sam Koslowski: So cool. Yeah, didn’t have many friends but I had heaps of newspapers just stacked up around me and so I always knew I wanted to work in news that was…so I had a brief journey into corporate law and quicky resigned. And I’m really doing what I actually really love right now.
Clare Stephens: Amazing. And Zara, what did you study?
Zara Seidler: A different journey. A glorified arts degree. International and Global Studies, two words, same meaning. And didn’t grew up in a news household but I’d say grew up in a household that spoke about the news a lot and my brother, who’s here, will attest to the fact that I was the person that would walk out of my room in the morning and announced that some famous person had died as if that’s what everyone wants to hear when you wake up in the morning, like ‘Michael Jackson’s dead.’
And so I was always interested in it but thought I would kind of interrogate politics from as many angles as possible so I worked in a political office very briefly – shortest lived political representative I believe in Australian history – then worked in lobbying and also worked at Sky News to try see it from all angles and then ended up with Sam doing The Daily Aus.
Clare Stephens: Incredible! So you started The Daily Aus by uploading five news items to Instagram Stories everyday even though you had other jobs.
Sam Koslowski: Yes.
Clare Stephens: What were you noticing in media at the time, and what did you feel needed to change?
Sam Koslowski: What we noticed even as early as then with 100 followers on the page was a missing layer of understanding that our friends had about the world around them, not necessarily because they don’t read the news enough, just because no one has actually walked them through that first step. So you know, even as early as then, once a month when the interest rate decision would come out, we would define what the interest rate was – which is not a given in an article about interest rates.
And so by breaking it down into five bite pieces of news every single day, what we noticed was super high retention. So even when we had 500 followers, we’d have pretty much all 500 watch it every single day. We used to put them up at 8am everyday and by 8:06, if we didn’t put it up because we were hungover or just…
Zara Seidler: Doing our jobs.
Sam Koslowski: Or doing our other jobs, we’d get angry messages from people saying, “Where’s my stories?” and the other thing we noticed was, we ended every bulletin with good news.
And I think a lot of the retention was people knew that there was a bit of dessert at the end but it was the antidote to the sentiment that we picked up amongst our friends that, ‘I can’t read the news anymore, it’s just too sad and it just makes me too upset about the world around me’ but we found a good news story every single day. And six years later, we have still found a good news story every single day.
Zara Seidler: Oh, there was one day we didn’t.
Sam Koslowski: There was one day we didn’t?
Zara Seidler: Yeah, there was actually… it was one day. It was in the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, COVID, and there was something else happening. And we were like…
Sam Koslowski: An earthquake in Melbourne.
Zara Seidler: Oh yeah and I think we just… we wrote something like, “We know that good news is important but sometimes you just need to take a minute for yourself.” That was the only day in the last however long, we haven’t done a good news.
Clare Stephens: What a sad day.
Zara Seidler: It was a really sad day and a lot of self-reflection that day.
Clare Stephens: So what mistakes do you feel like you made in those early days? Because that’s how you learn and that’s such an exciting, exciting thing about social media is the kind of instant feedback that you get. What did you learn really quickly about what you were doing presenting the news?
Zara Seidler: I think we learned very quickly to be right, not first and what I mean by that is, we were two people behind our phones trying to explain the news and if you go really, really quickly, that’s when mistakes happen.
And we did that one day. There was a story, and I remember it so clearly, that a family had all died and the father was a sole survivor and we framed it as a domestic violence story, and it was not. We put a helpline at the end and I believe a trigger warning and that was completely wrong. And that was because we had been fast and we had made presumptions about a story based on our own biases and I think that was a good lesson for us very early on. I still remember how much it affected us that you don’t need to be the first ones to report something. That’s not our role. Our role is to explain it and to take people through it.
Clare Stephens: Because it can be so tempting to just want to be the first and when you are the first on… There are some things you can be the first on, like the Matildas winning the soccer game, that you’re like, ‘Yeah I’m ready’ but you’re so right that you run the risk of getting things wrong is the cost of that.
Zara Seidler: And it’s so great. Especially I mean we have a stat that something like 70% of our audience who we surveyed, suggested to us that we are their primary source of information. And when you have that responsibility, you cannot afford to make those sorts of mistakes or to bring those sorts of assumptions to your reporting and so we learnt from that. We also now have a team who are professionals who don’t make mistakes like Sam and I do, but it was just such a good lesson for us.
Sam Koslowski: And I think the other big lesson that we learned early on was that when you’re using social media, you’re playing in somebody else’s playground. And even if you have a banger of a story that you’ve worked on all day, the algorithm – whatever it is up there, might not have you in their favour today.
Zara Seidler: What I thought you’re gonna say is playing in someone else’s playground but we both quit our jobs on the same day. We both started doing The Daily Aus full time on the same day. A week later, we were sitting in investor’s office and news was taken off Facebook.
Clare Stephens: Yeah, I remember that.
Zara Seidler: Playing in someone else’s playground – your entire business model is just woooh. And that was a learning for us that we needed to diversify immediately and make sure that we were doing was our own and that we weren’t relying on other people or algorithms or Mark Zuckerberg.
Clare Stephens: You’re exactly right. That day, I was working in the newsroom that day that Mark Zuckerberg decided that people wanted to see more of their family and friends.
Zara Seidler: I know. What an absurd proposition.
Clare Stephens: None of us are using Facebook for that, like Jesus. And so basically then turn the dial completely down on news publishers in Australia and I think that was a shock for media in general that we were like, ‘You can’t rely on a third-party app to disseminate your business’ and so how did you diversify off the bat?
Zara Seidler: We launched our newsletters that day.
Sam Koslowski: So we had our first employees starting that day and I just looked at her, and we were like, “Have you used MailChimp before?”, and she said, “Absolutely not” and then half an hour later, we had a newsletter.
We launched this to the audience half an hour later and we had about 50,000 followers at the time, we converted about 5,000 to a newsletter database which was a really good sign early on. And that newsletter is our pride and joy, and probably our fastest growing channel and we still do it everyday and we love it.
