The CMO Show:
Paul Hamra on editorial independence

We talk to Paul Hamra, managing director of The New Daily about the bold experiment that led to the creation of a completely independent news publisher as a marketing platform, and the state of media trust in Australia.

In great content marketing, a brand’s message and its authentic, engaging story go hand-in-hand – but often, the two exist at opposite ends of a spectrum, challenging marketers to find the perfect balance.

Founded with the financial backing of the Industry SuperFunds network in 2013, The New Daily is a bold experiment in story-first content marketing – a national news publication with complete editorial independence from its backers.

“The fund owners all started with the same question: how could they engage with their members on a regular basis?” says Paula Hamra, managing director of The New Daily and the company that publishes it: Solstice Media.  

“The answer was news; news is probably the most irresistible engagement tool that there is because you come back every day to find out what’s new and what’s happening in the world.”

Taking a “sliver of their collective advertising budget”, the funds launched The New Daily, a digital publication whose content would be engaging and independent, but whose advertising space would be provided free to the funds (The New Daily also sells space to third-party advertisers).

The publication operates on the schedule of a traditional newspaper, publishing a morning and evening edition online, as well as via eNewsletters. These are distributed by the super funds themselves, with each contributing fund receiving a version customised with their contribution highlighted in the masthead, as well as their own advertising spots.

To guarantee the integrity of the publication in the eyes of their members, the backers co-wrote an editorial charter with Solstice Media, giving The New Daily the freedom to engage with any issues of its choosing, including those sensitive to its backers.

“If you go to our site and look up royal commission, then you will see us getting stuck into the royal commission and the super funds’ performance at the royal commission in the same way we would the banks. Independence in our reporting is really important,” says Paul.

For more insights into the challenging world of News Marketing, check out our interview with the ABC’s Leisa Bacon.

He also says that it’s important to continue building on The New Daily’s reputation as a reliable, independent news source by investing in important stories that don’t necessarily attract the most clicks.

“Having reporters covering the news is one thing, but having meaningful impactful journalism that do leave footprints and win awards and make a difference and have an impact, I think that’s really what our focus will be over the next 12 to 24 months.”

On this week’s podcast, Mark chats with Paul about the power of independent news, trust in storytelling, the challenges of community management and how emerging technologies will change the news.

Resources

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The CMO Show production team

Producer – Charlotte Goodwin

Audio Engineers – Daniel Marr & Tom Henderson

Got an idea for an upcoming episode or want to be a guest on The CMO Show? We’d love to hear from you: cmoshow@filteredmedia.com.au.

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Transcript

Hosts: Mark Jones

Guest: Paul Hamra

Mark Jones:  Joe Polizzi became world famous as the founder of the Content Marketing Institute and became known as the Godfather of content marketing. Here is a great quote from Joe; “Mediocre content will hurt your brand more than doing nothing at all.” So my question is, what are you doing? Is it good or are you doing nothing at all?

Mark Jones:  Hello and thanks for joining me on the CMO Show. My name is Mark Jones and I am your host. Of course, many of you who love The CMO Show will know that Nicole Manktelow was my co-host for quite some time and we loved having her doing the show with me. This is my first solo episode since she has moved on and look, it’s great to be with you once again. We have a really interesting conversation today with Paul Hamra.

Mark Jones:  Paul is the publisher of The New Daily and you may know this is one of the newest entrants to independent national media here in Australia. I met Paul at an awards night as things go and we got chatting about all things media. I really wanted to tease out, what does it take to start a new independent publication in Australia. How did it all come together? What lessons could you learn if you were to be as bold/crazy as he and his team are or were. Also then, how does it apply to this whole current environment where we’re in, talking about brand storytelling and how brands can create their own content platforms. That’s the starting point of my interview with Paul Let’s hear what he’s got to say.

Mark Jones: Welcome to the CMO Show, our very special guest today is Paul Hamra, publisher at the New Daily,

Paul Hamra: Thank you great to be here.

Mark Jones:  It’s our pleasure. I’ve got to say I’ve been reading the New Daily ever since that came out, so I don’t know if that makes me old school, but if we can start at the beginning, one of the first things that really struck me about the New Daily about the new media player in Australia is that it had a unique foundation if you like. There was three superannuation funds that came together as I understand it, put about $2 million into the pot each to kickstart this new publication. Quite a unique approach, an interesting way to do it. Tell us about the story. How did this whole thing come about?

