It's all change in laid-back Byron... 'not all for the better'

Mar 24, 2021 at 04:18 pm by Staff

A few things have changed in the hinterland behind Byron Bay since I called in nine years ago; some things have not.

There's still the familiar waft of incense as you walk along Mullumbimby's main street, with perhaps a trace or more of 'wacky baccy'.

At the offices of the Byron Shire Echo, a photograph of late founder Nicholas Shand still takes pride of place, and the name of his daughter Aslan appears in print as letters editor. Hans Lovejoy, whose father David I interviewed almost a decade ago, is now editor.

And general manager Simon Haslan, who chats to my wife Maggie and I when we call in unannounced, is another with a longstanding relationship with the independent publisher, at the Echo for 30 years now.

When I visited earlier, a new Realview tablet platform had been added to the digital armoury, at the suggestion of investor Eric Beecher, who was already using it for Adelaide's InPaper. Digital remains an important part of the business, but so emphatically, does print given the withdrawal of News Corp 's regional print editions.

Two new publications for the area have appeared since News Corp closed the print editions of the Tweed Daily News, Ballina Advocate, Byron Shire News, Coffs Coast Advocate, Grafton Daily Examiner and Lismore Northern Star - most of which it had acquired from APN - last June.

One of the newcomers, the Northern Rivers Times is a smart tabloid with a $2 cover price, from Casino-based Heartland Media, publishers of the Heartland Magazine.

Antony Catalano, who owns Australian Community Media with Alex Waislitz, also counts himself a local with real estate in Byron, and has recently launched a glossy news magazine, the Northern Rivers Review. Launched with high ambitions about six months ago, it has pragmatically dropped its $2 cover price to go free distribution, making it a direct competitor to the long-standing Echo.

A problem appears to be that - as the Byron demographic moves from retired and semiretired owner-occupiers looking for spare time earnings, to major real estate investors - people willing to undertake door-to-door deliveries are becoming harder to find.

As a result of this and the impact of the closure of the local News Corp print editions, the Mullumbimby newsagent is "handing back" its delivery rounds.

"Life has changed, and not for the better," GXpress was told.

For the Byron Shire Echo, one of the losses of the year has been the death of Mungo MacCallum, a longstanding columnist and supporter. The EchonetDaily email edition - a mix of national and local news - is still a welcome arrival in our mailbox, and strong advertising support promises a healthy future.

Peter Coleman


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