Clare Stephens: With that newsletter – something I’ve really noticed about the way you guys communicate with your audience is that you’re really honest and quite direct.
So even with your newsletter promo, it’s quite like “This is how you subscribing to the newsletters, actually helps us”, and I subscribe to like no newsletters, I subscribe to yours. What kind of made you try that communication style?
Zara Seidler: I call it transparency. That’s one of our values as a company and I think the reason that we thought that, that was a good move was because we didn’t see it anywhere else. That wasn’t how we communicated with the new sources that we were consuming.
And so, we wanted to bring that element to what we were doing to make it different and to make it feel personal and because we were existing on social media first and foremost, you want to have that relationship with the audience. You want to be able to build trust. And we thought that the way to do that was to be transparent and so I mean, it manifests in how we communicate and like you’re saying, ads that we try to get people to subscribe but it’s also how we do our partnerships.
We will never, you know the way that The Daily Aus makes money is through advertising but we will never ever post something that’s not clearly labelled as an ad. We don’t want people thinking that they’re reading organic content that actually $50,000 has gone into creating that and that is something that carries across all elements of the business.
Sam Koslowski: And all of that is on the backdrop of this huge problem in news which is that no one trusts it and of all the world, English-speaking countries trusted the least and of all the English-speaking countries, Australia is either the lowest or the second lowest depending on which poll you look at.
So the average rate of trust in news is about one in four people trust the news and that’s incredibly low and then if you look at the age groups, it’s young people who trusted the least. So we actually had to think of strategies to overcome that and it was almost like our hand was forced to bid, we need to be honest with the audience because their default position is “You work for Rupert Murdoch and we don’t trust you” so we need to unwind that.
Clare Stephens: And where do you think that lack of trust comes from? Part of it in Australia is Rupert Murdoch but what do you think the other elements are that makes people distrust news, just instinctively?
Sam Koslowski: I think Donald Trump has played a huge role, and we’ve seen if you look at any of the trust studies in news, it coincides with his run of president. His time as president and then now.
So, doubting truth and doubting that this idea of there being two alternate universes that we live in makes it really hard for the news to do its job right. But then there’s also been really interesting changes from the fact that news is now online, not in hardcopy and traditional forms of media and no longer really being able to function – you can’t have a newsroom like, has anyone seen Spotlight?
Clare Stephens: Yeah.
Sam Koslowski: Like that’s journalism – three months, one piece, five people; lovely. You can’t do that anymore, it doesn’t really exist. There’s little pockets of the world where maybe you can do it. And Ben Roberts-Smith, the case this year is a really good example of why that journalism is so important, but it doesn’t make money so it’s a tricky one.
Clare Stephens: When the pandemic hit, the appetite for news entirely changed and we needed factual, clear information just to know what we were allowed to do in our daily lives. It kind of put an emphasis on facts in a way that the media, as you guys had identified has become so opinion based. Often the first thing you read about anything, was an opinion.
And what I’m fascinated by is how you report news factually without going into any of your own perspectives or your own biases. So when COVID hits and then there’s all the vaccine news, there were deaths from related to AstraZeneca for example and now the TGA will say there were 11 deaths from AstraZeneca out of millions and millions, tens of millions of vaccine doses. How did you go about choosing what to report in that time, knowing that a factual report might actually be used to suit another agenda?
Sara Koslowski: Before Zara gives a news-based answer, I’ll quickly give like a business-based answer which is that, that example is really interesting because we would get messages when we reported on vaccines saying, “Are you being paid by vaccine companies to write this?” and so, for us the ability to say, “No” and you will know when you see a partnership because it’s clearly labelled.
I mean, this is the example I used to partners who say, “Well, can’t you just leave our name off it a little bit and do a review of our café?” and yeah like no, because this is how our readers trusts us, they trust us so much and we need to be able to say to them, absolutely not. But from a news perspective, it was really tricky, and I remember us having conversations about our role in public health as well.
Zara Seidler: I think I’ve honestly blacked out that time of the news cycle. But I think for us, it was the perfect time. I mean we tried to do fact-based reporting but what we do primarily is this explanatory reporting and so, I think that was the perfect opportunity to take a step back and actually explain what was happening – explain why things were being reported the way they were and provide that depth of context that I think often times is missing from the regular news cycle.
And I’m not sure we did it right every single time, but I think the other thing was that I remember that young women were the kind of key demographic that felt really terrified at that time. Being a young woman yourself, and then communicating that to other young women is a real benefit. The fact that I wasn’t a 60-year-old man telling young girls to go get this vaccine even though, there’s this, this and this. I think it’s one of the benefits of The Daily Aus is that we are the audience we’re seeking to serve and so I think that was something that really went into how we curated that content at that time.
Sam Koslowski: And we constantly think about, to be objective – does that mean that you give voice to both sides of an argument? And the whole last chapter of the book is how to read the news. And we talk about both side-ism and we had those conversations throughout specifically about the vaccine, you know ‘Do we report on the number of deaths prevented from having the vaccine?’, or ‘Do we just report on the number of three deaths from it?, etcetera.’ And also, the hate that we got was just nuts so it was quite an interesting time.
Clare Stephens: How do you go about when you are focused on… because I think maybe people outside of media probably don’t even understand that taking a fact-based accurate approach to news is quite radical, like actually stepping away from opinion and saying, “That’s not what we are, we’re not opinion”, I mean you could argue that the way social media works, you know there could be more growth if you were more radical.
Sam Koslowski: Way more growth.
Clare Stephens: More focused on opinion. If you’re taking that approach, what do you do about comment moderation? Because often I’ll see a story but I’ll go to the comments for the vibe.
Zara Seidler: Vibe check.
Clare Stephens: And they inform how I then read the story. What’s your approach to moderation?