Paul Hamra:  It is an unusual story because not many new media start up these days, mass media start up these days and it really came through a conversation between a guy called Gary Weaven who’s kind of considered the Godfather of the superannuation industry and our editorial director, a guy by the name of Bruce Guthrie whose very well known in Melbourne. He was the editor of the Herald’s Sun, and The Age and worked on The Australian a number of newspapers and well known. Most recently well known because he sued Rupert Murdoch and won and wrote a book called Man Bites Murdoch.

Mark Jones: I gotta say, sued Rupert Murdoch and got away with it?

Paul Hamra:  Sued Robert Murdoch and got away with it and won. And I think that’s why the superannuation industry kind of ran Bruce initially because he was someone who was prepared to have a go and stand up against other media, try something new and kind of be brave. They approached Bruce and Bruce said, look, I think they originally approached him to say we want to start up a newspaper and we want to set up a newspaper to deliver to our members. He just said, this is a different time you’re crazy to do that. What you can do is start up a digital news site and send that to your members in a digital format rather than a printed one. They liked that idea and they got some investment into that idea which was the three funds that you’re talking about originally because Gary Weaven represents 29 funds and he got three of them to give funds to fund it.

Paul Hamra: That’s how it got started. The way that I then got involved was that Bruce was good friends with a guy called Eric Beecher, who’s another well known publisher and Eric is our chairman. He said, look I think the way to do the New Daily is modelled on a product that you do in Adelaide called In Daily. In Daily has been going for about 15 years, it’s an email newsletter that goes out everyday and it’s a news service for Adelaide and South Australia. He said, this is a great prototype to use for the New Daily. That’s kind of how it all came to pass and that’s how the story started.

Mark Jones: Your background is interesting too, right? So you’ve been in PR and your own organisations, so how did you come into it from that perspective? That’s also not something we see every day.

Paul Hamra: God, that’s a whole other story.

Mark Jones: We’re going back in time.

Paul Hamra: I began life as a journalist, when I was 25 I started up a PR company which ended up being a national PR company called Hamra Management. Then that was acquired by Young and Rubicon in 2000. Young and Rubicon, we folded the PR business which was, had offices in every state, had folded into the YNR network. Then basically after that, I left and thought what am I gonna do? Adelaide really needs another voice and so why don’t we start up a newspaper.

Paul Hamra:  So in 2004, we launched the Independent Weekly newspaper and the best way to describe it is, it was a little bit like the Saturday paper. It came out on the weekends. It was news, business, arts and culture, very strong on politics. It had a circulation of about 20,000 and it was doing really well under Mary Beecher came into my life and said, this is a really great product, I think it will be a great test case to turn to digital. So we turned the independent weekly into In Daily and that’s how we got to where we are.

Mark Jones:  Presumably, a lot of that experience would have helped you from a business point of view, from understanding more of those broader dynamics from an entrepreneurial perspective, how to build, create and sell. How to map a strategy against an execution plan. All that sort of stuff that we come to see from start ups. But, it’s interesting to me that both yourself and the superannuation funds started thinking about print first. And then had a similar realisation.

Paul Hamra: I think it was just, it was a bit of a moment in time, print was still a thing, it was coming to an end in that form, but it was still definitely a thing and I think there is a perception in people’s mind that print still has greater credibility than online. I think there’s a transition that we’re in the middle of and it’s all to do with content and so, that’s why, particularly in South Australia we need to invest in content because content is the glue that keeps people wanting to come back to the product. In print, you do actually have something that people can pick up, online you don’t. So you need the content to be the pickabable sort of element.

Mark Jones: Yes, that’s right. It’s tangible. It gives you the feeling of an actual product. Just going back to the super funds and those early days and maybe mapping it to now, was the idea that these initial companies would ostensibly own the advertising real estate space for this? Or was it more like what we see in content marketing where it becomes an owned brand, an owned channel by those organisations?

Paul Hamra: It was really the, when we set it up, it was set up as a media company whereby it would have sell advertising. We had an advertising, or do have an advertising department that sells advertising onto the site. That helps fund the product and so it was very much, you’ve got to think of it like the super funds are the investors or the owners. So, in much the same way that other companies own, or owners, financial companies own media companies, they don’t get involved in the day to day, but the organisations that wanted to, take a risk in setting up the media business.

