Dramatic title but I’ve got your attention haven’t I?
I was the managing editor of Zela, SBS’s website dedicated to women in sport. I’ve listened to the full account of Michael Ebeid’s (managing director, SBS) address to the senate estimates committee in relation to the site and SBS’s decision to discontinue with the project after 7 months, pulling the plug 2 days before the beginning of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
I believe he was briefed poorly about this issue and some of his comments were untrue and undermine the fantastic work I and #TeamZela delivered on the site.
In addition, his comments imply (unintentionally, I hope) that a women’s sport website is not viable or sustainable. I can’t let that one slide.
— Danielle Warby (@DanielleWarby) October 18, 2016
Here are some of the comments made by Mr. Ebeid and my responses.
“There was no funding allocated to Zela”
There was funding allocated to Zela – approximately $125,000. It was obtained through an in-house “shark tank” style process and given to the sports department to set up and run the site for 6 months. We stretched it to 8.
That funding has since been exhausted.
“The sports team all contribute to that page [Zela]”
Not quite true.
To their credit, the sports team realised they could not run a women’s sport site with their in-house resources and once they received their funding, they hired me as managing editor.
I was the person responsible for the site, setting the editorial direction and building the team to work on the site. In essence, I was ‘in’ the sports team working within the sport department but effectively had a free rein (with a few arguments! No SBS, sex does not sell women’s sport) and developed Zela‘s content strategy in line with the SBS Charter.
I built my team from casuals and freelances outside of SBS. Two of those casuals were already employed (also as casuals) within sport but they were paid for the work they did on Zela out of my budget.
When my contract ended, effectively Zela ended.
Mr Ebeid is correct in saying the site has not been updated since August. On my last day I organised to Zela homepage to best display the content I was most proud of. It’s all still there (for now!) you should check it out.
No one at SBS now works on women’s sport specifically or on Zela.
“The Zela page isn’t getting a lot of traffic”
This one is true now but ignores the traffic we were getting when we were up and running.
On the 2nd August, just a few days before the start of the Rio Olympics, I was told that SBS will no longer be funding Zela and my contract would end on the 2nd of September.
Content was published irregularly to the site though the Olympics, to honour commissions I had already made for stories during that period, but we were effectively coasting and winding down during the Games. This is the time we should have been building our audience, nothing like leveraging an event to boost those ever important pageviews.
If Mr Ebeid looked at the site this week, in truth, he would not have seen any traffic. No one has published any content to the site since I left and no one has promoted any of the existing content.
However, if he’d looked at the data from when I was running Zela, he would have seen that in May we hit 138,473 page views for that month. We averaged 75,000 views per month from January to August and the site showed a consistent, upward trend in numbers.
— Danielle Warby (@DanielleWarby) October 19, 2016
“We want to have all the articles we do for women’s sport but have it in our regular sports page”. “We’re still covering the topics, the stories, the issues”
Two issues here:
- SBS doesn’t have a regular sports page. They have a page where sport news from the wire is published. This is not original content and comes directly from Reuters or AAP. As to women in sport content on that page? You’d be lucky to have even 5% of these stories be about women and even less on Australian women.
- “All the articles we do for women’s sport”… um, what articles Michael? “We’re still covering the topics, the stories, the issues”. No, they’re not. There is the occasional piece like this in Comedy and the wire feed in ‘news’ as mentioned above. Also, the occasional piece on SBS News (TV) may be turned into a news article on the site. It’s not enough. There’s not even 1 story a day coming out of SBS about women’s sport at the moment.
“[Zela is] just a web page that aggregates stories”
Just, just?! Ok, this is just plain rude. And where Mr Ebeid was clearly very poorly briefed.
Zela was most definitely not a content aggregator. I was publishing 6-8 articles a day of completely original content. We broke news (15,178 pageviews) and landed exclusive interviews (26,241 pageviews).
A couple of my faves:
- Why I now stand with Caster Semenya (12,684 pageviews)
- 5 good reasons why women in sport don’t deserve equal pay (13,401 pageviews)
Perhaps something was lost in translation here? Zela did syndicate plenty of women’s sport content from some of the amazing women already publishing to their own websites.
- Ann Odong at The Women’s Game
- Mary Konstantopoulos at Ladies Who League
- Alison Smirnoff at Change Her Game
- Stef Hanson at Witsup
“By limiting your women’s sport stories to one area, you’re reducing your audience”
Not true. Analytics show the 2nd most visited page on the site was the home page. Proving that having a destination for women in sport content is vital, at least for now.
The failing was in the distribution and cross promotion of the content.
When Zela’s content was shared to SBS’s existing, larger audiences, it did well. Like this exclusive interview with Alen Stajcic shared by The World Game (26,241 pageviews).
Mr Ebeid is right in saying that women’s sport content should appear in other areas of the website. Pieces from Zela rarely featured on the SBS home page, were rarely featured and promoted by other verticals, the main SBS social media channels or the SBS email newsletter. Despite many attempts on my part, it was impossible to set up processes within SBS for adequate and consistent content distribution. Every time I wanted a piece of content shared, I had to ask for it. My colleagues did what they could but we are all too aware that it could be our site or our job that is the next to be cut.
So, what now?
There was a lot of goodwill toward Zela from inside the organisation, everyone wanted it to succeed but it takes more than goodwill. A lack of strategy, structure and internal process around content management hampered the running of Zela and did not enable us to reach our full potential. In addition, the focus on metrics over the SBS Charter is a dangerous path to walk and damaging to the SBS brand and mission.
SBS were on the right track with Zela and Zela operated in line with the Charter. Personally, I think it should continue with a full time editor / content manager, full time social reporter and a budget for freelancers. This could be done on $250,000 a year comfortably.
If not at SBS, then maybe somewhere else? I know a good editor with a crack team ready to go…
Full video of the exchange between Senator Sam Dastyari and Michael Ebeid
- Read the transcript (search for ‘Zela’ to get to the relevant section)