Zara Seider: This has been a journey for us. It’s been a real journey because there was a High Court decision, when was it? I don’t know, a couple of years. Yeah, a couple of years ago that essentially ruled that publishers were liable for their comment sections which essentially means you have to have 24-hour moderation all the time.
That was challenged and I personally believe that’s a good thing because I don’t think that, that is a reasonable threshold to meet. But we have gone through this kind of iterative process about how we do it because there is of course, the Free Speech argument and the fact that most of the amazing conversation that we are trying to encourage – I mean, our book is literally called, No Silly Questions – it happens in the comment section.
So the approach that we have taken is that we will moderate hate speech directed to any group. That is kind of right now and I will not say anything firmly because everything changes, but right now that is the way that we moderate in order to both encourage speech but not offend and discriminate.
Clare Stephens: What about misinformation? If somebody is leaving comments that – and the tone of some people’s comments can be very authoritative - if somebody is commenting misinformation, do you moderate that?
Zara Seidler: Well, the interesting thing is that when someone comments that, there are always comments underneath challenging that. And I think part of the problem is that we have never seen healthy debate modelled per se, like we either cancel people or we don’t allow them to ever ask the question in the first place and I actually think that there is a really healthy discussion that happens in these spaces.
At times, it will become too extreme and needs to be addressed but most of the time and I mean, we have repeat offenders like yeah, these are these people that just make new names.
Sam Koslowski: And they do this thing where they do, v. nine, v. ten.
Zara Seidler: Yeah, like there’s a reason you’re on your tenth version mate, Oh My God. But I think that those dudes aside, it is actually, and it’s the place that we learn as well like that is where you gather sentiment and that’s where you understand what people are thinking, how they’re thinking about things, how they’re approaching things so I think that we would be hesitant to over-moderate but when needed, we did.
Sam Koslowski: And then when there’s particular court decisions and legal forces at play that mean that we have to limit comments, we then make sure that we explain to the audience why and that’s a really important part of media literacy. Why can’t we name this offender in this particular state? Because of the laws that are impacting that reporting. Why are we turning comments off? That sometimes has been a directive.
Clare Stephens: Which I think that explaining that context is so important because obviously that’s what all news publications have to do but it’s very rare to explain why, and people just think or even the language you used like, ‘alleged’. People say, “Why is it alleged? They’re a bad person.” That doesn’t mean that it’s not alleged.
Zara Seidler: And I’ve really noticed that around things like actual charges that people end up being charged with and that we will use the language of the law and we will get pushback saying, “No, this was rape”, or “This was this, and that you can’t use” and it’s actually about explaining, “Well no, these are the charges before the court.” It is actually proper to use that language. This is factual base reporting. We are not coming to this with assumptions. We are following the facts here.
Sam Koslowski: Yeah, and what a great opportunity to put a slide in saying, ‘What is: insert charge here?’ and actually just spell out that these are the three factors that the court looks at when deciding when somebody has assaulted someone, and here’s what the court is discussing right now.
Clare Stephens: Yeah, and you have such a huge audience now and that puts you in a really powerful position in terms of disseminating information to young people and potentially changing minds and having influence. What is your approach to covering the Voice to Parliament? And how did you land on an approach?
Zara Seidler: It’s like you’re inside my brain just figuring out what I’m figuring out. So our approach to the Voice Referendum is the same approach that we have taken to most major political events which is that we are trying to really lean in to civics education.
I think that for us. We really want people, audiences, young people to understand everything that is going into this referendum. Understanding all of the key concepts, understanding what it is they’re voting for, how they’re voting, that’s the other thing that’s just never explained. I mean if you’re freshly 18 and haven’t voted in the Federal Election and being asked to vote in a referendum where you don’t know if your tick or cross means something different. Like that being stepped out is really important and so, for us – we as a company decided that we would not take an editorial position on the Voice.
You’ll see the Fin Review came out last week saying that they support the Voice, the Herald did the same and I’m sure we’ll see most of the major outlets do that. For us, because this education point is so fundamental to what we do, we actually don’t think that is the best thing for us to offer. We believe that providing that foundation of knowledge for people to then go out and form their own opinions and come to that conclusion with the critical analysis that we’ve hopefully provided. That is what has been fundamental to the way that we approach this, and we took the same approach to the Federal Election, so we partnered with the Electoral Commission.
We tried to drive young people to enroll because apart from First Nations people, we are most underrepresented when it comes to enrolment. And at the last election, we saw the greatest uptick in youth enrolment in history and for us, that is the marker of success for the election. And here, it’s just as much education as possible.
Clare Stephens: Was there debate about that in your workplace? Because I can say that within workspaces, there’s a lot of debate about whether it is ethical and moral and important to take a stance, or whether you do present both sides so that people can make an informed decision. Was there tension?
Sam Koslowski: I wouldn’t call it tension. I would call it temptation and the temptation was to sleep better at night ourselves. If the Voice does fail, and we think we could have done more with the platform that we have, will we look back and go, “Oh bugger, we should have taken a more activist approach to this and we missed an opportunity”, and that discussion I think is happening in a lot of corporates, a lot of businesses, a lot of even governmental bodies, etcetera.
Because it’s a political issue now, it’s not bipartisan so if you’re a footy club and you take a stand on the Voice, you’re backing a governmental policy which is not held by the opposition and typically, that’s not a wise move for a body that wants funding, whoever’s in power, etcetera.
So the temptation has been there. But we are so sure of what we are and exactly the role that we want to play in this period of Australian history that the temptation has been there, I think more personally than anything. But we know exactly what we need to do.
Clare Stephens: I think we’ve seen… and we’ve learnt from the news in the last few years as well that I don’t think people want to be told what to think.
Sam Koslowski: Well, we’re not qualified. Like, we’re just like Sam and Zara are from Sydney.
Clare Stephens: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Sam Koslowski: Who gives a shit, well, what I think?
Clare Stephens: But I think in terms of changing minds. What we’ve seen is that lecturing people or guilting people for having a certain perspective is not the way to change minds, information is.