Mark Jones: What was the appeal beyond just we want to do a publication. What was the outcome they are expecting? Obviously there are plenty of other media platforms out there that they could advertise with?

Paul Hamra:Yeah, as you know, collectively they’re a big advertiser. If you took a sliver of their advertising budget and said, let’s try and create our own channel to our members, you know, what would that look like? That’s why they did it because it started as an engagement tool. If you’re a member of the super fund, if you’re a member of Australian Super for example, you get your statement once a year and usually you don’t read it, particularly if you’re younger you don’t read it. So, that’s your engagement with your super fund.

Mark Jones:   I’ve got a Super Fund, question mark?

Paul Hamra: Exactly, what is this letter.

Mark Jones:  How do you people know where I live.

Paul Hamra: That it is kind of it. Then all of a sudden, if you’re thinking about okay, how would you engage with people on a regular basis? Really, news. News is probably the most irresistible engagement tool that there is because you come back every day to find out what’s new and what’s happening in the world. So, they agreed to say let’s create this engagement tool that we can advertise in about our individual funds. Let’s have totally hands off anything to do with editorial. Let’s create an independent news service.

Mark Jones:  Did that come from them or was it, if you like, what you’d stipulated?

Paul Hamra: No, that definitely came from them, though we wouldn’t have got the people involved in starting this up if we didn’t take that approach because journalists want to work for independent media organisations.

Mark Jones:  Of course.

Paul Hamra:  That has been fundamental to our recruitment, however, it’s probably fair to say that it was their idea. They said, it’s got to be independent and together we wrote a charter, an editorial charter of independence which dictates the way we operate so that we don’t, if we have to write something bad about the royal commission, we write it. If you go to our site and look up royal commission then you will see us getting stuck into the royal commission, the super funds performance at the royal commission in the same way we would the banks. Independence in our reporting is really important.

Mark Jones: Even for the individual investors?

Paul Hamra: Yeah, right, absolutely. We had a story the other day about tobacco investment of the individual superfunds and we rated them and who were still investing in tobacco and why and some of them were our owners.

Mark Jones:  Okay, and they’re fine with that?

Paul Hamra: Yeah, I think everyone understands that there’s going to be good and bad in media. You’ve got to tell the truth and it’s only going to have any impact and it’s only gonna be a trusted source of news if we do tell the truth, which is what, everyone’s on the same page on that.

Mark Jones: Okay.

Paul Hamra: They don’t want it to be a PR sheet. They want it to actually be a trusted source of news so that they can give their members and then in that they will advertise their specific messages.

Mark Jones: Which raises a good point. Are they amplifying your content through their owned channels, newsletters for example and other things?

Paul Hamra: Some are. Some are taking a feed and running it through their app. Some, I think running an RSS feed on their websites. So, yes to a lesser extent, but they know that the main source of distribution is really through our email distribution every day. The thing about that is it’s individually tailored to each individual fund.

Mark Jones: Okay how does that work?

Paul Hamra:  So, through the platform we use we can, you’re a member of Australian super, you will receive an email, you’ll receive the New Daily email in the morning and in the afternoon. The a.m. and the p.m. edition. You will have it branded at the top, this is brought to you by Australian super.

Mark Jones: Got it. Okay.

Paul Hamra:  But if you’re a member of Hesta, it will be brought to you by Hesta.

Mark Jones:  Got it.

Paul Hamra: So, in the ad slots that they have the rights to, they can put their own branded messaging.

Mark Jones:  So, really that’s where the value is coming out. Every single day you’ve got this touchpoint and they can manage and track that and look at how it flows through to their websites and so forth?

Paul Hamra:  Absolutely.

Mark Jones:  Right. I mean I’ll keep pushing on this because it’s quite unique, right. It takes a bit of courage to do. But it seems like, is this a cake and eat it story? We’ve ostensibly got this content marketing vehicle through that email platform in addition to a completely independent public site.

Paul Hamra:  Yeah. I’m glad you said it.

Mark Jones:  The journalist in me says, where’s the catch? What’s the, is there a compromise anywhere?

