With the current focus on not-for-profit public interest news gathering, a local newspaper is celebrating six decades of doing just that, and as a major community fundraiser.
Next month, the Cooroy Rag on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, will distribute $40,000 to local groups and organisations, bringing total donations to almost $1 million.
An incorporated association since 2002, the paper is believed to be the only one in Australia to return all its profits to the community.
“It’s all about giving back,” says sales manager Judy Painter, “and besides the grants, we provide free or discounted advertising to local groups and causes.
“But we’re a close-knit group and it’s also a hell of a lot of fun in the process.”
The newspaper first appeared on April 28, 1961, but has seen mixed fortunes since. Its first publishers were a local family which owned a real estate business, and was continued with the help of their successors at the agency.
When it ceased publication after being unsuccessfully offered for sale in 1968, Edna Smith and her husband took it on the following February, running the business from a shared party phone line. Publication was also interrupted when another new owner was unable to continue following an accident, publication not resuming until Judy Painter and Deb Boyle got it going again with the support of a government grant.
To secure its future, the newspaper was “given to the community” in 2002, with its incorporation as an association, and had continued monthly until COVID-19 fears led to the committee deciding to shut down during the pandemic.
With its fortunes resuming – in part as a result of the disappearance of News Corp print competitor the Noosa News from the scene – a largely new team was recruited, with Painter back and joined by former News Corp Australia journalist Alex Purcell as editor, and this year, additional help from Geoff Crockett – another former journalist with regional and local newspaper connections – on production, and Jodi Brennan on admin and sales. Unusually, there’s also a regular proofreader… and a canine mascot.
In addition to the 40-44-page tabloid printed at nearby Yandina, the Cooroy Rag has a presence on Facebook and an Isuu digital replica edition.
Next month will see circulation increased to 12,000 from its current 7,500, and the reintroduction of classified advertising. Not that this will be a resumption of the traditional “rivers of gold” – the Rag will be offering free classifieds to readers, the page sponsored by local advertisers.
As the newspaper regains its confidence – with plans for increased circulation, an upgrade to Adobe InDesign for layout, and the possibility of extra editions – the team behind it is coming to realise how special they are.
Ahead of the anniversary, the paper invited businesses and people who have been instrumental in shaping it over the past 60 years together for a photograph. “When we first had the idea, we had no inkling just how incredible the response would be,” editor Alex Purcell says. “More than 100 past and present advertisers, locals, councillors and state and federal members joined us for a photo that literally closed the main street.”
Included were Noosa mayor Clare Stewart, state MP Sandy Bolton and federal member Llew O’Brien, with local police closing the street briefly for the shoot.
“Not many newspapers are solely owned by the community, and none we know of give all their profits back to that community,” says Judy Painter. “People are beginning to realise that it’s pretty unique.”
Pictured (from left): Jodi Brennan, Alex Purcell, Judy Painter and Geoff Crockett