Zara Seidler: I think the idea of outlets taking an editorial position on something as a whole is quite an interesting concept because like, what is that establishing? And, what does one take to, the way that they interpret, or read the articles that then precede that.
And so, I mean I think that everybody’s obviously free to do whatever they like but I think that for us, it is clear that our role here is to educate, to inform. There is a lot of contest to the detail and to the ideas that underpin this and for us, it’s navigating through that.
Clare Stephens: Are there times where you’ve believed you’re reporting straight news and your audience has challenged you saying that there is an agenda to what you’re reporting? Like I can imagine that there would be stories where you know, the vaccine is one, where simply by choosing what to report and what not to report is making a decision based on some sort of perspective. Do you have any examples of times you’ve had conversations with people in your audience about that?
Zara Seidler: I mean I think that climate is the obvious one that sticks out to me because also the term objectivity is a strange one because the act of curation – it’s like we are all curating what goes on our page and how we report it.
And I think that climate is an example where it will be in our good news story if there is climate action. That is, for all intents and purposes, a political statement that is not objective. But for us there are certain things that we believe, or our company values hold true, and climate is one of those.
And so I think there will be lots of people that would point to that and say, “You’re not being objective”, and we would wear that and say, “By all measures, that’s true. That isn’t, because that is what we have decided, that we will follow the science on this.”
And there is a part in the book, as Sam said about both side-ism, and I think that’s probably the example that comes to mind.
Sam Koslowski: And there’s constantly situations that challenge how we approach this kind of thing. When Russia invaded Ukraine, we reported on it for every single day for that first kind of three months maybe and we often put up a quote where Ukraine was being praised for their bravery or Zelensky was being praised by a foreign parliament, and we’d get comments from pro-Russian individuals saying, “You guys are clearly taking a position on this”, and I thought, Shit, I guess we kind of are.
So yeah, there’s again as Zara said objectivity. A bit of a weird idea. I think our role is to try and do our best at helping people understand an issue enough so that they can have a conversation at dinner and find their own perspective. But our editor Billi, who’s sitting over there is probably sweating because her thing is like “We will always tell the sides that need to be told and when you are talking about government policy, you will always get an opposition comment”, and I think that there are obvious exceptions but most of it, we are trying to tell the full story.
Clare Stephens: We’re in an entirely new landscape when it comes to news and The Daily Aus were ahead of the game by meeting people where they were at, not trying to redirect young people to read newspapers because they weren’t going to but basically that they were on Instagram, so that’s where you’re going to meet them.
Do you worry that our habits as I’m considering myself a young person – I’m not necessarily The Daily Aus demographic, but do you worry that the fact that young people are finding their news on Instagram, on TikTok is an issue in terms of understanding nuance and context, because it is such a bite-sized format?
Sam Koslowski: No, I don’t. Because I think that formats and mediums have always changed, and there’s always been this concern of oh my gosh, what are we going to do when people are reading on a screen instead of on the printing press-produced papers? And will we lose depth and meaning and all that kind of thing?
We adapt. And our pursuit of trying to really understand the topic and the pursuit of media and good journalism – really trying to tell a story, kind of adapts to format. So for example, obviously, as young people, our attention spans are shorter and shorter and the ways that we watch video has changed so much. And now we’re in a world of TikTok where you’ve got, you know, four to six seconds to tell a good story, so it’s up to us as media to try and innovate and capitalise on the fact that there’s this new attention span of nothing and work out how to get a message across.
Yeah. And so, we’ve started playing around with using the tile swipe-y through bits on Instagram except doing little videos so we’re basically serialising a longer video and putting it into shorter bits.
Zara Seidler: So people will be watching a 30-minute video without realising because they’ve been swiping through tiles watching.
Clare Stephens: Yeah.
Zara Seidler: Sorry that was incorrect maths.
Sam Koslowski: Probably like 8.
Clare Stephens: Yeah, it’s still a bloody long time.
Sam Koslowski: But it’s much longer than we’d get than if we put the video up all in one go. And like, we’re seeing awesome numbers on these kinds of posts when it’s about housing supply or like really unsexy stuff so we can always figure out a way creatively to work with attention spans, mediums, and all that kind of thing.
Clare Stephens: So I guess this is kind of the fundamental question that social media in itself. You could analyse it as how the platform has radicalised us.
Sam Koslowski: Yeah.
Clare Stephens: It made us more angry, made us more susceptible to misinformation but are you sort of agnostic about the platform and just thinking, it’s about how you use it?
Sam Koslowski: Yeah, and how quickly to understand user behaviour on it so adapting to the fact that TikTok behaves a certain way and people on TikTok use it for certain reasons. So, we would never put up a video that we put on Instagram and TikTok together. They’re separate videos. We filmed them separately, the scripts are different, the talents different, all that kind of thing so now, I really think it’s about really almost respecting the platforms. Maybe that’s a bit of kind of purist look at things but I think it’s like, people are there so we might as well look at that seriously, not just trying to get them to move back to buying a newspaper.
Clare Stephens: How are you using TikTok? And how is that kind of evolved? Because I think so many media companies are trying to work out what on earth to do with this platform where people mostly just want to watch dances and weird - this stuff on my algorithm...
Sam Koslowski: But what do you get when you open an algorithm?
Clare Stephens: Well now, it knows that I’m pregnant so I’m getting birth stories. I’m getting ‘A Day in my Life with a Newborn.’
Zara Seidler: That’s exactly what you want.
Clare Stephens: No offence but I don’t care. Like, I don’t care about that at all but then I get sucked in. I also went through a phase, this will just be me – of Chicago Med, a TV show I’ve never watched…
Zara Seidler: Oh my god, so did I.
Clare Stephens: Yeah, I have probably seen every episode ever made.
Zara Seidler: Yeah, I watch full episodes.
Sam Koslowski: And all I get is ‘Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons.’
Clare Stephens: I want that.
Sam Koslowski: That’s it.