Paul Hamra: Everyone’s looking for new models to fund journalism and I think you need an organisation like the super fund movement that’s big enough and has its own charter to build the country. So it invests people’s super into building the country and building assets and making Australia, building infrastructure projects. In a funny sort of way, this fits that mould. This is actually building something. It’s building an additional news service. There’s not many organisations that can take that mantle.

Mark Jones: Okay.

Paul Hamra: If you think about it, you know. So they are in a position to do it. They’re gonna do it, but the catch for us is, how do we make it relevant to the funds? The very balance that we are able to create is let’s have this independent news service, let’s make sure that it’s trusted because members will value that. They won’t value it if it’s just advice from this super fund.

Mark Jones: Yeah, it’s got to have credibility.

Paul Hamra:  It’s got to have credibility. It’s gotta be independent. We’ve got to tell the good and the bad. We do that, but the method of distribution gives the owner the opportunity to incorporate their message.

Mark Jones:   So, it’s a bit like the white label model, right?

Paul Hamra:  It is a bit.

Mark Jones:  In the newsletter sense. How have you looked at the other channels? So the app and the website, how do you structure those?

Paul Hamra: The website is growing as our brand grows. We’re just celebrating our fifth year, just last week.

Mark Jones:  Congratulations.

Paul Hamra:  on the 13th of November. We had a five-year birthday celebration so that is very young in terms of other media brands. We sit in the top 20 Nielsen rankings and if you look around us in the rankings, all of the other brands are very well established and international and Australian, but well known. So, in terms of building our web traffic, we have to build our brand. That’s just happening over time and we’ve seen more and more people coming to our site for their news and bypassing the email. It’s fair to say that email is our core strategy and we don’t invest a lot into social because then we’re up against everyone else. We’ve got 1.2 million on our email database, so it’s a pretty important channel for us to get right and to manage properly for our readers. Social, we’re up against everyone. Brand we want to build so that people think to come to our site.

Mark Jones:  So presumably advertisers of any type can look at the other channels except for email. Is that the way it works?

Paul Hamra:  No, they can because there is a large percentage of those that aren’t identified as being associated with the fund. So advertisers can advertise on that particular email group. That’s just our general list that can advertise on that, but really the majority of our advertising does come from our website.

Mark Jones:  It’s really fascinating to hear the mechanics of how you make this happen and I think, as I said, we’ve been trying different models for quite some time. Where do you see this going? Is the model set or is there evolution? I guess specifically, we see all sorts of spin offs like events, podcasts, who knows? What are you thinking about?

Paul Hamra:   I think it will be a matter of refinement. I think the key thing to ask is, as we want to get to a younger audience, do they read email?

Mark Jones:  Correct.

Paul Hamra:  How do you message a younger audience. So, I think we’ll be looking at things like Messenger. And ways to notify our audience that our content’s been posted as opposed to, as I said, focusing on social because I think we’re in the ruck with everyone else there, whereas probably our channel for distribution, we will keep on refining. In terms of the product itself, I think we need to create our own journalism footprint. I think it’s easy to, well, it’s not easy to follow the news is the news cycle. Having reporters covering the news is one thing, but having meaningful impactful journalism that do leave footprints and win awards and make a difference and have an impact, I think that’s really what our focus will be over the next 12 to 24 months.

Mark Jones:  To look to drive the news agenda as opposed to follow it?

Paul Hamra: Yeah. I think our audience will reach a critical mass where we can actually drive an agenda. We will, if we keep growing at the rate we’re growing, in 24 months time our audience will be as big as anyone else’s. We will be able to drive our own agenda.

Mark Jones:  Which is a good segue to ask the most obvious global news question which is the lack of trust in certain countries, namely North America, when it comes to media organisations. Is that translating into Australian audiences? Or is it a US thing only?

Paul Hamra: I think you need to look, our media are trusted here in Australia, because we do a very good job and there’s only a small group of us. Whereas, I think once you foray into social media, then you see a lot of things come through your feed, some of it is garbage, some of it’s good quality. A lot of people don’t know how to decipher between the two.

Mark Jones: Right.

