Community newspapers tend to have a very loyal readership, but what about loyalty from advertisers? Many community newspapers are now fighting with metropolitan dailies and glossy magazines for readers and advertisers, and this can erode the local paper’s monetary and content base, with some publications willing to steal stories and advertisers to get ahead in the market.
Covering 4,660 square kilometres, the Shoalhaven region of NSW is a very large local government area, boosted by sea-changers who want to get out of the city. The region’s population stands at just over 90,000 with an annual migration rate of 2.1 per cent. Residents and tourists have their choice of printed media: the metropolitan dailies, paid regional newspaper Illawarra Mercury, paid community papers South Coast Register and Milton Ulladulla Times, free communities Nowra News, Kangaroo Valley Voice, Berry Town Crier and Sussex Inletter and glossy magazines South Coast Style (paid) and South Coast Leisure Times (free).
Finding the Right Niche
Milton Ulladulla Times has a circulation of around 6,000 and readership of 18,000. Editor Anne Duffy said there were two distinct markets in Shoalhaven – residents and tourists – and there were publications tailored for each.
“Tourism is the number one money spinner and we do Christmas and Easter holiday guides in the paper,” Ms Duffy said.
“I do think people in our region are news hungry. We have good readership and a strong circulation.
“Our area has lots of retirees and young families so our readership is quite broad. We’d love to attract more young readers and have a cadet who does young stuff.”
Milton Ulladulla Publications, which is owned by Rural Press, publishes both the Milton Ulladulla Times and South Coast Leisure Times. The magazine is distributed to tourism-related businesses.
Ms Duffy said the arrival of South Coast Style had an effect on her publication and staff had to work harder for advertisers, but the free community publications have made no major difference. South Coast Style is published bi-monthly and distributed between Wollongong and Eden. It covers people, homes, food and tourism, with a circulation of 4422 and readership of 6799.
“They do have an affect on advertising in our paper and it does erode part of our advertising base,” she said.
“We just have to be more creative and do different things, like features or something to boost sales.”
One of the Times’ successful campaigns was ‘July’s Jumping’, where the paper gave away $20,000 cash to readers a few years ago. Since then staff have fiddled with the concept and developed ‘Dulla Dollars’ where cash prizes between $1000 and $15,000, redeemable at local businesses, are given away.
“Advertisers were happy to be involved because they got something back through our coverage and the money stays here. You have to think outside,” Ms Duffy said.
When the Sussex Community Technical Centre (CTC) introduced the Inletter in October 2004 as an eight-page Sussex newsletter, Ms Duffy said the Times (with the masthead Sussex Inlet Times in that area) “had to work really to get people back”. Both publications were covering the same stories and photographers were taking the same photos, so the Times had to change tack slightly.
“We try to focus on the news. They’re a community newsletter and we’re a newspaper,” she said.
“We’re trying really hard to be different.”
The Times has a dedicated staff member based in Sussex to keep on top of stories. One of the benefits of being part of a larger group was that Times staff could work co-operatively with Rural Press’s other South Coast publications and share stories, something free newsletters would not be able to do.
Tapping Into the Local Community
Sussex Inletter editor Wilga Crehan said the newsletter has gone from strength to strength and acknowledges the publication does pose a threat to the Sussex Inlet (Milton/Ulladulla) Times because it has such a strong community link and is free.
“The Sussex Inlet Times costs $1.40 and people were paying for a wrap-around on the Milton Ulladulla paper.
“They were paying for the TV guide so we have the TV guide and deliver to shops and clubs,” Ms Crehan said.
“We’re probably more a threat to them than they are to us. We’re more of a community newsletter.
“We run lots of weddings, anniversaries and engagements.
“Older people are our main readers and some read it for the sport, but we cover just their local area and people tell me all the time that’s what they like,” she said.
Ms Crehan said there had been problems with setting up photos at the same time, even admitting to standing behind the Times reporter and taking the same shot.
“They have refused to take photos with us because we’d take the same one.”
Although starting at eight pages nearly two years ago, the Sussex Inletter has grown to between 36 and 40 pages and is funded purely through advertising and donations. It has a circulation of 1800 throughout Sussex and surrounding areas and copies are distributed every Wednesday through shops and clubs and some are delivered.