Clare Stephens: I want that. It’s sexist because I want that but actually how do you go…
Sam Koslowski: These murderers have depth, okay?
Clare Stephens: Apparently, there’s a thing now where you can reset your algorithm. I saw a thing. I don’t know, I need to reset it because mine’s too depressing.
Zara Seidler: I love mine. They know me so well. It’s excellent.
Clare Stephens: Oh no, mine’s gone in a weird direction but yes, how have you gone about deciding what TikTok is for The Daily Aus?
Zara Seidler: So we hired somebody full time to predominantly do TikTok. When we hired her, she was nineteen so she knew the audience that she was serving, and I don’t know why I’m speaking about her in past tense. She’s still with us and is bloody excellent and together with Billi, Chloe who does the TikTok – they’re just learning and I think that’s the magical part of it. I think we all know everything there is to know about Instagram. We all know everything there is to know about Facebook, podcasting and all the rest, and there is the real place to be creative.
And so for those that aren’t sinking hours and hours of their lives into this thing, it bans certain words – so last week, the Federal Government came out with an eating disorders strategy and Billi was busy so I was assigning Chloe her task of the day and I said, “We’ll do a video about this eating disorders strategy”, and then Billi said, “No, can’t do that because that will get you banned, you’re not allowed to say the words eating disorder on TikTok”, because that will immediately shadow ban you and take you out of the circulation of all of that and so, there are so many tricky parts of TikTok to navigate.
But the way we are doing it is that we bring the same level of professionalism. So the scripts that are going and then being recorded are being fact-checked by our fact checker. They’re being edited by our editor, so the same sense of accuracy and I guess, quality is there. It’s just delivered in a different way and so, at the moment it is Chloe, or whoever is doing the TikTok for that day, face to camera, speaking about the news, and talking them through it in a way that makes sense.
Sam Koslowski: But the other interesting thing that comes out when you look at what we’re doing on TikTok is more widely how we’ve set ourselves up as a business. So when we quit our jobs, we raised a little bit of money via investors – and what that allows us to do is not to try and figure out immediately how one pursuit of content leads to revenue.
So we haven’t made money on TikTok, we don’t really have a plan to make money on TikTok so for all intents and purposes her employment, her wage is kind of a loss but we’re investing in brand awareness and we’re investing in hitting younger people who might not be on Instagram and all that kind of thing, and I think…
Zara Seidler: You can tell that Sam deals with commercials and business.
Sam Koslowski: I think of people as numbers. But yeah, like she can just concentrate on doing really awesome stuff.
Clare Stephens: That’s so interesting because that’s where news companies have tripped up is that they look at TikTok, and feel like they need a TikTok strategy but there’s no return on investment so…
Zara Seidler: But that is how I think most news companies have thought about engaging youth audiences, “It’s our shit. We’ve got to speak to young people. They’re going to be the biggest voting bloc. They have all these views, all these ideas. How are we going to do it?” And then they go to their Bains or McKinsey’s and then after six, I don’t know why I’m speaking as if it’s hypothetical, after six months they give up because they’re not seeing a return on that investment. And ultimately, it is such a long game you are not going to get paying subscribers right away because these are people who have very little discretionary funds during a cost-of-living crisis. They deserve your news and so, it’s just about playing that long game.
Clare Stephens: A huge portion of your audience finds you on Instagram obviously, so you’ve diversified to do the newsletters and the podcasts. What do you find about platform specific information? So even when you’re doing the podcasts, obviously, the quick easy way would be to do the exact same types of information in all the different platforms, but we know that doesn’t work.
So how, for example do you change the way you’re speaking to your audience in a podcast, as opposed to through Instagram tiles, as opposed to a newsletter?
Sam Koslowski: We’ve always found that the podcast, see Zara and I have done the podcasts, we tried to do it every day but it’s getting harder and harder. And we’re relying on our team more and more and we’re so fortunate to be able to say, “Quick, do you want to jump in?” and everybody goes, “Yes!” so it’s a really good environment but we’ve always found it to be the way to show a little bit more of ourselves.
So we don’t have bylines in our pieces and we do a lot of our journalism as just The Daily Aus brand not as individuals but on the podcast, you’ve got our voices, you’ve got us teasing each other or whatever it might be. It’s a little bit more of an insight into who we are.
Zara Seidler: But we did get feedback that people thought we hated each other because we weren’t showing…
Clare Stephens: But that’s all what people love. With podcasts, because you’re so right it has to be that level of… there’s something incredibly intimate about being in a person’s ears. It’s like a friendship and so you’ve got to share more of yourself or even if you are discussing the news. But every pod, there are always theories that the people hate each other.
Zara Seidler: Actually, my favourite feedback – we once asked for feedback and I regret it everyday because the first comment was, ‘Zara has a really condescending voice.’
Clare Stephens: Oh love, love when it’s something you can’t change.
Zara Seidler: Which isn’t the first time I’ve been told that so there might be truth to it but won’t be asking for feedback in the future.
Clare Stephens: So the thing about voice, you’ll notice it’s only women who get feedback on it.
Zara Seidler: Yeah, there you go. How’s your condescending tone going?
Sam Koslowski: I just got told I was funny.
Clare Stephens: He’s like, “What’s this criticism?”. I’d love to pull a case study from your book and ask you to break it down. So the way it’s structured, the book, is with six broad areas like our political system, the economy and then you’ve gone on to break down several things within that category, but also kind of end on one big question, and in the section on social and cultural issues you ask, when will we have a male contraceptive pill? And I was interested in this because I was a bit like, too late.
Just kidding. But how do you go about approaching that kind of question initially, because you could say that there’s a feminist agenda to even asking the question. How do you kind of go about starting to look at the question, deciding what the really important things to look at are and then, how you reach a conclusion?
Sam Koslowski: Well, the first step is helping people understand what happens in scientific reporting, so if something’s tested on a rat in Boston – what does that actually mean for the viability of a product? And wondering, how long would that take? And what stage does it go to human trials, and what is a human trial? And all that kind of thing.