Paul Hamra:  I think there’s been a lot of work and effort being put in by the social media platforms to actually try and clean up that process and make sure that people that are posting fake news or trash news, is actually not on their platforms. It’s really, to me that is a social media thing. If you go and buy anyone’s publication or subscribe to anyone’s publication, you’re pretty much gonna get quality. But, once it’s actually fed to you in a feed, in another platform, cherry picked, and posted based on an algorithm of your likes, then I think you are in a danger zone.

Mark Jones: So it’s that community management piece that’s always been quite tricky to get your head around and to set rules in place. The interesting thing about the web as a platform is going back in the day with, when blogs fist popped on the scene, we saw a lot of that sort of traffic within the comment streams. It seems to have tailed with the exception of a couple of sites that you do see depending on the issue, quite a lot of comments on the threads. News and Fairfax both have that capability, so to some extent we do still see that right? I guess how do you see that community piece being managed regardless of the platform?

Paul Hamra:  Well, the thing that people forget is that comments need to be moderated and regulated. So it’s a resource. It’s the same sort of resourcing that you put into journalism. You have to put into moderation. I think you will find that people will, in the future, have to be qualified and registered to be able to comment within that community. There is good information in those threads, but you need to be, it’s a real skill to be able to make it work. So where is that going in the future? Look, I think it wouldn’t, you will notice now that a lot of comments are turned off very quickly. Or they’re closed after a short period of time and that would be because of the volume on a particular topic is too difficult to resource.

Mark Jones: Yep. You just give it a number of hours and then you’re done.

Paul Hamra:  That’s right.

Mark Jones:  So, it’s fascinating to think about how media is changing. Is there one thing else, if you like, from a more broader perspective, is there one thing you think will change media in the future as a publisher? What’s perhaps existential threats or disruption? Is there something else that you’re pondering about as you and the team plan what’s next?

Mark Jones:  One thing that comes to mind for me is AI, I saw this in China, there’s a news reader, right, that just popped up recently. A fully automated “robot”, AI bot they can just feed this thing constant news and it never goes to sleep.

Paul Hamra:  I remember watching Lost In Space and that was set in apparently it was, what was it, it was 1998.

Mark Jones:  Yeah.

Paul Hamra:  I don’t know if you ever watched that show, but if you go back and look at some of the things that were on it, it was like they had, they used to put coffee in a microwave and they used to put their clothes in an air dryer on the spaceship and that’s how they imagined 1998 would be. It actually kind of turned out that way.

Paul Hamra: So now, every time that you look at things like, futuristic things like that and you think, that will never happen.

Mark Jones:  Inevitably it does.

Paul Hamra:  Inevitably it does. So you do see these strange things and you think, well, you know what, it probably will happen. The one thing that I’m kind of intrigued about is voice.

Mark Jones:   Yes.

Paul Hamra:  I think that voice will actually, can very easily play a much bigger part in news media to give you explainers and to give you background information and context to particular stories. I think we will start to see ways in which you’ll be able to press a button, click on something that will give you a very concise background to a, whether it’s a political situation or a piece of legislation or a historical incident. It will put it all into context very quickly and that will really change news media. If the voice gets properly integrated into digital news media. I think that will have a really big impact. That’s something that we’re interested in looking at.

Mark Jones: Presumably that would come out of Google and Apple and Amazon and so forth right, where they would pass your information and contextualise it. So, the question then, if you like to start rounding it out is what advice do you have for marketers and communication professionals. People who are thinking about, how can I better engage my members or my customer and I’ve got owned channels. I’ve got some shared, I’ve got social, all these different things in place. What should they be factoring in, based on your experience?

Paul Hamra:  Well, I suppose my experience is really around news media. I would like key elements and I think there’s, a kind of underlying elements for any sort of customer engagement is loyalty and trust. So I think the great thing about news is it is a trusted medium. So, sure there’s been commentary around the edges and there is some untrusted news in the market, but on a whole, News is a place you can go to to trust. It’s an environment of trust. If it’s watching TV news at night, or listening to news on the radio on the way into work or a podcast or digital news, you’re actually in an entrusted environment. You can rely on the information that you’re receiving.

Paul Hamra: I’m not sure how you actually get that. As a marketer you get it because you can see other marketers, like ANZ is a good example with the creation of their Bluenotes. Other marketers will try and create content and news in the form of something independent and trustworthy, but it’s invariably not. You’re probably best trying to create independent news content and associating yourself with it rather than trying to be part of the story.

