South of the bustle of Brisvegas, the country town of Mullumbimby presents a quieter, alternative lifestyle.
And perhaps a lesson to those looking to the future of newspaper publishing (writes Peter Coleman).
A page-turning ‘Echonetdaily’ digital edition complementing Byron Bay free weekly the ‘Echo’ is a head-turner in newspaper circles and, according to publisher David Lovejoy, unusual in never having lost money.
It serves a distinctive and fashionable area with a passionate readership – “everyone knows Byron,” says Lovejoy – and through an association with industry veteran Eric Beecher is able to “punch well above its weight”.
Its crowded office in leafy Mullumbimby, half an hour into the Byron hinterland, has become the centre for a publishing experiment which may point the way for the future.
Based on RealView’s Australian-developed page-turning edition technology, the ‘Echonetdaily’ is a separate publication with its own direction and production stream.
Editor Chris Dobney says the brief for the digital edition was always to maintain the ‘look and feel’ of the print edition. The ‘Echo’ also has a Wordpress-driven website, but the two have separate aims and editorial direction.
In particular, the internet daily delivers national and international news, sourced from AAP and publisher relationships. “We try to be a ‘one-stop shop’ giving people some daily news without overwhelming the local content. The primary constituent is local people, and those with a connection with the area.”
Lovejoy admits the idea for the daily came from former ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ editor Eric Beecher, who is involved in a similar digital project, ‘InDaily’ in Adelaide, and is a shareholder in the ‘Echo’.
“He came to us, ‘swimming with money’ after he sold his Text Media business, and it’s been a good relationship,” Lovejoy says.
With a separate production stream to the print editions, the day starts early for Dobney and a colleague, who are in at 6am scanning news sources for the day’s edition.
A sub-editor, designer and ‘back-end’ person follow the workflow through editing and InDesign layout to the provision of links and content such as galleries and video before uploading to Sydney provider RealView, on whose server it resides.
The presentation is commercial with character, making use of the medium for interactive content and allowing readers to ‘drill down’ with links to classified and dining guides, which are effectively separate documents.
The character comes in part from contributors such as columnist Mungo McCallum, a 70-year-old former Sydney journalist who retired to the area in the early 1990s, and author and stand-up comedian Mandy Nolan, who does a regular comment piece to camera.
Despite commitment to the project, Lovejoy and Dobney – who came to the ‘Echo’ from experience with Fairfax Media’s early digital ventures – are open-minded about technology. While the daily goes out on RealView, they use Isuu for the print edition and are looking at other digital media formats.
“We’re not seeing the demise of print experienced in other markets, but if a fold-up portable reader comes along, we think that will change the way people obtain their local news”.
And Echonetdaily, “will evolve, may well end up in a different form,” he says.
Fight for freedom started it all
David Lovejoy launched the print edition of the ‘Echo’ in 1986 with Nicholas Shand, a politically-active local who was aghast that established papers didn’t report – let alone comment on – a savage police swoop on the valley in which he lived.
A former News Limited sub-editor, he had sold the typesetting business he ran with his wife in Brisbane – just before the desktop publishing revolution sucked the value out of such enterprises – and moved to the area the year before.
“I provided the technology and the legs for the venture, and it has gone well,” says Lovejoy (left with Chris Dobney). “A lot of currents had come together here. The farming families, hippies who has stayed on after the Aquarius festival, and sea and treechangers who followed.”
Shand was killed in a road accident in 1996, but the ‘Echo’ has continued to prosper, spawning editions for the Byron, Ballina, Lismore and Tweed shires at various times, despite difficult market conditions.
One of these, the Northern Rivers (Lismore) paper was sold “for a pittance” to staff, who then onsold it to regional giant APN News & Media, much to the dismay of Lovejoy, who now has a competitor selling against him under the ‘Echo’ name, while GFC pressures led to the closure of the Tweed edition.
The original flagship 22,000 free weekly ‘Byron Echo’ is the dominant publication in fashionable Byron, he says, with APN coming into the town from its Lismore base. Production is at Horton Media in Narangba, north of Brisbane, a contract newspaper printer for whom Lovejoy is full of praise.