So what we found, when we report on things like the male contraceptive pill but also some other really interesting areas of science which kind of intersects with gender is the gendered biases in research. Yeah, one of the best stories we’ve ever done is about the fact that scientists only recently have found a clitoris on the snake and why you ask? Because no one’s ever frickin looked.
Clare Stephens: The poor snake. That’s so sad.
Zara Seidler: That’s like one of our highest performing stories.
Sam Koslowski: That did really well. I wonder why?
Zara Seidler: But we do actually have our editor Billi here, who wrote a killer caption. Do you want to just tell the crowd what the caption was? I believe it was 'The men are still looking for it.’
And yeah, the investors love that one. But I think, when it comes to the idea of taking a story like that I mean with the book, we try to make it as evergreen as possible but with news, it always had to kind of be bound to an idea or to a time. And so, we have reported on this male contraceptive pill clinical trial, and you know we had spoken in the newsroom about the fact that there were previous trials that has been – I wanted to say aborted, but that felt like the wrong word – stopped, because of the side effects that the men experience during that and then, of course the conversation around the side effects that women experience on a daily basis and so on.
But there was that news hook of the trial and so we tried to build, at least in the book, around these big questions, something that was more evergreen and broadened but it still had that news hook.
And that is how we will never report something if it doesn’t have that news hook to it because we feel very firmly about news, not noise. And if it’s noise, it doesn’t need to be something that is communicated by us, there are lots of different media outlets and lots of different forms that media takes, and I think everyone has their place. And for us, we have decided that this is our place.
Clare Stephens: So people need that entry point of it being relevant in the moment rather it just being a conversation.
Zara Seidler: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I think, like we were talking in the office the other day about writing something about endometriosis and then got a media release that there is a new government report on endometriosis coming out in a couple of weeks. That is the perfect opportunity.
We have all the stats. We will have the numbers. We can then start a bigger conversation about it in the way it’s reported, and what we do and don’t know. But at least there’s that news hook or something to build it around.
Clare Stephens: So we have had questions open to the audience and there’s going to be a couple of microphones so here we go, we’ve got a bunch of questions actually. So a good one is, what’s the next expansion of The Daily Aus? Where do you see the next step of the business?
Sam Koslowski: Well, I think at the moment we’re hitting about a million. A good month can be 1.5 million young people. We need to be talking to every young person. So like, even within the platform that we have, a really comfortably big audience like Instagram. The ABC has 840,000 and we only have 488,000 so that’s clearly another 400,000 people who have bothered to follow a news account on Instagram that we haven’t gotten yet.
So before we start thinking about like, massive world-changing ideas, I think we need to do a better job of getting to everyone and that includes hitting regional areas better and becoming more representative of the national population. I also think that we can do better work with high schools, so really just cementing our place. That’s the thing about youth media, that youth media companies often struggle to survive longer term and that’s not going to be us. We’re gonna be here for a while.
Clare Stephens: How many? This might be a stupid question… how many…?
Sam Koslowski: No such thing as a stupid question.
Clare Stephens: Yeah, that’s true. How many young Australians in your demo are there?
Sam Koslowski: About 5 million.
Clare Stephens: Okay, okay. So to be able to reach…
Zara Seidler: You could have said that, and I would have just not contested that. And said with such conviction.
Clare Stephens: You could have said, ’17 million’, and I would have been like…
Zara Seidler: And, and I would have been like, ‘Absolutely, that makes sense!’
Clare Stephens: Even though that’s bigger than the population of Australia.
Zara Seidler: But I just jumped in with that to say something: that from an editorial point of view, we’re thinking about is how can we expand the original reporting that you won’t see elsewhere that you come to The Daily Aus for.
And I think we say so often, that we’re talking to young people and I want to be able to tell their stories too and so a big focus when it comes to expansion and resourcing and hiring new journalists, is how can we start to exclusively break those stories that are going elsewhere or have gone elsewhere? Like I saw her climb up before, but Chanel Contos is in the audience and the next time she wants to break a national story, she’ll do it with us.
Clare Stephens: If she could come to The Daily Aus first, that would be really convenient.
Zara Seidler: Yeah, thank you Chanel. That would be great.
Clare Stephens: So somebody has asked, can you talk me through what a typical day looks like for you both? I would also love that.
Zara Seidler: Yes, so the alarm goes off at 6 and then shortly after, I start speaking to Billi about our newsletter that goes out at 7am every morning and we have lots of fun between the minutes of 6:50 and 6:59 where somehow most of our greatest thoughts happen.
Sam Koslowski: I’ll often message at 6:55 and say, “Is there anything I can do?”
Clare Stephens: “Just checking in, I’m just getting a coffee.”
Zara Seidler: Yeah, exactly. And then the kind of morning rush of podcasting and newsletter happens and then we all go into the office, five days a week which is quite rare. And I think it’s because we like each other’s company.
Clare Stephens: Yeah, nice.
Zara Seidler: And so, we’re a team of sixteen and we are all under the ages of 35, and a lot of the people that work with us are kind of in their first jobs in journalism, so we all shuffle into the office at various hours. And then have a pitch meeting at 9am where everyone in the room pitches to our editor.
And then, we’ll have an editor’s meeting where we will kind of assign everybody on the day what they’re doing. Everyone goes out tells their beautiful stories, things get edited, podcast scripts get written, newsletters get written. We try to make the money for the business and then, we do it all again the next day.
Clare Stephens: And is your day… Look if you’re more focused on the commercial side of the business, what are the differences there?
Sam Koslowski: Very different. So my alarm goes off, or my fiancé’s alarm goes off at 6:30, 6:26, 6:20, 6:25 and then yeah I’ll send my first texts to Zara and Billi at 6:15 to make sure everyone’s awake, alive and making sure everything’s fine.
And then yeah, from 9:00 till about 2:00, I’m in meetings. So whether meetings to work on audience growth, or partnerships or…
Zara Seidler: Tech.
