It’s hard to define what makes the Queensland beach resort town of Noosa a microcosm for what’s happening in regional publishing. Just is.
A couple of years ago, change was all around with the acquisition by News Limited’s Brisbane suburban operation Quest Newspapers of the independent ‘Noosa Journal’ and of Michael Hannan’s glossy ‘Weekender’ – part of Federal Publishing – by its parent.
For the first time in years – at least since its comfortable purchase of the ‘Gympie Times’ and its stablemate, the ‘Noosa Citizen’ from Rural Press – APN’s Sunshine Coast Newspapers had an effective rival.
So with PANPA back on the Gold Coast again this year, I took the opportunity of calling first on its quieter, more sophisticated neighbour two hours to the north on the Sunshine Coast ... for second look.
Noosa is as green and beautiful as ever: As residents we once joked that development was spoiling the area but it would be a while before it was spoiled altogether. They’re working on it.
And the publishing ‘microcosm’ has evolved: ‘Weekender’ is distributed in Noosa as a supplement to the ‘Journal’ ... a hefty, shrink-wrapped slug of local publishing including a property supplement carrying News’s realestate.com.au branding.
The name of ‘Journal’ founder Lindsay Bock – who was also paradoxically once responsible for the ‘Noosa Citizen’ before its purchase by Rural Press and onsell to APN as part of its ‘Gympie Times’ package – no longer appears in the credits of the Quest title, and locals seem to agree that if anything, the acquisition has made for a better paper.
The APN rival is sailing on, buoyed by the technology advantage of its hybrid coldset/heatset plant in the Sunshine Coast heartland of Yandina ... but nothing is (or will be) quite the same. Its Sunshine Coast Newspapers stable, where I once upset editor-in-chief Peter Owen by calling his flagship ‘Sunshine Coast Daily’ bland – has also sharpened up in the face of competition from the Murdoch camp.
And like those locals who, muttering complaints about its merger into a new regional council have sold up and moved out to Cooroy and Pomona, the publishing action seems also seems to be relocated to the perimeter of the former shire.
Despite Bock’s sellout, independent publishing is alive and well: The colourfully-named ‘Cooroy Rag’ has blossomed with the development growth which is driving the former timber town, and a series of new Gympie-focussed glossies are encroaching on the market just as a controversial dam on the nearby Mary River threatens to encroach on its best farmland. One of these, ‘Mary River Living’ provides a mix of news, community and feature content which complies with the classic media criticism that, “if you know anything about the story, you’ll know it’s wrong”: ‘For locals, by locals, about locals’, maybe ... but can’t spell the names of some of the non-locals mentioned in its columns. Property advertisers, however, will pay more attention to the crisp(ish) heatset production than editorial accuracy.
And in Pomona, ‘Hinterland Voice’ publisher of the past 11 years, Fiona Sullivan (pictured) doesn’t sound too serious about selling the title, despite the placard in the nextdoor real estate office which offers it for $69,000. The grey tabloid is certainly quirky ... and would be less grey, Sullivan says, if her Bundaberg printer had met a request for colour on a page feature about a visiting crystal skull.
I’ve said before that life in Noosa – famous throughout the world for its dedication to ecology and the quality of the built environment, and a town in which I was a resident for eight years – is different to the rest of the Sunshine Coast, and that in turn, different to life in the city. The country patch occupied by the ‘Hinterland Voice’ is different again, and emphasises preoccupations with quality of life. The ‘Voice’ responds to this with not only local news and features, but anything its editor thinks might be of interest and can source from an readership of avid writers.
Hence, in the issue I picked up, the page about a Guatemalan artefact set to tour Australia this year ... with a stop in Pomona, of course. It is, as its devoted audience will testify, a ‘good read’ ... but certainly not a quick read.
Production – limited colour on newsprint – contrasts with the rival glossy which claims not to be in competition and yet fishes from parts of the same advertising pond.
And of course, if times get tough ... if economic reality reaches out to the hills beyond Noosa ... you’d back Sullivan’s low production overhead and sparse editorial budget anytime.
Provided she doesn’t sell it, of course.