“We run out by Thursday lunch time,” Ms Crehan said.
Ms Crehan is the only paid staff member of the Inletter and the community newsletter is produced by volunteers and accepts most of its content from Sussex residents.
“We’re lucky. People give us stories and photos and there’s a few guys who take them,” she said.
“We put everything in and promise to keep it but [Sussex Inlet Times] don’t have to put anything in.
“What makes us more important to everyone is that is about them,” Ms Crehan said.
The Inletter started when the NSW Government, which previously subsidised CTCs, withdrew the grants. Ms Crehan suggested replacing the Sussex centre’s circular with a newsletter that was supported by advertising. It has regular weekly, fortnightly and monthly advertisers but, like any publisher would tell you, needs more.
“We wouldn’t have been able to stay open,” Ms Crehan said.
“I went to a manager’s meeting [when the funding dried up] and suggested the Inletter. We rely on this to stay open but need to have more advertising.
“We don’t really break even. We charge 55 cents per centimetre and just want to keep it going,” she said.
Making Competition Work for You
South Coast Register editor John Hanscombe said while there was a wide choice of printed media in the region he didn’t think there were too many for the population, which was spread over a large area.
“They usually buy one metro paper and one community,” Mr Hanscombe said.
“We tend to fill the local void. We have really locally based stories and concentrate on the people who live here. We focus on local issues and take pride in our community coverage.
“We have a veteran council reporter, June Webster, who has been reporting on local government for 20 years and her column is a must-read. That works well, as does our community focus pages with social pictures and a community diary.
“Our sports coverage is amongst the most comprehensive of any community paper. We have pages and pages devoted to sport,” he said.
Mr Hanscombe said the Register’s readership was very loyal and people clipped articles to keep. He said there had been no decline in readership figures or advertising revenue since the launch of South Coast Style. A reason for this, he said, was that the publications were aimed at different markets.
“I suspect it [South Coast Style] is pitched at the visiting Sydney market but we have an association with this community that goes back 120 years.”
He said he didn’t think any research had been done on whether advertisers had been lost to the glossy magazine but thought any that had would have realised the cost outweighed the business received.
The Register is published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday by Rural Press and has a circulation of 3747 and an estimated average readership of 10,117. It was first published in 1885 and covers the area between Gerringong and Sussex Inlet. Also published by Rural Press, and covering a similar distribution area, the free weekly Nowra News has a circulation of 22,798 and readership of 43,316.
Rivalry Gets Messy
It seems the Shoalhaven region is not the only area with fiercely competing media. In its March 27, 2006, program, the ABC’s Media Watch highlighted that the art of plagiarism was alive and well in Lismore. Host Monica Attard said:
“Readers in the Byron Bay and Lismore region of northern NSW have a choice when they want to read the local gig guide. They can look in the Byron Shire Echo: Monday, Beach Hotel, Byron, 9pm, Big Screen Dance Music (November 1, 2005), or they can check the Lismore Northern Star: Monday, Beach Hotel, Byron Bay: Big Screen Dance Music, 9pm (November 4, 2005),” Ms Attard said.
“Compiling lists like that can be a lot of work – unless you just pinch someone else’s. Which explains this entry: Monday, Tree Stump, Broken Head: Flagrant Plagiarists, 7pm (Northern Star, November 4, 2005). Neither the venue nor the band exist.
“The Byron Shire Echo was so sick of the Northern Star pinching their work, they made up that entry to catch them out. And the Echo kept it up over several months – with more and more phony band names.
“Media Watch hosts were a favourite. Dave Marr and the Sunnybrands, the Liz Jackson Trio and even the Monica Attard Orchestra were all listed in the Echo entertainment guide – then dutifully copied into the Northern Star.
“Emboldened by success The Echo printed this in November: Plagiarism is stealing someone else’s information…without acknowledging the original source…In the art world, plagiarism is politely called ‘appropriation’ which is strange because it’s not very appropriate at all. Neither is lifting The Echo Gig Guide warts and all, and printing it in another newspaper (November 22, 2005). Even that didn’t stop The Star. They kept lifting the guide for another two months.”