Sam Koslowski: Tech, investor relations, just kind of making sure that the machine keeps running but I really love – I mean, I’m a journalist. I always think about myself as a journalist even though I’m not writing anything. I always join the pitch meeting because I love it and I just love hearing the news of the day so I keep in touch of that, and then I still do the podcast. And then my best work often gets done between like 9pm and 11pm.
Zara Seidler: Yeah, I just get a flurry of emails and like, oh, okay he sat down.
Sam Koslowski: Yeah, so I don’t know if this is a good thing or bad thing. But now Monty, my fiancé can now fully asleep with my laptop next to her. It’s just, it’s magic so yeah, I often will do some of my best work then and then yeah, do it all again.
Clare Stephens: With partnerships, are there any potential clients, potential brand partners you wouldn’t work with?
Sam Koslowski: Heaps.
Zara Seidler: Most. Yeah it happens, I mean the same argument is made for, you can go really quickly if you write really outrageous op-eds, you can also make lots of money really quickly if you partner with…
Sam Koslowski: Billions.
Zara Seidler: But we approach it the same way. You need to have trust. It needs to make sense and I think there’s been one time where we’ve gotten it wrong and that was just the angle of the campaign because… I won’t go into it but it was just not well executed by us but other times, we take such a serious and considered approach to how we choose who we work with.
Clare Stephens: And in terms of the pitch meetings and setting newsletter up for the morning, what is your media diet like? The moment you get up, where are you going to know what the news is for the day?
Zara Seidler: It’s radically changed recently because it used to be Twitter.
Clare Stephens: I know and now it’s such a weird place.
Zara Seidler: And now it’s such a cesspit of hate. So it used to be Twitter because that was something that brought everything together but I like to read the full spectrum of the news you know, we do have a political spectrum of news in this country.
So if you start at the very far left and then go to the very far right, you kind of understand what everyone’s talking about. I’m not a podcast person myself, I don’t listen to podcasts. I can’t concentrate so Sam will listen to a podcast the whole way into work but yeah, that’s not what I do.
Clare Stephens: I’m finding that’s how I absorb information now is via podcasts.
Sam Koslowski: Podcasts. I watch a lot of YouTube videos of news. Like I’ll go on CNN, YouTube, and just watch a couple of clips from their bulletins and just kind of absorb some of that.
Clare Stephens: Yep.
Sam Koslowski: Fox, I watch a lot of Fox.
Clare Stephens: Really?
Sam Koslowski: It’s really important. It’s really, really important. I love US politics and it’s really important to understand what those two truths are.
Clare Stephens: Wow, that’s really interesting.
Zara Seidler: Should we go to the lovely lady there.
Clare Stephens: Yes. Hi, what was your question?
Audience member 1: Hi Sam, I’m clearly not the demographic. I want to first of all know how you know who is subscribed to your newsletter, because I don’t think I’ve ever been asked and I really like what you’re doing for young people. I think it’s really important but are you equally interested in the oldies as well? And I’m wondering whether Sam, have you ever asked your dad what the best headline is?
Sam Koslowski: All the time.
Zara Seidler: We asked him everything, always.
Sam Koslowski: Yeah, he’s very good. He’s very good in a crisis so if we need to kind of, I don’t know, everything from response to another media outlet, writing a piece about us, to figure out a HR issue. He’s got a good level head.
Zara Seidler: And to the first question. I think we get this so often. It is the most often frequent message that we received, say “I know, I’m not in your target audience but XYZ”, and it’s something we’ve had long discussions about because the idea of alienating readers is not what we should be doing. We’re trying to make it as accessible as possible, but I think for us, the idea of saying that we are speaking to younger people is that I believe that traditional media underserves that demographic. And I think if you look at the media market in general, youth publishing in this country – it serves pop culture, it serves celebrity news.
Clare Stephens: Beauty, lifestyle.
Zara Seidler: It swears at you pretty often and it only provides progressive politics. And that is kind of the full spectrum and so for us, we don’t want to exclusively be speaking to young people but we want them to know that they can find a home in what we’re doing and that it is for them.
But my mum has gone to great lengths to tell me that she learns from it and I can always tell who she’s hanging out with because they’ll sign up to a newsletter or they’ll subscribe on Instagram so I know where she is and who she’s walking with.
Clare Stephens: Aww.
Zara Seidler: But I think that we want to serve that niche but we don’t want to exclusively serve them. And to the point of how we know, we have recently been undertaking different surveys to try and understand, so on Instagram you get that information and we know that we’re predominantly speaking to young women under the age of 35 so it’s 80% women and then our newsletter, we’re starting to ask more often the people that are engaging, who they are and what they want and that’s how we’re trying to understand it, but thank you for your support.
Audience member 2: Hi, hi. I was just wondering when you are reporting on things that require great depth knowledge, say for example, COVID especially in the early days, who do you go to get that knowledge because you are so focused on the in-depth sort of explanations of what’s going on? How do you actually get that knowledge to then pass on to your audience?
Zara Seidler: It’s a great question, and I think it varies on the topic. So the way that we’ve done it on economics is that instead of hiring a journalist, we hired an economist to write and so he does all of our political economy pieces and that’s been a really great way for us to know that we’ve got someone with a huge depth of knowledge that can also explain the way that people like us need to understand.
And then with a podcast, we will always ask an expert to come on. Yesterday or earlier in the week, there was an autism strategy that was released by the government for consultation and we spoke to an autistic Australian who had lived experience, was on the committee that was advising, and there was no way that I was going to speak to that with the same nuance in the same respect that he did, so I’m glad that we had that opportunity.
So calling on experts where possible but also, I think we don’t always need to be the experts either and that sometimes knowing that we are the audience and that we can explain it in the same way that they would be wanting to is really helpful.
Audience member 3: Hey. Okay so I have a question about more kind of the future of The Daily Aus. I’ve seen that a lot of smaller kind of journalism hubs get snatched like Pokemon from Murdoch.