Mark Jones:  Interesting. Because there’s been a, for quite some reviews now, the push to create branded content platforms and I’ll declare my interest here, which is of course we help customers do that, brands do that.

Mark Jones:  I mean at Filtered Media, we help brands do that and we do that every day in fact.

Mark Jones:  But there’s also a conversation about when the story is more important than the content brand itself. So, thinking more story-centric versus content brand centric, like a publication. So, in other words, where should this story best be told? Is it something that should be out in the independent media or is it something that should be on social, or should it be video? Should it be a doco, all that kind of thing. That’s the conversation I’m coming up against.

Paul Hamra:  There is absolutely a role for branded content and the growth of it worldwide is a good thing because in a funny sort of way it’s kind of building the category back to content which is good. News is just a different beast and you’ve really got to invest and this is why media companies are struggling because we actually have to invest in things that don’t have an instant outcome. You might be paying journalists for three weeks to produce something, one story, that doesn’t get a big audience, but it’s very important for your brand. That’s the investment that you make in journalism, which is part of your brand and I just, there’s a difference, but it’s one pie and our slice of the pie is the independent news media, your slice of the pie is content and information, which is funded, branded.

Mark Jones:   Right and certainly less rapid. It certainly doesn’t have the same turnaround as a daily news cycle so it actually does serve a different function. I think, just in closing, the Fairfax and Channel Nine merger, which at the time of recording, this has been approved by shareholders. It does amplify this idea about how important it is to have a consistent message across all your channels. You’ve now got TV, online and print properties and radio, all ostensibly within one organisation. Perhaps it’s kind of symbolic of what we’ve seen in marketing for quite some time which is trying to get a better way of tying it in together. What are your views on how you see that playing out? Is it something that, will it work?

Paul Hamra:  That’s a really, really tough and timely question. We come from the view that we don’t like it because we think it’s going to reduce the number of voices in Australia, we’re all for more voices. So, we’d like to see more individual companies sprout. I hope they keep their brand very different because I think that’s what everyone is fearful of, aren’t they? Like the Sydney Morning Herald folding into the Today Show and they seem two completely different types of publications with different audiences. If it was me, if I was Hugh Marks, I would be trying to make them as different as possible, owned by the same company, but as different as possible.

Mark Jones:  That’s actually a really good point if you think about the brand identity of each one and the feelings that we have. The salience, the resonance each brand has is different and distinct and so there will be an inevitable change that happens over time.

Paul Hamra:  Yeah, let’s hope that they don’t try and melt it all into one pot. Let’s hope that they really try and tease it out and celebrate their differences.

Mark Jones:   I couldn’t agree more. Well Paul Hamra thank you so much for joining us on The CMO Show. I really appreciate our honest insights into the beginning, middle and I think future stages of the New Daily. I’m a reader, I enjoy it and I do wish you all the best.

Paul Hamra:   Great. Well I hope there’s a lot more readers to come from the show. Anyone can go online at the Newdaily.com.au and sign up and have a look.

Mark Jones: Thanks very much.

Paul Hamra:   Thank you

Mark Jones:  So, I hope you enjoyed the interview with Paul. I’ve got to say, I’m really interested in the voice thing, maybe it’s because this is a podcast and I love voice and audio, but how AI in particular will reshape voice and how written content gets converted, if you like, for want of a better term in the AI world and what that will do for me, both for media that we produce from a brand perspective, but also from a national media perspective. We’re seeing of course all the major platforms with their audio devices in our homes and so that’s a pretty interesting thing.

Mark Jones: Also, the idea of how do you maintain independence as a publisher when you’ve also got these corporate backers, these owners who tipped many millions of dollars into your enterprise. I think being able to walk that is a very fine line. I hope you took out some great nuggets of information from the CMO Show and as we always say, do subscribe and tell your friends and make sure that you spread the word. We’ve been really encouraged by the feedback we get every week. Keep your pitches rolling in. If there’s somebody you think we should speak to here at the CMO Show, do send us a note at hello@filteredmedia.com.au and pitch it up. Love to hear from other marketers and entrepreneurs who are changing the future of brand storytelling.

Mark Jones:So that’s it this week from us at the CMO Show. My team behind me, Charlotte and Tom and Dylan and others. Wishing you all the very best and we will speak to you next time.

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