The Gates bean counter behind Naracoorte's newsmedia revival

News ink is clearly in the blood for Michael Waite, whose mother managed the Naracoorte, South Australia local paper for 35 years.

Now, with the decision of Antony Catalano's Australian Community Media to suspend publication of the 145-year-old Naracoorte Herald, he has stepped in with a replacement.

A first weekly edition of the Naracoorte Community News went on sale last week for $2 - 25c to the arts, local sports and service clubs - and sold out its 1700-copy print run in 36 hours.

Not that it was the future the former Microsoft accountant and Washington state treasurer hopeful had planned for himself and family. After 20 years in the US, he was five months into a planned 18-month sabbatical around the world with his wife and three children, when he learned his mother Sue Waite had been diagnosed with stage-four cancer. Then the global pandemic and a ban on international travel brought the family's plans to an abrupt halt.

ACM's decision to halt publication of the Herald after his mother's long relationship with the paper - selling advertising and then as manager - was a challenge, and he admits launching a newspaper into a country town of just over 8000 people in the midst of a pandemic is a "personal mission".

A town the size of Naracoorte does not deserve to be without a newspaper, he says: "It's part of the fabric of a community, like the hospital or police station. I grew up with the Naracoorte Herald."

So when ACM "walked away" from the community, he thought he should "see what I could do".

Despite years of financial experience in the US - with global companies such as Bentall Kennedy, Microsoft founder Bill Gates' Cascade Investment company, and in an unsuccessful campaign as Republican candidate for Washington State Treasurer - he's not inhibited by his lack of knowledge of the newsmedia industry.

"I have none... apart from running my high school magazine," he says, seeing it as both "a tremendous disadvantage but also a tremendous advantage".

"It is such an opportunity to fail but I would argue that the industry has failed anyway. I was very sceptical to be underwriting a newspaper in 2020 but every step is a milestone."

That idea has been realised in just three weeks, during which Waite and a small team worked around the clock to produce the first weekly edition. With the empty Herald office just across the street as a reminder, he says the venture's success will depend on the support of the town. "The publication has to serve the community and they are wanting an independent news source, something focused locally, built locally, and printed locally and that's what we're going to provide.

"My objective is to stand it up and make it sustainable.

"Thankfully, the community has jumped on it and they've given us a chance."

Pictured: Michael Waite with the first edition (Photo: Kate Hill)

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