Zara Seidler: Love it.
Audience member 3: Yeah literally, and like do you have that kind of fear that you will in the future become like, a Murdoch thing? Because as a young person, I subscribed to you guys because I was like, ‘Bro, that’s not Murdoch. That’s like, Independent.’ I can finally get like, non-biased stuff.
Zara Seidler: I am in fact not Rupert Murdoch.
Audience member 3: Thank you so much. Yeah, love you. But yeah, what’s kind of the future for that?
Sam Koslowski: Well yeah, I mean we’ve had a number of offers already for companies in the media to try and buy us and all that kind of thing but we’re nowhere near ready to even have that conversation. We think we can prove a way to make a sustainable media business that inevitably, the biggest change will probably happen when Zara and I get too old and we no longer resonate with 19-year-olds in our newsroom in which case, instead of selling the business and thinking about how to engage with the audience, we kind of want to just step back and hire great young people to do it and entice a whole new generation of young people to engage with the news. So yeah, but it’s scary. I mean, you see like Buzzfeed, VICE, Junkie…
Zara Seidler: All gone under in the last six months.
Sam Koslowski: It’s scary out there but I mean, you can share pages, you can buy books, there’s like different ways to support. See what I did there.
Zara Seidler: Yeah, it was excellent. So seamless.
Clare Stephens: So there’s actually ways to support us guys.
Zara Seidler: We will collapse without it.
Clare Stephens: We probably have time for one more question.
Audience member 4: Hey Zara and Sam, Clare. Thanks for tonight, it’s been awesome. My question is to do with how do you find a balance between taking the advice from industry mentors or your media education and trusted people who kind of know what they’re doing in this space, versus sticking to what you know is the right thing to do and the kind of new way that you want to take news for young people?
Zara Seidler: That’s the best question ever, I love that.
Sam Koslowski: Love it. Well I think we’ve found people in the media industry who believe in change and so, it wouldn’t make much sense for us to be going to somebody who believed in the established ways of doing things for advice. And those people, don’t come to us interested in supporting our work either and they let us know how shit we are.
So in fact, there’s quite a divide in media about our place in the Australian media landscape and we’ve been called everything from ‘KFC for news’ to ‘Those kids on TikTok’, like those people can hitch a ride and we’ll see you later but the ones that really support change and know that the mission has stayed the same which is quality journalism. Their experiences are invaluable, and I find that when I’m going to them with ideas, they’ll often say things like, ‘Well, what is your audience then?’
Zara Seidler: Going back to what the audience would want and think. And I think the other thing is having a co-founder. I think that if it was just me having to talk to, you know big dogs in the industry who were telling us we’re doing something wrong, I wouldn’t trust my gut.
Who am I?, I have no idea but because we have each other and there’s power in numbers. I think that, that is a far better way to navigate that kind of middle ground between trusting our gut. We also have never done this before so there are people that know much, much more than us.
Sam Koslowski: Yeah.
Zara Seidler: But having each other and knowing that we will just do whatever we both believe is right. I think has been most helpful way to navigate that.
Sam Koslowski: And this is all an experiment. I mean, we might turn around three years ago and go, “You know what, that didn’t work and the only way to do media for young people is to get them to pay 30 bucks a month and write really high quality journalism for a small group of young people, and this might all totally fail”, and I think having that outlook takes a little bit of pressure off as well. Those media investors, and mentors and everything, they also might be wrong...They’re not going to be wrong.
Zara Seidler: What a note to end on. Just an air of positivity to end on. Thank you for your question, though.
Clare Stephens: No, I think you know you’re doing something right when people get frustrated with you. I think that’s always… you know you’re doing something right. So thank you so much Sam and Zara for tonight, and congratulations on the book already a bestseller and that is not an easy achievement and I don’t know when you found time to write a book while running a business.
Zara Seidler: We just nearly killed each other but that’s okay.
Clare Stephens: Yeah, that’s okay. And so thank you so much for your time and you’ll both be signing books.
Zara Seidler: We will.
Clare Stephens: So anybody who wants to buy a copy, get a signed copy. I’ve read it, it’s incredible. Buy it!
Zara Seidler: And to Clare, because no one ever thanks the person that’s just sitting here – about to give birth and also had a flat tire today.
Clare Stephens: I just had a bad day.
Zara Seidler: So thank you for taking the time to think deeply about what you’re asking us, it makes such a difference. So thank you to Clare too.
Clare Stephens: Very, very easy to ask interesting questions about The Daily Aus.
UNSW Centre for Ideas: Thanks for listening. For more information, visit centreforideas.com and don’t forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Zara Seidler, Sam Koslowski and Clare Stephens
Zara Seidler, Sam Koslowski and Clare Stephens
Sam Koslowski and Zara Seidler
Sam Koslowski (UNSW graduate) and Zara Seidler are the co-founders of The Daily Aus. In only a few years, Sam and Zara have built a massive social media audience, two chart-topping podcasts, and successful newsletter and video channels in one of the hardest industries to crack – the news. After starting with a vision to bring their friends up to speed with the news, the pair became known for breaking down the complex ideas that sit behind current affairs with simplicity, respect and honesty. Now, they run the fastest-growing youth news company in Australia. They are business leaders, journalists, presenters and commentators, speaking to over a million young Australians every month across social accounts, newsletters and podcasts. In 2022, Zara and Sam were listed in the Forbes 30 Under 30. It’s a unique start-up story still unfolding.
Clare Stephens is a Sydney-based digital content creator, screenwriter, editor and podcaster. She’s the former editor-in-chief at Mamamia – Australia’s largest independent women’s network. Now an executive editor, she hosts the comedy podcast Cancelled, which regularly tops Australia’s comedy charts and was in the top 10 Listener’s Choice shows at the 2022 Australian Podcast Awards. In 2023 she launched the podcast But, Are You Happy? which debuted at number one. She is a writer and producer on the upcoming Binge series Strife and is currently writing her first novel, The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done, with Atlantic Books.