If you’ll excuse the navel-gazing, I would like to look at the direction of news organisations in our area.
Don’t worry, The Echo is not changing its bias. We will continue to support renewable energy and a decentralised economy, and we will continue to campaign against projects designed to make a quick buck without thought for the environment or the wishes of local residents.
It is not philosophy but finances we need to examine here.
The Echo has gone through a generational change and emerged leaner than it used to be, but stronger than ever.
Local newspapers have survived the competition of radio and television advertising and they will survive social media. Clients who use both forms of promotion admit that a picture in The Echo is worth a thousand likes.
Your local newspaper is a niche publication, based on unique factors of community and distribution, and that is the one form of print publishing that resists the universal trend towards digital platforms.
Nevertheless, the future of information access lies in mobile devices connected to the internet, which is why we run a continuously updated website, Echonetdaily.
How do we make that work? To cover our catchment area the newspaper and website together employ six journalists.
They multi-task of course – although not as much as the journalists of some publishing giants who are now forced to perform as photographers, subeditors and layout artists, as well as writers.
Keeping Echo free
The income needed to run Echonetdaily derives from advertising, just as it does with the newspaper. We looked at installing a paywall, to try to extract revenue from readers, but decided against it.
Most of the major publishers are trying to protect their content with some variant of the paywall, but it is a losing battle.
Whether the mechanism activates after a particular number of articles have been accessed from the same device, or whether it prevents specific items from being read without subscribing, there are simple strategies available to evade payment, which we couldn’t possibly tell you about here.
However, anyone can google ‘paywall bypass’ if they feel like it.
Rupert Murdoch, who has become a major shareholder in APN, the corporation that owns local papers like the Northern Star, Byron Shire News, Ballina Advocate and Northern Rivers Echo, has put his faith in the paywall model, and all the princelings and chieftains in his dark empire are doing the same.
Murdoch’s lost billions in IT
It might seem unwise to disagree with so successful a figure, but in fact Murdoch is notorious for bad calls on technology. He has lost billions in social media (Myspace), education in the USA (Amplify) and digital news in New York (The Daily).
Therefore, we are keeping our advertising model. It keeps content free for our readers and provides an effective means of promotion for our clients.
But here again, the pressure of the internet’s tendency to freedom (whatever George Brandis thinks) works against this model as well.
Greedy publishers have allowed unscrupulous advertising on their sites such as misleading links disguised as content on the website, often linking to spam websites seeking to distribute malware or other unsavoury products.
Some publishers litter their sites with infuriating pop-ups and other gimmicks, making the process of reading the content a tedious chore.
Unfortunately such dodgy behaviour is widespread, leading to some animosity against online advertising in general, and the creation of the ad-blocker.
With desktop computers it’s usually an extension in your browser that allows you to surf without being distracted by those pesky adverts.
A small number of people have taken the trouble to install them. With mobile devices it’s an app that does the trick; as it happens, the ad-blocker has not yet become a widespread component of phones and pads, but it’s easy to see that it might do so.
In this context we would like to ask the very small minority of our readers who operate ad-blockers to forgo their use on our pages (News Corp and its subsidiaries are fair game), and let our advertisers speak to them unhindered.
They are locals who are promoting their businesses through local media, and they are not in your face with their messages.
And if you visit our site with an ad-blocker inadvertently switched on, we may send you a brief and polite alert.
There are other means of revenue that we may be trying out over the coming months.
One is so-called ‘native advertising’ where a sponsored article might appear in the format of our normal editorial page. Such articles would always be clearly labelled as such, and would always be material we consider intrinsically interesting.
In other words, although an advertiser might have paid for the space it would adhere to our editorial standards, and standpoints (we would never run native advertising containing views opposed to our philosophy – if you want to write crazy stuff it will be framed as an ad!).
On June 10 next year The Echo will reach a milestone: serving the Byron Shire for thirty years. As we stuck scraps of type and film together with cow gum for the first edition, Nicholas Shand and I had no idea how news would look three decades on. The form inevitably changes, but the spirit is hopefully still making a nuisance of itself.
* David Lovejoy is an Echo founder